Some of you know the story behind why I occasionally sign off my letters, emails and various correspondence with “Yours on the Uptrail”. The straightforward answer is my Dad, a wonderful writer and minister (my greatest influence), always ended every letter he wrote as well as his newsletter messages to the congregation with this phrase. He was following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, who also happened to be writers and ministers. But there’s more behind this phrase than simple family tradition. More, I came to find out, than meets the literary eye.
Dad always answered the phone with a hearty “Soper speaking”. It quickly became the title of all of his newsletter messages as people loved to hear him answer the phone. He had signature style.
Soper Speaking… By The Reverend Willard MacKenzie Soper
“Why do you sign off your letters and Parish Post articles with ‘Yours on the Uptrail’?”, someone asked a month or so ago. “What is the significance of it, and why do you use it?” All I could really tell the person who asked was that my Grandfather MacKenzie and my Dad had used it, and that I had wanted to carry on the tradition because I liked the sentiment it conveyed. I wasn’t, however, sure of its significance.
While at my Mother’s this past Christmas, I chanced upon a little historical booklet put out by the Richmond Hill Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Queens, New York, on the occasion of its 100th anniversary. Within its pages were brief biographies of all its pastors and reminiscences of some of its older members. My grandfather, Dr. Aeneas James MacKenzie, was called to the church in the late 1930s from Detroit, Michigan, and served there until his sudden death during a Sunday morning service in December 1948.
During his tenure in Richmond Hill, he started a church newsletter called THE BROADCAST. In speaking of this, one member remembered that: “Dr. MacKenzie wrote a column called ‘The Minister Thinks Aloud’ and he always signed off with ‘Yours on the Uptrail’ which was taken from the title of a beautiful poem he had written.”
“So, that’s where it came from,” I thought to myself. I then read the poem printed on the following page. Upon reading it, “Yours on the Uptrail” suddenly meant more than family tradition. It had a deeper, Christ-centered meaning. I share my Granddad’s poem with you in hopes that it will have significant meaning for each of you as well.
The Uptrail is the life trail
that everyone must take
If he wants to find fruition
For his dreams, and not forsake
All the plans that God has for him
In the passing of the years,
But attends high voices calling
That deep in his soul he hears.
There’s a cradle on the Uptrail
And the little child therein
Hushed asleep by angel voices
That, through all the noise and din,
Never fail to sing their message
To a heedless fearful world,
That only on the Uptrail
Is the flag of peace unfurled
There’s a cross upon the Uptrail,
And wherever you may be,
You can see it standing cold and stark,
And its name is Calvary.
There’s a man upon the Uptrail
He is trudging far ahead,
And he beckons us to follow
Up a path that’s often red
With the wounded feet of many
Who have climbed the way before,
And who never ceased their climbing
Till the Crown of Life they wore.
See! He points up to the summit
Where a halo glow of light
Bathes the distant top with glory,
Like a sunrise, after night,
Shines out from behind some mountain
And its silhouette enfolds,
Wrapped in sheens of glistening brightness,
Mingled with rare blues and golds.
The Uptrail is a hard trail,
But it leads right up to God.
The soul that struggles bravely
And endures the chastening rod,
Never fails to reach the summit,
Oft discouraged though he be.
At the top he will discover
His own immortality.
by A.J. MacKenzie