SEARSPORT, Maine — The first time Lois Malisk walked into a church sanctuary instead of going to Sunday school, “Onward Christian Soldiers” was being played by the organist.
Malisk, 86, of Stockton Springs sang the hymn again Sunday at a combined service of the Searsport and North Searsport United Methodist churches.
“It always inspires me,” she said after the service, which instead of a sermon featured hymns selected by worshippers at the church in north Searsport, located at the intersection of Mount Ephram and Loop roads.
The words to the famous hymn were written by Sabine Baring-Gould in 1865, and the music was composed by Arthur Sullivan in 1871, according to the Center for Church Music in Grand Haven, Mich. The composer was the same Sullivan who composed 14 operettas with librettist W.S. Gilbert, Frank Wareham, 72, of Belfast, who is the pianist for both churches, told worshippers.
Malisk, who first heard what would become her favorite hymn at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Stamford, Conn., had it played at her wedding to Wes Malisk, who was unable to attend Sunday’s service.
“The church organist there did a special arrangement of it and I walked down the aisle to ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ instead of ‘Here Comes the Bride.’ We didn’t sing the ‘marching as to war’ lyric.”
On Sundays, the Rev. Stephen MacLeod usually conducts a service at 8:45 a.m. in North Searsport and at 11 a.m. at the church on Route 1 in Searsport. The churches came together for a patriotic hymn sing on July Fourth at the Searsport church. The pastor decided it was only fair to hold a similar hymn sing in North Searsport.
“This was a directed hymn sing, a kind of musical sermon, focused on the passage of Scripture in this week’s lesson,” MacLeod, 39, said after Sunday’s service.
The passages Sunday were Roman 13:8-14 and Matthew 18:15-20.
MacLeod, who has pastored the two churches for six years, also invited members of his flock to share their favorite hymns that spoke to the work they are called to do as disciples of Christ.
He and his wife, the Rev. Lisa MacLeod, who is pastor of the Amherst-Aurora Congregational Church, live in Searsport with their 17-month-old son, Alexander MacLeod. The ministers trade off taking their son to services. The toddler walked up and down the aisles on Sunday, interacting with worshippers in North Searsport.
Judy Staples, 70, of Frankfort, asked that they sing hymn 310, “He Lives,” to honor Bobby Cataldo.
“It was Bobby’s favorite hymn,” she said. “We lost him three years ago now. He was a true light in the world.”
“He lives, he lives, Christ Jesus lives today,” the gathering of about 25 worshippers sang. “He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives, He lives, salvation to impart.”
Other hymns shouted out to Wareham included the traditional Shaker hymn “Lord of the Dance,” and what MacLeod called “old chestnuts” such as “Blest Be the Tie that Binds,” “We Shall Overcome” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”
“It really is that simple if we embrace our faith and live it in the world,” MacLeod said of the last hymn.