Tom Holland, ‘singing evangelist’ and ‘preacher’s preacher,’ dies at 87
Tom Holland, a renowned preacher, author and song leader for…
The singing sessions start at 7:30 both evenings. On Friday, the singing continues well past midnight, with some people lingering to sing until daybreak. The Saturday night session ends at 11:30. The singers assemble in the “Diana Singing Shed,” a simple structure with a timber frame, two open sides, a tin roof and a gravel and dirt floor.
The songs are old favorites intoned with hymnals in hand — no praise teams, no PowerPoint.
During the last hour each night, a select group of song leaders asks singers to come down front, arrange themselves by musical parts and prepare to record.
With the CD spinning in the recorder, leaders take turns directing, indicating the next selection on a small erasable board.
Silence reigns between songs, interrupted only by the tone blown on the pitch pipe in preparation for the next hymn.
At a time when mp3s satisfy every musical whim and worship styles change every Sunday, why would people sit for hours under a tin roof with no air-conditioning to repeat the words they heard sitting in their grandmother’s lap?
“Most of these, the old traditional songs, just bring back memories of growing up,” said Deborah Miller, a member of the Tusculum church in Nashville. “The older I get, the more they mean to me. … As a kid, I didn’t really understand them, but now … they kind of talk to my soul.”
What brings Quincy Miller, from Osage City, Kan., south of Topeka, to the Tennessee event?
His wife’s passion for singing.
“She’s the one that likes to sing,” said Miller, who is not related to Deborah and read about Diana in a magazine.
“She first said she came out of curiosity … then she came for the singing. Now she says she’s got to come see her friends,” Miller laughed.
The Millers arrived a week before the singing and stayed in their recreational vehicle.
The 10 acres of the Diana Singing property include camping facilities, complete with water, electricity and shower houses.
This year there were 58 RVs, said Jack Parks, president of the board of the Diana Singing.
Parks said campers come early to help with preparations and assist with other activities at the singing — including a “Ham Shed” that serves country-ham sandwiches and fried pies, a gift shop, a book stand and a songbook museum.
The Diana Singing owes its inspiration to an all-night quartet show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, explained evangelist and retired Bible professor Tom Holland.
Holland started the Diana event with song leader William Sanders almost 40 years ago.
Conducting a gospel meeting with Sanders, Holland remembered his colleague wondering if, with audiences willing to stay up all night listening to quartets, church members might stay up all night singing praises to God.
With $15 of advertising, Holland said, he and Sanders held a singing in the Diana church building in fall 1969.
“We did not anticipate the crowd that we would have,” Holland said.
And the crowds grew. After a few years, organizers bought property and built a structure for the singers.
Expanded several times, the facility can now accommodate about 2,500 people inside, with guests overflowing into seats behind and to the side.
“We never dreamed that people would be coming here from literally all over the United States,” Holland said.
The Diana gathering exists “to encourage and promote congregational singing,” he said.
“When God ordained in the New Covenant the use of the human voice to accompany our hearts in singing … there are many, many people that respect that,” Holland said.
“The Diana Singing still emphasizes that. And I think that is the basic appeal.”
ON THE WEB: www.dianasinging.com
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