Community finds harmony at hymn festival

Alex Hodges, Campus Carrier Arts & Living Editor

*inhales helium balloon*
Choir members from First Baptist, First United Methodist and St. Peter’s Episcopal sing together as Paul Neal leads “Amazing Grace.” Photo by Cassie LaJeunesse | Campus Carrier

First Baptist Church of Rome hosted “Sing Together! A Hymn Festival” on Sunday afternoon. Congregations from First Baptist, Rome First United Methodist and St. Peter’s Episcopal churches came together to celebrate community by sharing and singing a variety of hymns from different denominations.

The event was the brainchild of choir directors at the three churches downtown: Keith Reaves from First Baptist, Paul Neal from First Methodist and Fred Tarrant from St. Peter’s. Neal said that the idea came from Reaves, whom he met upon his moving to Rome. It wasn’t until several years later that the idea became reality.

“It really was Keith who finally said ‘let’s stop talking about it, and let’s do it,’” Neal said.

Neal said that the hardest part about putting the event together was setting a date. Reaves, Neal and Tarrant met last spring to decide what they considered to be too early or too late for the event to take place. They chose September because it didn’t conflict with any fall breaks, and it also gave the participating choirs the chance to prepare.

The event was announced as the first annual “hymn-sing”, and according to Neal, the response was overwhelmingly positive.

Neal hopes that as the event grows, they can get some other churches involved as well. He would also like to see at least one new hymn sung at the event every year, or perhaps to have a hymn composed for the event.

“The plan is that we are going to try to do this again next year, and maybe alternate hosts,” Neal said.

Among the choirs at the event on Sunday were a few of Berry’s own students. Junior Kara Truitt sings with the choir at First Baptist. Truitt was impressed by the power of the event.

“I love how cool it is that our churches can come together, though having our differences, and sing and realize our similarities through music,” Truitt said.

She said the event felt “theologically sound” and “scriptural”.

Senior Lyman Hinson also sang with First Baptist at the event. He said that he liked the conversation that happened about the different denominations, and he sees how that discussion of diversity could be beneficial to Berry.

“Despite maintaining different theological aspects, we can all come together for a similar purpose,” Hinson said.

As a student studying music, he said that he found it invaluable to learn the history behind many of the famous hymns he sang throughout his childhood.

As Neal and Truitt pointed out, there are some things happening on Berry’s campus that have a similar purpose to that of the festival. Neal mentioned the Lessons and Carols service that takes place every year around Christmas. He also said he would love to see more people singing together, perhaps in a potential future event like a “Berry sing-along”, where students, faculty and staff could come together and sing.

Truitt takes part in a group called the “Exultation Singers,” which is a group of female students who come together to sing hymns and contemporary music alike. They put on an annual Christmas party in the Jewel Box, and work in collaboration with a gospel choir on campus called “In His Name.”

As for the future of the hymn festival, Neal said that there are plans to do it again, and that he hopes it will grow and develop as the years go by.

“I’d love to see other churches involved, not just of other denominations, but of other races and other socioeconomic levels,” Neal said.

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