New things on the horizon. I have accepted a position as music director for Hopewell Methodist Church in Simpsonville, SC. I start there the first of March.
It’s been a LONG time since I did church music. My last real gig was at Fourth Presbyterian church over ten years ago, and that was just an interim. Time flies. McCarter Presbyterian is even further back in history, almost sixteen years ago.
When I left McCarter I had just gone on a twelve month contract with the District Five position instead of a 180 day teacher contract. I needed my weekends back. I had always said that when I retired from school work I would look into getting another church position. I retired from the school district six years ago this coming summer (again, time flies), yet I hadn’t taken on anything permanent. I had looked into a couple of positions, but with taking care of aging parents and with our looming year away in Washington, the timing just never seemed right.
Several weeks ago my friend Alan mentioned that his church, Hopewell United Methodist, was looking for a music director. I decided to look into it. After meeting with the church I was offered the position and I decided to take it. This coming Sunday I’ll be introduced to the congregation, but I don’t officially start until the first of March. I have two February concerts with the Herring Chamber Ensemble on Sundays and thought it best to get past those.
This will be a very different job. I’m used to a traditional choir directorship where I have a decent sized group and an organist/accompanist. There is no organ here. In fact, there isn’t really a choir. Hopewell has a blended service with a praise band that plays at the beginning and end of the service. Four or five singers sit in the choir loft, but they aren’t really a choir. My job will be to revitalize and direct the choir, as well as coordinate the praise band, bell choir, and ukulele band. I’ll also be playing piano for hymns and service music. Somehow I’ve got to bring balance, finding a happy medium between contemporary and traditional. It’s going to be a challenge.
This is a very old congregation. The church was founded in the late 1700s and was even mentioned by Francis Asbury in his journal. I found a good bit of history about the church on another blog post by Ken deWalt.
The church was noted by Francis Asbury himself, one of the two bishops of the UMC John Wesley appointed over the new American ‘Methodist Episcopal Church’ after the Revolutionary War. His journal records, ‘ We rode… to Berry’s Ford; thence to Thomas Terry’s, near there, sixteen miles southeast of Greenville, Hopewell Church was formed at an early date.”Quo Vadis, Where are we going?, October 2, 2014
That first building of rough hewn logs on this site is long gone. But local histories tell of large camp meetings being held at this site in the early 1800’s and tents by the dozens holding vendors of food and purveyors of whatever could be gotten around the grounds filled with hundreds of campers.
The white frame building built in 1859 to replace the small log structure was put up by the slaves of a neighbor and church member, Philemon Huff, whose family joined him in the cemetery here years later and still so long ago.
Until the end of the Civil War the ground behind the white frame church was the slave selling auction ground for the local community. This church building is where good Confederates attended this now ‘Southern Methodist Church’. Until a new church was built in 1924. the Southern and Methodist Episcopal Church rejoined in the 1930’s.
That building became infested with termites in the 1980’s and the fire department had to be called on to burn it in place. It was then that the present open space worship center was built by some very vision minded members of this congregation.
Sometime during the termite era the church congregation died out. The congregation was re-established in the 1990s as a mission church of Simpsonville Methodist. Our close friends Alan and Mary Russell are charter members of the new congregation. The new building has some photographs and a painting of the old white frame structure. One stained glass window was preserved and is now on display in the new sanctuary.
As it turns out, I actually have close ties to this church. Three of my grandmother’s siblings and one other relative are buried in the old church cemetery. Clarence and David Leapard were brothers of my grandmother, Mamie Catherine Leapard Taylor. Both died before they reached two years of age, one in 1887 and one nearly a decade later in 1896.
My great aunt Mary Leapard Cox is also buried in the Hopewell cemetery. She reached the age of 62. There is also an Infant Leapard buried in the cemetery, but I didn’t recognize the parents’ names.
This should be an interesting adventure. I know I can do the job. My biggest concern right now is how this will eat into the time I’ve been spending kayaking and playing with other musical groups. It seems that many of the groups meet on Wednesdays and other times when I play with various jam sessions. I’ll have to see how that all plays out.
Choir directing isn’t the only gig I’ve taken on. I’ll also be teaching a class for the OLLI program at Furman starting in late March. More on that later. I have now come full circle to where I began my career, teaching and directing a choir. I guess this retirement thing was fun while it lasted.