Singing the praises

t started as “just a dream” for Bonnie Horn, when, years ago, she was working at a Christian school that took students to nursing homes on Valentine’s Day to sing to the residents.

“I thought that I would love to do something like that, but I didn’t know how to get started,” Horn said.

Then her parents moved into The Williamsport Home.

“The Lord said, ‘I just dropped an opportunity in your lap,'” she said with a laugh.

That was five years ago, and ever since, the Hymn Sing has brought an hour of music and devotional readings to the facility one Wednesday a month.

Residents gather in an activities room, complete with a piano and stacks of hymnals – donated by the former United Methodist church on West Fourth Street, now the West End Christian Community Center – to sing along with Horn, Betsy Belcher and Martha Myers, who alternate in leading the hymns and playing the piano.

Although Horn selects some of the hymns for the meeting, audience participation determines the rest, with residents requesting a certain hymn from the books. The hour also includes devotional readings, which Horn, Belcher and Myers read in between hymns.

“Some of the residents here can’t get out to their churches all the time,” Horn said. “I think this really fills a spiritual need in their lives.”

Each month has its own theme, Horn said, which she tries to tie into holidays.

February’s meeting had the theme of Valentine’s Day, naturally, with nearly every resident in attendance wearing red, pink or white; Horn chose to sing a hymn called “Written in Red,” while Myers sang “The Way He Loves.”

And then there’s the afterparty.

When the singing is finished, everyone moves into the dining room to enjoy homemade desserts, made from scratch by Horn, who makes certain that no one ever will leave the dessert hour hungry.

“She goes real overboard with making desserts,” said Bob Smith, who helped Horn establish the group.

He’s not kidding, either: after February’s meeting, Horn wheeled a cart into the dining room holding cherry cream pies – 10 in all.

Horn said that she likes what the dessert hour offers.

“We praise the Lord for an hour,” she said, “then we party. I think we earn it.”

The theme of the month influences the dessert that Horn makes for the meeting: pumpkin desserts in November or snowman cookies in January, for example, and an “everybody’s birthday party” in October, which sees Horn bake roughly a dozen birthday cakes, Smith said.

“It’s easier to celebrate ‘everybody’s birthday’ than trying to keep track of whose birthday is during what month,” Horn said, “so we celebrate them all at once.”

The gathering also has a very altruistic aim, with a donation basket set out each time and the money going to a different charity every month.

“We’ve given to St. John’s School of the Arts, United Churches Food Pantry, American Rescue Workers, Andrew’s Special Kids Foundation, Shepard of the Streets, the Wounded Warrior Project … just to name a few,” Smith said.

And while it might only be a few dollars here and a few dollars there, in the last four years, the hymn sing has raised donations in the amount of more than $6,000.

It’s just one of the reasons why Horn and Smith are so happy to see the program flourishing.

“It’s a real love of ours,” Horn said.

And by all accounts, it’s a popular event.

“We average about 50 attendees,” Smith said, which is double the number from when it began.

“At first, we had our dessert hour in the activities room and just unfolded some tables,” he said. “Then we had to keep getting more and more tables, until we finally outgrew the room and had to move into the dining room!”

For her part, Horn knows the monthly gatherings mean more than just an excuse to socialize or enjoy some homemade pie, and that the real praise goes to a higher power.

“This is all for the glory of God,” she said. “What we do here, it’s all for Him.”