FBC Florala youth choir reunites nearly 40 years latercomment (0)
August 18, 2005
By Bethany Dye
As the choir gathered to rehearse for the Sunday morning service, members greeted each other with excited gasps, warm tears and hearty hugs. It was no ordinary choir practice — the group had not sung together in 37 years.
This was the scene Aug. 6–7 at the choir tour reunion held as part of the homecoming weekend at First Baptist Church, Florala. Some 35 of the original 50 members of the 1968 choir returned to Florala for the reunion, some traveling from just down the road and others coming from distant states.
Even Gary Bond, the director on the choir tour, made the trip from Fairfax, Va., to once again lead the group. “This experience has affected me for 38 years,” Bond said. “Not a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about this choir.”
In the summer of 1968, the choir went on a two-week tour, performing hour-long concerts at churches in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico. At the time, choir members’ ages ranged from about 13 to 18. During the reunion, 50- to 55-year-old returning members exchanged stories and showed pictures of their children, who are already past the age they were when they toured together.
The weekend’s events kicked off the afternoon of Aug. 6 with registration and greeting at First, Florala. The choir then rehearsed and selected songs from their original repertoire to sing in the Sunday morning service.
Gordon Welch, music minister of First Baptist Church, Selma, along with a committee of choir members, organized the reunion. Welch, who was in 11th grade on the choir tour, has been the guest musician at First, Florala, for the past two homecomings.
He said he had always dreamed of getting the choir back together, and when he was asked back for homecoming this year, he felt as though that was God’s go-ahead for the reunion. “This is just unbelievable. It’s amazing,” Welch said with a smile.
Many of those at the reunion now hold ministry-related positions in churches — several even serve as choir directors and members. Others serve in roles ranging from nursery worker to substitute pianist.
In addition to Welch, three other members also accepted God’s call to ministry. Tim Willis is minister of music at Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Dothan, and Andy White is a bivocational minister, preaching at different churches as needed. David Dykes, who delivered the homecoming sermon, is pastor of Green Acres Baptist Church, Tyler, Texas. He was formerly pastor of Gardendale’s First Baptist Church.
“I want to say thank you for the spiritual foundation First Baptist Church, Florala, provided and for the patience in putting up with my antics,” Dykes said as he smiled at the crowd.
“While I was a member of this choir, the church experienced real revival — I’m not talking about meetings,” he said. “I’m talking about a real movement of God. God changed the church and He changed my life.”
The experiences choir members had during their time at the church have had great impacts on their church involvement into adulthood, Welch said.
“I, along with many others, was nurtured by this church,” he said. “It instilled within us a wanting to be involved in a church.”
Bond said he was pleased about the musical impact the choir had on the Florala community.
The public school system offered no vocal music program, but the choir produced seven music majors.
He was even more pleased at the spiritual impact sparked in the ’60s. A revival swept across the community as teenagers of every faith began to join together to sing. Bond saw youth use the choir as an outreach ministry, resulting in a “spiritual explosion.”
Al Jackson, who served as youth minister of First, Florala, in 1968 and now serves as pastor of Lakeview Baptist Church, Auburn, called what happened in the community “an extraordinary movement of the Spirit of God that impacted not just the church but the entire community.”
The local school was also affected. As an outgrowth of the ministry of the church, the teenagers founded the Florala Youth Christian Association. The group met in the mornings and during lunch at school for prayer, singing, sharing and fellowship.
The closeness of the choir motivated members to travel to Florala for the reunion, said Neva Joyce Sullins of Whitehouse, Tenn., daughter of then-pastor Fred White and instrumentalist Mayo White. Sullins is the youngest choir member and was in the eighth grade on the tour.
“I’ve never heard of a choir reunion before,” remarked Shawn Danley of Atlanta, who was a senior in 1968. “This means more than class reunions. We were closer (in the choir) than I was to the people in my graduating class.”
Danley’s sister Sherry Cotton agreed. “I plan on being in heaven with these people,” Cotton said, as she greeted old friends with hugs and tears.