Over my many years of playing the organ and piano in church, one of my favorite times was on Sunday evening at the Presbyterian Church in Donalsonville. The evening service was informal and followed a covered dish supper every Sunday night. That is right. A covered dish supper each week of the year.
Over time a tradition developed where the children would just shout out a page number and the pianist would play it for the congregation to sing. “Victory in Jesus” was a favorite of the children and was sung almost every Sunday evening. It was a song found only in what was known at the time in that church as the “White Hymnal”. It was a songbook of praise and worship songs perhaps more energic and peppy than the regular Presbyterian Hymnal.
I had grown up playing in a Baptist Church and was familiar with almost every song in the Baptist, Methodist and Presbyterian Hymnals. While I could read music well, I did not like being surprised with songs I had never heard. Over time, however, those songs were few and far between.
I remember one particular Sunday evening like it was yesterday. A somewhat mischievous boy, known for his pranks and his harassment of the choir director, shouted out “240”. I immediately thought of “Just as I Am”, a regular in the Baptist hymnal with the same page number. Then he called out the title which was “Beulah Land”.
I knew I had never heard of that song and looked at him, trying to decide if he was pulling my leg or if he really knew the tune. Given his reputation at church, I choose to believe it was the former. I struggled through a line before I caught the voice of an older lady singing a song that was obviously familiar to her. I never forgot the name of the song or the name of that young prankster. Incidentally, he grew up to be a pillar of the church, a great father and husband, and one of the hardest working men I know.
This past weekend I attended the funeral of David Payne, my sister-in-law Karen Ponder’s brother. David passed away unexpectedly following heart surgery. It was a wonderful service that reflected on David’s many achievements and his long walk with Christ throughout his life.
David leaves behind his wife of 48 years, Pam; a daughter, Jeannie, her husband Scott, four grandchildren, his sister, Karen, and numerous other family members. He also leaves behind a wonderful legacy known as Camp Baldwin, where he served as Camp Director for several decades. It is a beautiful spot that has welcomed thousands of young visitors over the years.
At David’s funeral, “Sweet Beulah Land” was sung. David was a former Minister of Music, and this was one of his favorite gospel songs. At once, I thought back to that uncomfortable time when a song with a similar name was thrust upon me to play.
It is only today that I realized they are not the same song. David’s song was written in 1973 and has been performed by numerous groups over the years, including the author Squire Parsons, the Gaither Brothers, The Chuck Wagon Gang and Casting Crowns.
The hymn version was written by Edgar Page Stites in 1873. He served during the Civil War and later became a riverboat captain, as well as being a faithful Methodist for over 60 years.
Where was Beulah Land? Biblically, it refers to Isaiah 62:4. It is referring to the time when Israel will return from exile and once again return to the Lord. In Hebrew, the word refers to marriage. It was describing the relationship between God and the nation of Israel.
In the 17th century novel, Pilgrim’s Progress, Beulah Land was described as that place of peace, near the end of a Christian’s life. It was next to the Celestial City, or heaven, and the two places were separated by the River of Death.
David now resides in that Celestial City, welcomed by his Heavenly Father as a good and faithful servant.
Beulah Land I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land, sweet Beulah Land
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org