‘Some glad morning’

Millersburg Christian Church to host bluegrass worship service

The Millersburg Christian Church bluegrass worship service core group, from left: Barbara Moran, autoharp; Jeff Moran, guitar and vocals; Rita Adams, coordinator and vocals; Heather Johnston Patten, vocals; Patty Eggleston, vocals; Beth Haas, piano and vocals; Suzy Johnston, banjo, mandolin, guitar and vocals; Juanita Heider, hammer dulcimer. Not pictured: Rick Howard, standup bass; Rev. Larry Brown, guitar and vocals.

The Millersburg Christian Church bluegrass worship service core group, from left: Barbara Moran, autoharp; Jeff Moran, guitar and vocals; Rita Adams, coordinator and vocals; Heather Johnston Patten, vocals; Patty Eggleston, vocals; Beth Haas, piano and vocals; Suzy Johnston, banjo, mandolin, guitar and vocals; Juanita Heider, hammer dulcimer. Not pictured: Rick Howard, standup bass; Rev. Larry Brown, guitar and vocals. Photo by Dean Asher.

— As the other seven musicians tune their instruments or debate which song should start off practice, Juanita Heider has made up her mind.

Upon hearing the name of a staple hymn pop up in the myriad of suggestions, Heider strikes out the first few notes on her hammer dulcimer, filling the Millersburg Christian Church sanctuary with the chorus of “I’ll Fly Away.” Soon after, the rest of the group is following suit.

Though covered by classic and contemporary artists of all genres ranging from Johnny Cash to Kanye West, the worship song is a staple of bluegrass jam acts such as the one Heider was rehearsing with Tuesday night. She is one of many who will make up the core group of a new bluegrass worship service the church will hold, beginning this month.

The first session of the bi-monhtly worship service will be 5-6:30 p.m. Aug. 17 at the church.

Bluegrass beginnings

Though it kicks off next week, the bluegrass gospel worship service has been in the works for months. Inspired by similar popular services at fellow Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Rocheport Christian Church, vocalist and coordinator Rita Adams wanted to bring something similar to Millersburg.

Adams approached Millersburg Christian Church minister Barbara Gulick, and soon after began forming the anchor group from members of the church’s Sunday worship band and the surrounding community.

Gulick said that aside from a few select performances, Millersburg Christian had not had a regular worship service that played a different genre of music from what you’d expect from traditional Sunday service. Church pianist Beth Haas said it was new musical territory for many of the musicians, but the pieces came together quickly.

“As far as playing, it’s (a new experience),” Haas said. “But honestly ‘O Brother Where Art Thou’ kind of resurrected (bluegrass) and it’s been there forever. It’s related to our roots, it’s kind of like jazz. It has its ups and downs in terms of popularity, but it will always be there.”

Autoharpist and vocalist Barbara Moran said that bluegrass was less about the music and more the instrumentation, noting heavy use of banjo, mandolin and other signature pieces in their ensemble. The worship service will feature a mix of classic and contemporary tunes.

“Some of the songs in our hymnal are basically bluegrass, although we tend to play them like church music,” Gulick said. “And then when you start playing it, people go, ‘Oh, I know that,’ and they just don’t know they know it. It’s that kind of music, it’s part of who you are — it just flows.”

The first service Aug. 17 will be performed by Columbia-based guest act The Good Turn Daily Band — recently seen at the Kingdom of Callaway County Fair and expected to perform at the Millersburg Celebration Sept. 14 — to give the core group more time to rehearse.

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