MOUNT JULIET, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – Nashville-area churches celebrated God, country, truth and "really good music" in a unique community-wide July 3 extravaganza thanks to the cooperative efforts of five local churches and recording artist Chris Gregg's desire to see churches work together.
When Gregg discussed the issue of competition between churches with his father-in-law, Gregg decided to counteract the trend by inviting other churches to join his church in a community-wide outreach effort.
The result was United We Sing – a patriotic celebration for the Nashville suburb of Mount Juliet, Tennessee – the first of its kind in over a decade, which drew a steady crowd over of 500, even in rain.
A 45-piece orchestra and a 100-voice choir performed traditional patriotic music such as "Stars and Stripes Forever," "Salute to the Armed Services," and "Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly," as well as Christian-based songs about freedom including two different versions of "Let Freedom Ring" – one written by Bill Gaither and the other by Dennis Jernigan.
"This whole thing came up in a conversation with me and him of what [we] can we do where we can actually come together as . . . the church and say, 'We want to provide something that is safe, family-friendly, and fun for the community, and do it not only in a musically-excellent way but a very open way so that people can get involved and enjoy it,'" Gregg told Christian Examiner.
When Gregg, music minister at Silver Springs Baptist Church and a founding member of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, presented his idea to local music ministers, fellow recording artist Jim Murray of The Imperials and Gaither Vocal Band fame was among the first to respond.
Murray, minister of music at Victory Baptist Church, told Christian Examiner, "When Chris first came to me and shared his idea, I was real excited as I have always thought that participation between churches even of differing denominations is a good thing. The Bible speaks often about unity of the brethren and sisters and that we should dwell together in unity. If ever there was a time to stand together for our Christian/Judeo principles, it is now," he said.
Initially designed to be a tag-team event in a local park with a children's choir at the conclusion of a children's camp, United We Sing turned into something larger. "This kind of snowballed. It was just one thing on top of another, and it just kept going. I didn't quite expect it to be the event that it's becoming," Gregg said one week prior to the performance.
The children's camp was cancelled leaving a one-hour program void which Gregg filled with a solo performance of his own and brother-sister duo The Nashville Natives. Gregg also enlisted the help of vocalist Eric Horner to augment one of the choir numbers and local television personality Lisa Patton for emcee duties.
"I can't do this by myself," Gregg said when reflecting on the importance of networking.
In addition to efforts made by his fellow music ministers from the cooperating churches First Baptist Church, Grace Baptist Church, and Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Gregg had a team of ten volunteers at his own church who he said "worked tirelessly" to bring his idea to fruition.
Volunteer Jennifer Stephens who booked food vendors and organized first aid services and social media promotion told Christian Examiner, "When Chris introduced the idea, we were behind him and his vision 100 percent. For me personally, the thought of a Christ-focused community event and partnership with sister churches could be the spark that begins to change the world we're currently experiencing. Why not go all in and see what God can do with our efforts?
"It's been amazing to see how businesses, organizations, and individuals want to give their time and services to make this event a success. It shows me that there are people who want to give their time, talents, efforts, and money to help a cause they believe in. We don't have to do everything on our own," she said.
"I hope this event will amaze people and make them realize what our God is capable of doing. I hope it brings people in the doors of a church so that they may find what's been missing in their hearts. I hope it is the foundation for a ministry opportunity for years to come," Stephens continued.
To do this in your community:
1. Start small with your own denomination and community area.
2. Keep the variables low.
3. Make sure the relationship between all the music ministers is strong so that there is good cooperation.
4. Whoever starts the idea needs a team of people at his or her church that is willing to work hard.
5. Have a team of volunteers that believes in what you are doing.
That blessing for volunteers was a goal for Gregg who conducted the choir and orchestra for the event. Asked why he decided to work with a large group of volunteer musicians rather than simply combining his professional expertise with that of his fellow music ministers and other Nashville music industry insiders, Gregg said he wanted volunteers to have the experience using their talents to bless others.
Speaking of his work with Denver and the Mile High Orchestra, Gregg commented, "We have played so many patriotic shows where churches, instead of wanting to do the live choir/orchestra thing, they just said, 'Let's just hire a band, have a great concert, have some hot dogs and stuff, and just have nice time.' I'm not going against that, but I think we lose the blessing of what an event can be. We get to bless 150 people with a chance to do something that they don't normally get to do. I wanted to make sure that people had the opportunity to do something like this because if we're going to get the community involved, the community has to be involved."
In the days leading up to the performance, Gregg noticed interest from a variety of age groups. Local social media outlets received record numbers of hits once the United We Sing event was posted. "There's even the younger generation that is really interested in wanting to know places they can take their 2 & 3 year-olds or 5 & 6 year-olds – these young families that want a fun, family-friendly event that's not going to be just in the back of someone's yard or parking lot of a church," he said.
In addition to the traditional patriotic music, event organizers incorporated bounce houses and food truck vendors to ensure fun for all ages.
Gregg received promises of continued support from this year's cooperating churches and has been approached by other individuals hoping to be part of next year's program.
Despite some last-minute setbacks, Gregg considered Friday night's event to be a success. Speaking after the concert, he told Christian Examiner, "We were attacked on all sides with having to switch venues 24 hours before the event, with weather issues, with people having injuries. Tons of stuff that happened, [but] God just worked miracles all day and He created an event that spread the Gospel and spread the word. We celebrated country; we celebrated the truth; we celebrated Him, and we celebrated really good music. Everything came together and God really blessed us. I think it's the start of something really awesome here in the community."
Murray concurred, telling Christian Examiner: "Tonight we saw a community come together in spite of the weather. I'm excited about what happened tonight and to see churches work together. The Bible talks about us coming together in unity, dwelling together in unity, and I think that we saw that tonight. So I'm excited about it and looking forward to next year."