Gladys Light and the Hips
December 4, 2021 | My Jottings
Years ago our family attended an Assembly of God church called Glad Tidings. We were members there many years and raised our family going to services each Sunday and many Wednesday nights. I’m no longer a member there, but I have such wonderful memories. I taught Second Grade Sunday School, was involved in some women’s Bible studies, Michael and I belonged to a young couples’ cell group where the friendships we made were so cherished, and I remember many children’s Christmas programs in which my girls sang or wore lamb costumes. And who could forget the Harvest Festivals (because we didn’t do Halloween back then) where three year-old Sara won first prize for her Lazarus costume, which was simply toilet paper wound around and around and around her little self?
Our church’s custom was to have a Watch Night Service on New Year’s Eve, and the aim was to gather together to worship and pray as the clock turned over. When my girls were very young we didn’t go each year, but we were there a few times, staying up past our bedtime to be there. Several years the Watch Night Service included a talent show, and oh, how fun some of those were. There was always a wide variety of “talent,” ranging from a dear elder woman named Arlene who couldn’t sing, singing a falsetto of “I Love You Truly,” to a dad dressed in a tux, doing puppet/ventriloquism with a raw chicken, to lovely duets of hymns, piano solos, and skits put on by children. I think there were mime performances too.
One year in the mid-1990s, a group of seven women (me included) decided to put something together for the Glad Tidings Watch Night Talent Show. The movie Sister Act had been out for a while, and we chose the song “I Will Follow Him,” originally sung in the 1960s by Peggy March, but redone by the nuns in Sister Act as an anthem of love to their devotion to Jesus. Whoopi Goldberg was the fake nun who led the real nuns in their song, and even now as I’ve watched it back, I love it. What started out as a pop song was turned into a lively song of faith in the movie, about following Jesus wherever He would lead. How no other person could ever take His place in our hearts.
So. Our beautiful and kind pastor’s wife Kim was recruited, and even though she was more reserved, she was a good sport and agreed. The other six were Barb, Dawn, Kathleen, Joanne, Su and me. We knew it had to be a goofy performance, because we’d be so bad we wouldn’t want anyone taking us seriously. We decided to wear black stretch pants or leggings, padded grotesquely in the hips with towels or pillows (not that I needed any help in that area.) White blouses, hair in ponytails, red lipstick, and large Christmas ornaments for earrings. Like this, only much larger balls. And we all wore big sunglasses.
Our pastor’s wife Kim needed to stand out as our leader in some way since she would mouth the main vocals, so she wore a sequined knit turban on her head. She was front and center, the rest of us were behind and to the sides, the way a chevron of geese flies.
We thought we would do better if we played “I Will Follow Him” from Sister Act over the church’s sound system and lip-synched it rather than attempting to actually do our dance routine and use our own voices.
The whipped cream on top of this bizarre New Year’s Eve sundae was the large, sparkling disco ball we rented and hung from the ceiling in the church. And I guess the cherry on top of the whipped cream was our group’s name: Gladys Light and the Hips. So. Very. Appropriate. In every way.
The more we envisioned and practiced our fun number, the more we added to it. In hindsight I’m not sure I would ever hang a disco ball from a church ceiling again, but we were young and energetic then, and wanted to make people laugh and sing, and considering the raw chicken act, we didn’t think we were that far off course.
There was a good crowd on that New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service. Gladys Light and the Hips all got ready downstairs near the fellowship hall and we knew we had rehearsed our dance moves well.
We were introduced and took our places on stage with our heads bowed. The first part of the song begins slowly and reverently, and as Kim held a microphone and lip-synched dramatically, the rest of us took side steps and lifted our hands to the ceiling as we sang “I will follow Himmmmm.” We dipped low and scanned the ground at “there isn’t an ocean too deep” then raised our arms and gazed at the sky at “a mountain so high it could keep…. keep me away….away from His loooove.”
Then the music changes and the upbeat begins, and we sang and swayed and bobbed and did our best to do all our moves in unison, and well, the crowd (congregation?) went wild. People whooped and hollered and clapped their hands to the music, and of course that energized us and we gave it our all. Pillow-hips, ornament-ears, flailing arms and the whole bit.
The stage and the disco ball were lit; the other lights of the sanctuary were out, so when we looked out at the people as we performed, we could see it was crowded and lively, but we couldn’t see faces — just silhouettes.
Right around 20 seconds into the bee-bopping part of the song, I saw two people about half-way back in the church stand up abruptly, move sideways to the end of the pew in front of all the people seated, and quickly stride down the aisle and exit the church. Oh, do I remember their body language. It said, “We cannot take one more minute of this debauchery.” The two women who left were pillars of our church. A respected, godly widow and her servant-hearted, middle-aged unmarried daughter, both of whom I liked and admired. As we Hips twirled and sang I saw them depart in what I perceived as a sort of holy huff, and my heart sank. We had not wanted to offend anyone, and clearly we had.
After our song we got a standing ovation and thought it was the most fun we’d all had in a long time. What a memory we’d created. We found out soon after that Myra and her daughter Doreen had thought we were singing an old hymn, and desecrating it with our antics. When our pastor explained to them that it wasn’t a hymn at all, but just a pop song rewritten for the movie Sister Act, to express the love nuns can have for their Lord, I don’t think they changed their minds about our performance. I can certainly understand how thoughtless that must have seemed. I can’t say I would think any differently if I saw someone sing The Old Rugged Cross and treating it so lightly.
But, we told each other, we weren’t singing a hymn. We always looked back on that New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service with a bit of a wince, recalling those two silhouetted figures marching out of the sanctuary while we took our number to its finish.
The whole Watch Night Service was video-taped that night, and Gladys Light and the Hips were planning to get together in the New Year at someone’s house for snacks, fellowship, and to watch the talent show on the VHS tape. Before that could ever happen, we learned that someone had “accidentally” recorded something over the talent show, and our performance (and all the others) was lost forever.
Oh, what I would give to be able to show that video to my grandchildren now. They think I’m fairly stodgy and boring, and I’d love to see the looks on their faces as they gape at their grandma singing and dancing and having the time of her life.