Today in the Mission Yearbook

A hundred Presbyterians walk into a bar …


And the music they make is moving and memorable

August 12, 2023

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The Presbyterian Association of Musicians annual Music & Worship Conference celebrated a Beer & Hymns night Tuesday at the RailYard in Black Mountain, North Carolina. (Photo by Rich Copley)

There’s something about holding a pilsner glass full of one’s favorite beer and singing praises to God with more than 100 fellow conference-goers singing right along.

That was the happy lot for members and supporters of the Presbyterian Association of Musicians attending the recent Worship & Music Conference at Montreat Conference Center, many of whom attended the Beer & Hymns event held at the RailYard in nearby Black Mountain.

“It’s great to see people enjoying themselves and making music,” said the Rev. Bill Davis, PAM’s development manager and the pastor of Community of Grace, A Presbyterian Church in Arvada, Colorado. “Our lights go on when we sing a hymn that’s been a favorite since when we were 8 years old.”

“It’s a member appreciation event,” Davis said of Beer & Hymns. “It’s a way to saying thank you to the hundreds of PAM members who attend the Worship & Music Conference.”

The conference “is the great musician and pastor reunion,” said Davis, whose job it was Tuesday to display each hymn on big-screen televisions scattered throughout the RailYard. “They love singing and being together, and beer is the social lubricator.”

Virtually everybody in the crowd had substantial singing chops on display. They were led by singer Luke Browder, a new faculty member at Clemson University; guitarist Skip Yingling, director of music ministries at First Presbyterian Church in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and keyboardist Wil Smith, senior organist and the Austin Lovelace Composer in Residence at Wellshire Presbyterian Church in Denver.

“We just threw together a set list. We’ve got some great musicians, and so we just jam,” Browder said during a brief break between sets. PAM members are such great singers “that a lot of times I don’t have to do anything. We just drop out and let the room sing. It’s a room full of musicians and pastors, and so we’re just there to facilitate.”

Singers were given a songbook that contained 14 hymns and a few pithy sayings about beer, including this one from Dave Barry: “Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”

Here’s what Thomas Jefferson had to say on the topic: “Beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.”

The beer-drinkers sang with confidence and with passion, including these hymns: “Blessed Assurance,” “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” “Guide my Feet,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Shall We Gather at the River?” “Because He Lives,” Lord, I Lift Your Name on High,” “For Everyone Born,” and “Amazing Grace,” all during the first set alone.

Marlon Hurst, the director of music at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina, was the co-director of the 2022 Worship & Music Conference, when the Beer & Hymns event premiered at an outdoor venue.

“It was off campus, and it was magical,” he said, even though conference-goers were entering the third year of the pandemic. “It was extraordinary. It was cathartic.”

“Walking in here tonight and seeing people here singing their faith — that’s what the church should be like,” Hurst said. “It’s a beautiful picture of what the church should be.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Beer & Hymns at the Presbyterian Association of Musicians’ Worship & Music Conference

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Mikyle Johnson, Administrative Support, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Sandy Johnson, Financial/Budget Analyst, Budgets & Forecasting, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)

Let us pray

Beloved God, we want to love you with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. Help us to read your Word and understand the truth that will set us free. Teach us, dear Jesus, so that we too can teach like you. Amen.