The farmyard was full of buggies and kick scooters when Daniel and David closed the barn doors.
They went over to the assembled men who stood in the middle of the space in order to participate in the draw to decide who was to preach the sermon.
The draw was conducted by the Bishop who placed matches in a bag. The man who drew the only stuck match won the honor of holding the sermon.
It was always a moment of excitement for the children, who left their places on the benches and now stood among the men.
Isaac passed the bag around the male members of the congregation, who in turn took a match out of the bag.
When it was David's turn he glanced excited over at his father before he reached into the bag and withdrew a match.
David, like the other men, had nothing against preaching. Indeed he saw it as an honorable duty that most importantly involved relating a true story.
As well as capturing the congregation's attention, the sermon should also include a religious message that should bring the listeners closer to The Lord.
David put his expectant hand into the bag and groped around for a matchstick.
He took the first one that he found as the surrounding children cheered him on. The disappointment was great when the match that was revealed showed to be unlit; it wasn't his turn to hold the sermon.
Daniel sent his son a comforting glance then plunged his hand into the bag pulling out a matchstick.
Again the children cheered, but were quickly quiet again when the match revealed itself also to be unlit.
Daniel had held many sermons so he was less disappointed than his son. He could remember how, as a teenager, he had looked forward to the day it would be his turn to take part in the draw that was conducted in order to prove that everyone was equal in the eyes of the Lord.
Isaac handed the bag to Adam who quickly picked a match. The children's cheers reached a crescendo when they realized that Adam had picked the struck match. The Bishop gently herded the children and their respective disappointed fathers back to their places so that the service could start.
He shook Adams hand as he congratulated him on the result of the draw that had given him the honor of preaching to the assembled company and thus representing God.
He nodded to Daniel who was still standing with them then he and Adam took their places in the rows of benches, leaving Daniel as the only person standing.
Daniel looked around at the sixty-man-strong congregation. "Welcome to our barn which today is the house of God!", he said clearly to start the service. "It is a great honor for my family and me to host the service today. Although today is special for us all, it is particularly exceptional for my oldest son David, who has returned to us from his Rumspringa and now is taking part in his first service as a full member of the Swartzentruber Amish!"
There were several joyous outbursts from the assembly and David stood up nodding greetings to the congregation that he was now almost a full member of. "It is good to travel, but best to return home!", he stated in a clear, strong voice despite his surprise that his father has chosen to praise his homecoming in front of the entire community.
Once again the barn was filled with cheers. David lifted his hands for the shouting to cease. "Don't thank me dear friends. Thank yourselves and the Lord. It is you and Him that have caused me to choose as I have!"
Daniel smiled at his son's words and reached for an old book that he had placed on a bale of straw earlier.
Some years ago he had been randomly selected as a kind of priest; in Pennsylvania Dutch called a Diener.
Roman, Lettie's husband, had been chosen at the same time to be the Armendiener, who is responsible for collection and distribution of arms for the poor and needy in the community; Abram had been selected to be Diener Zum Buch who was in charge of leading the prayers.
The Diener had to make sure that the three hour service ran smoothly in exactly the same way that the Swartzentruber Amish had held these services for as long as they had existed. Tradition dictated that they should start with the hymn that always signaled the start of proceedings and so Daniel began to sing.
The hymn was sung at a very slow tempo it lasted twenty minutes. It came from the Ausbund, a songbook which held the very oldest Anabaptist hymns from the earliest days of the religious movement; Hymns that praised God and told of a life without sin and temptation.
Daniel opened his mouth and sang, slowly but loud and clear, the congregation instantly joined him:
O God Father we praise you
And your goodness exalt,
Which you, O Lord so graciously
Have manifested to us anew,
And have brought us together, Lord,
To admonish us through Your Word,
Grant us grace to this
When the hymn was finished Daniel put the Ausbund back on the bale of straw and said two short prayers. His choice of prayer varied; a prayer could be personal and spontaneous or of a more structured form like the Lord's prayer. There was, however, no need to search for special words or phrases as the Lord knows them all and cannot be impressed by fancy talk.
Daniel chose the first prayer in memory of Adam's deceased wife, Ruth. He prayed for the immortal souls of all who had passed on.
He chose the first verse of psalm 51, from the Book of Psalms. He closed his eyes and folded his hands and in his loud, clear voice prayed:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
In order to allow the prayers message to descend upon the listeners Daniel waited a few seconds before opening his eyes and smiling at the assembly. He then closed them again and with his hands still folded began the second prayer, the prayer of the heart. It was short and begged the Lord's forgiveness:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
have mercy on me a sinner.
He repeated this prayer twenty times. The majority of the congregation repeated it in unison with him, also with closed eyes and folded hands.
After the prayers he reached for the New Testament that also lay on the bale beside him.
The time had come for the reading.
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