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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Gaffney, South Carolina, hosts a Black History Month concert

Featured were hymns interpreted by musicians with a flair for contemporary gospel and jazz

April 15, 2024

From left, the Rev. Rafus Camp, pastor of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Pat Parker-Reid and the Rev. Lynne Miller, pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church play during Sunday’s concert. (Photo by Latanya Carpenter)

A concert offered on a recent Sunday at Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Gaffney, South Carolina, featured musicians who reimagined hymns in contemporary gospel and jazz styles.

People from different Christian denominations and races praised the Lord by singing hymns such as “Amazing Grace,” “Wade in the Water,” and a “What a Fellowship/Pass Me Not” medley.

The musicians who accompanied them performed the songs in a contemporary gospel/jazz style with keyboards, drums, guitar and saxophone. They also performed a reggae version of “Soon and Very Soon” and a heart-wrenching version of the contemporary gospel song “Falling in Love with Jesus.”

From left are the Rev. Rafus Camp, pastor of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Pat Parker-Reid, and the Rev. Lynne Miller, pastor of Limestone Presbyterian Church. (Photo by Latanya Carpenter)

The idea for the concert was loosely based on a series of recorded concerts organized in 1998 by saxophonist Kirk Whalum. The two-album set, “Gospel According to Jazz,” reinterpreted hymns in a gospel/jazz style.

“The spirit was there. You could feel it,” said Stan Rendleman, one of the saxophone players from Lincolnton, North Carolina, who performed at Bethesda. Reflecting on the concert, he said, “It was the ambiance of the church. The audience was in awe of how musicians took hymns and gave them a new flavor with jazz improvisation” by inventing another melody on the spot.

“We wanted to brighten up the hymns for young people while respecting the traditional hymns that older congregants sang,” said Dr. Kim Smith, who lives in Gaffney, is a member of Bethesda Presbyterian Church, organized the concert, and played saxophone. “We played hymns that everybody knew and tried not to go beyond the first two stanzas.”

Guitarist David Toliver plays guitar during Sunday’s concert. (Photo by Latanya Carpenter)

“With the addition of Walker’s Chapel’s quartet from Reidsville, South Carolina, we introduced young people to quartet singing, which is the foundation of gospel, rhythm and blues, and hip-hop,” Smith said.

“It was one of those rare times when Black and white church members from different congregations and denominations gathered to praise the Lord,” said Latanya Carpenter of Gaffney and a member of Bethesda Presbyterian Church.

Attendees included members from Limestone Presbyterian Church and Dunton United Methodist Church, both in Gaffney; Walkers Chapel Presbyterian Church in Reidville, South Carolina; and Mattoon Presbyterian Church in Greenville, South Carolina. Noting the different hues, Carpenter said, “It was about unity and praising the Lord. It was good, it was different. It was unique.”

The Rev. Rafus Camp, the pastor at Bethesda Presbyterian Church, presided over the concert and delivered introductions.

The Rev. Lynn Miller, the pastor at Limestone Presbyterian Church, delivered the opening prayer. The Rev. Pat Parker-Reid, a retired minister from Charlotte, North Carolina, served as host.

“We hope to tweak this concert and send it on the road,” Smith said. “If we can get some grant money, we hope to expand this concert, add commentary to explain the stories behind these hymns, and use music to help musician-starved churches infuse their congregations with young people. Music may be one way to bring them back to church.”

Band members included Kim Smith, Gaffney, South Carolina, alto sax; Stan Rendleman, Lincolnton, North Carolina, tenor sax; Andon White, Bessemer City, North Carolina, keyboards; William Paul Robinson, Lincolnton, North Carolina, drums; and Thelma Harold, Hickory, North Carolina, vocalist.

Dr. Kim Smith is an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Today’s Focus: Bethesda Presbyterian Church in Gaffney, South Carolina, hosts a Black History Month concert

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Lynne Foreman, Ministry Engagement Advisor, Ministry Engagement & Support, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)  

Valdir Franca, Coordinator, Latin America & the Caribbean Office, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency  

Let us pray

Gracious God, we thank you for Bethesda Presbyterian Church and ask you to bless their efforts as they seek opportunities to not only serve, but also promote harmony. We ask that they commit themselves to your grace and love and continue to glorify you in these efforts. Amen.