I made my first trip to the First Baptist Church in Vineyard Haven last Friday night to listen to some Christian music. What a beautiful building. The wooden beams were amazing and the acoustics were fantastic. I almost wished I could belt out some singing of my own.
The musical lineup featured some of my favorites — Mark Lovewell, Sean McMahon, the worship team of the First Renewed (Brazilian) Baptist Church, and then the featured performer, Dave Pettigrew from New Jersey. The voices I heard were incredible and the first thing I thought was “Man, they’re all really gifted and they know where their gifts come from.”
The church’s welcoming pastor, the Rev. Dr. Leo Christian, introduced each act and made us all feel at home. The church wasn’t overly crowded, with family and friends sitting in groups, but not too close to those surrounding them, and everyone wore masks, except the performers when they were singing.
I talked to Dave a little bit before the concert started. He was at a table in the back of the church where he had T-shirts and other merchandise, along with information about two of his projects: There Is Hope and Holt International, an organization that helps poor children across the globe. There Is Hope was formed to support those struggling with addiction. Dave’s nephew Ryan died of a heroin overdose at 27, so that cause is very close to his heart. Dave’s sister designed silver bracelets that have There Is Hope engraved on them and they sell them, with proceeds going to support recovery programs like Teen Challenge and others. Dave said he had played at the Island church a few years ago and he was glad to be back. He told me he had worked at a record company in Manhattan for years before he struck out on his own, traveling up and down the East Coast performing in front of thousands of people.
“I like to weave the music with stories and my own experience,” he explained. And he did this indeed during his performance, telling us about the inspiration for some of his songs and what they meant to him. He had the audience up on their feet in no time, and the sounds coming from his keyboard made it seem like he had a five-piece band behind him.
The lyrics of the first song he performed, “I see the evidence of your goodness Jesus, all over my life,” made me stop and think, as well as many more of the words he sang that night. He talked to us about asking God to take us deeper . . . to places we’re afraid to go. That certainly resonated with me. I like to stay nice and comfortable. In fact, I wondered all night how all those worshipers could stand and sway and clap to the music so freely. Were they so filled with joy that they felt completely comfortable abandoning themselves to the music? And if that was the case, what was I missing out on?
There’s not a lot of clapping and swaying when you go to Mass at a Catholic church, so my background gives me almost zero experience with that form of praise and worship. At one point during the concert, people were even hugging the person next to them. Not me, of course, I felt way too awkward to do any of that. So that gave me a whole lot to chew on in itself. What is it that the rest of the audience was feeling that I wasn’t. Or was I feeling it and I just don’t express it the way they did. I have to admit, I was a little jealous that I didn’t have whatever it takes to lose yourself in the moment.
Before I went to the concert, I asked Rev. Christian about the importance of music in worship. “Music has been a part of our Judeo-Christian heritage,” he wrote me in an email. “One of the earliest references to singing is seen in the morning stars (angels) singing at the marvelous creation of man. Music like nothing else has drawn our heart to God’s heart, as well as our hearts to our fellow man. It is through music we express our joys and concerns.
“We are hosting this concert with the hopes of creating an avenue by which we can express our joys and concerns, our hopes and dreams for ourselves and the world around us. Two of Dave Pettigrew’s songs are ‘Love Is’ and ‘Fear Not’ — I think these sums this all up.”
I have to say the voices of all the performers were so spot-on and beautiful that it was very moving for me. I could definitely understand how music fills the soul and leads people to a different level in their own spirituality.
When the music was winding down, Dave talked more about his two projects I mentioned earlier. He encouraged people to sponsor children living in poverty in far-off countries, and he encouraged them to support those struggling with addiction. He reminded everyone that Jesus is with them when they stumble again and again, always there to lift them up. It seems helping others is the perfect way to emulate what Jesus does for us.
It was a beautiful night filled with music that made you feel like you might have connected with the direct number for God’s hotline. I would definitely go to another event like this again. And who knows, maybe I’ll even clap along. Nervously, I’m sure.
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