Hymns Offer Florida Community Hope as Pandemic Restrictions Ease
By Carl Stagner
An idea God planted in the heart of one Florida minister in the midst of the pandemic has really taken off. When shutdowns in his state were lifted and restrictions began to ease in the latter half of 2020, Steven Darr began to ask God for a creative way to bring people together in song and community. Knowing the power of the classic hymns and gospel songs to encourage and unite the body of Christ, the answer came in the form of a “Brown Bag Hymn Sing.” With social distancing in place, South Lake Wales Church of God was able to hold its first hymn sing-along and lunchtime fellowship back in October of last year. Today, the former Warner University music faculty member, who now serves as associate pastor of senior adults and traditional worship leader at South Lake Wales, reports tremendous response to these events which have attracted great crowds every month since they began.
“I had heard of ‘brown bag devotions,” so I thought that a ‘brown bag hymn sing’ would make sense. People could prepare and bring their own food, tables and chairs could be placed socially distanced, and masks could be worn in and out. I invited some of my choir members to be a back-up choir while I led hymn and gospel medleys. They, too, were seated socially distanced.”
The Brown Bag Hymn Sing at South Lake Wales Church of God isn’t exclusive to their congregation. With so many church services, events, and activities canceled last year, the event at South Lake Wales Church of God drew a lot of attention and participation from the community. One hundred people attended the first event.
“Because of the great popularity,” Steven explains, “we have presented one each month since. People were anxious for something to do and just wanted to get out of their homes. About a third of the attendees are from our church, but the rest come from various churches around our community. Half of the back-up choir comes from my church choir, but the other half are church choir singers from other churches in the community.”
Sure, there are many seniors in the area who love the hymns and gospel songs, but they need ministered to, as well. Especially when restrictions were strict, many seniors weren’t able to see family members and friends, or take vacations they might have otherwise enjoyed. While churches have discovered the strength of new music in their worship services, the timeless nature of hymns still inspire worship across the generations. With so many missing the hymns in worship and missing each other due to the pandemic, Steven describes the advent of the Brown Bag Hymn Sing as a “win-win.” And, he appreciates the music and messages, himself.
“I love many different music styles,” Steven explains, “but hymns have always been the foundation of my musical world. I’m a huge southern gospel fan and have been blessed to direct the back-up choir for a couple of Gaither Homecoming events in Florida.
Of the hymns that really stand out in his mind and heart, Steven Darr’s personal favorites are “How Great Thou Art,” “Amazing Grace,” “Blessed Assurance,” and “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”