Baker Arie was a bear-sized man with hands like shovels, when he shook hands with you on Sunday-morning before the church-service, which he used to do with a wicked smile on his face, the poor recipient would feel it for a week. Women, known to be smarter than men, didn't come near him fearing his bone-crushing brotherly hugs.
Baker Arie was not a mean man, on the contrary, he was a very nice man, the only thing was, he was so inconceivable strong in his hands, which was likely because of the dough-kneading he did all his life. By hand, of course. No kneading by machine for baker Arie, such as were used in bread-factories of America, where they likely never had seen wholesome bread, by golly, he'd take a loaf of that white factory bread in his large hand and easily squeeze it back into where it was made of - a ball of substandard dough.
Arie stood out as a big and strong teenager already in the Netherlands, where he was born,but even more because of his full tenor voice, no one had trouble hearing him as the congregation sang the psalms of David, slow, but uplift. And loud. Sometimes, when he was in the mood, and the congregation sang a particular uplifting psalm, he sang the boven-stem above the singing of the congregation.*note – check boven-stem on Google.
He loved to sing in church but even more when he peddled a bakfiets (tree-wheeler) loaded with loaves of bread through the fields in the country, vending his father's wholewheat bread to the working families, and milk-bread to the farmers. He sang his heart out going from farm to farm, mostly religious but also more folksy songs, people hearing from way far away over the flat meadow country enjoyed his singing and songs, he sometimes sang so lusty that he forgot to bike and just stood still in the middle of the road.
It was tradition in our churches to sing the 'angel song' every Christmas morning at the end of the Christmas-morning church-service, I remember after the dominee dismissed the congregation with the usual blessing, the congregation as one stood on their feet, making a clattering noise when some fifty pairs of wooden clogs hit the floor, like a prelude to the long awaited song. The organist hit the tone height, held it for two long seconds, (at which time he threw open all the registers) and then the congregation broke forth singing the old angel-song, held back for a year, for this was the only time that the congregation instead of singing the the usual psalms of David sang the song of the angels at the birth of the Son of God. The congregation then joyfully shouted
'Ere zij God, Glory to God,
In de hoge, In the highest!
Vrede op aarde, Peace on the earth
In the mensen, In the people
Een welbehagen. A great pleasure
'Ere zij God' is taken from Lucas 2:14, when a multitude of angels praise God with the words of this song after one of the angels had announced the birth of the Jesus to the shepherds.
When Arie as a newlywed emigrated to Canada in the early 1950's he continued singing in church of his new congregation and was loved there because of his baking and equally because of his singing. The tradition of singing Ere zij God at Christmas had come along with him when he landed in Canada, however after a few generations his offspring wanted to quit the tradition, not because of the song but of the language it was written in - Dutch. Some preachers, without roots in the old country were not so secretly supporting that idea and sometimes tried helping it along by 'forgetting to mention' it on the bulletin.
A former minister of our church who 'forgot' about the tradition after delivering his Christmas sermon tramped, as was his tradition, straight for the outside entrance to shake hands with his flock as they filed past him, except that not a soul moved. After a few anxious moments one brave woman started to sing the first chant of the disputed song 'Ere zij God.'
The organ joined the brave woman immediately, the congregation relieved, followed. The pastor halfhearted at first joined in as well, according to some of the congregationists who had been warming the last bench in the church. 'And yes, he had sang it even in the Dutch language even though he did not master that language.
The writing was on the wall, the tradition was saved but hung by a thread, and more changes invaded the church - the introduction of a piano, a worldly instrument, and if that was not enough all of a sudden a electric shrill sounding mini organ was squeezed in on the platform around the pulpit. An overhead screen was installed on which the to singing psalms were written, making the new expensive songbooks that had come with a new pastor as very necessary, unnecessary, and were demoted to decoration, and songs not having anything to do with David's compositions were introduced.
Still several things too Dutch for some to have a place in the now Canadian church, were put on non activity, one being church-organ. That grand musical instrument had to make place for a piano, which after some time got replaced by a fellow playing a guitar. The psalms of David were replaced by chants on an overhead screen. A worship committee sprung up (not voted on by the congregation,) deeming it necessary to get a small version of a house organ to accompany the piano.
Our baker, retired now, had finally become an elder, and during a consistory-meeting told the preacher in no uncertain words to get rid of the last acquired instrument 'because I hate it.' The baker with the powerful hands was the last hope for people, who were not comfortable with all the changes to be a bulwark against the tsunami of shift racing against their church. The old baker now being called conservative, tried to stop the 'mad slide' of the church as he called it, but even he proved powerless.
“It's not an organ, it's not an piano,” he protested, “all it is, is some sort of a tingle-tangle, only fit for the scrapheap,” still strong he had the pastor in an arm-lock, while coming down the stairs of the old consistory room complaining about 'the piece of junk' but - the tingle-tangle stayed.
Then one sunny, hot, summer day the old baker passed away.
“Even the strong ones fall,” the liberal preacher said in his funeral sermon. The church was packed, heating the church building considerable. The fans were whirling at top speed while doors and windows were opened wide, still the heat was scarcely bearable, however, according to some conservative members the message of the liberal preacher had been kind to the departed, which was at least something positive on this hot day, one of them remarked.
When after the service the baker was carried to the open front door by members of his large family, a peculiar sound drifted over the congregation, who had fallen in step behind the family on the way out, but thus far no one had paid heed to the unfamiliar sound, as every one was anxious for some cool air, but when the sound sank in they realized that it was the sound of someone playing - the tingle-tangle? Without the support of the piano? And they were stunned when they recognized what was being played on the little tingle-tangle. Ere zij God? On a funeral? And in the middle of a hot summer?
The entire congregation, after some bewildering moments, caught on fast, singing their hearts out, being led by a granddaughter of our deceased baker doing the playing. After the last Amen of the Christmas angel song they were united in their thought how appropriate it was to honor their departed baker by singing Ere zij God.
Had the baker himself been able to hear his granddaughter play that day, I think, he might've said
"Well, I'll be darned, Ere zij God on the tingle-tangle? That granddaughter of mine has guts to play in this heat, she is going places yet. Yes sir, I always knew."
He was that way.
I live in an old-age home where I meet people from all over the world telling me of the meaningful customs they enjoyed in their former homelands, and feel envious, because the only custom we observed was the singing of the angel song after the worship service on Christmas-day.
At that time it was enough.
Two weeks ago I joined a Mennonite male Christmas choir made up of seniors like me in their 80ies and 90ies, who sing surprisingly well, they sing bass, melody, and tenor. I was assigned a place as tenor. My voice is OK, but I cannot read notes, so, as I was useless to help the choir in that position, I asked to sing a solo. We will be singing Christmas songs five times on the Menno Home campus. We sang in the Pavilion where I live and the Primrose gardens, next week at the Terrace, a week after that in the Menno Home chapel with a Christmas pageant, and the Wednesday after at the Menno Hospital chapel, thus covering all 700 Menno Place residents.
500 years ago Reformed people killed Mennonites! now we sing together, my granddaughter married one. Good things happen.
Merry Christmas to all of you and a happy new year from Menno Place, my home.
O, my solo? Ere zij God - in Dutch.