Grinning and chattering excitedly, about 60 former youth choir members of the Crawford Avenue Church of God stood in the choir loft at Bethel A.M.E. Church and sang How Great Thou Art for the first time in more than 50 years.
The Rev. Eddie Williams stood in front and told them one more time how God loves them.
“Do you remember singing every Sunday night?” he asked them. “Do you know why you did? I wanted to get you here off the streets. It’s not that you all were bad. You weren’t bad, but there’s stuff out there. So I’d get you here.”
Most of them had never seen the sanctuary or choir loft where they sang Saturday. In the late 1960s, when they were teenagers and active in the church, a house stood in that spot. The church they knew and loved was in a smaller building that now serves as the church’s chapel and fellowship hall.
“Back in those days, churches were located on corners and they had all of it in one structure,” Williams said after the group ate lunch and reminisced over a video slideshow of old photographs.
He was pastor of the Crawford Avenue Church of God from 1964 to 1968.
“See, people back then came from the community. They didn’t have mobility. It was a community church,” he said.
Churches did not have youth ministry in those days as they do today.
Williams wanted to get the youth involved in the church to keep them off the streets and out of trouble, he said.
“They added energy to the Sunday evening service. And I got them in church, so they sang and we had a good time,” he said.
Most of the choir members graduated high school around 1966, said Roger Sidener, who organized the reunion with Larry and Glenda Flowers and Denise Mundy.
“Out of everybody, only six couldn’t come,” he said.
“We were such a close group. We all went off to college and came back, (and) everybody was married, went to other churches, went to other towns,” Sidener said.
In the early 1990s, the Crawford Avenue Church of God merged with New Hope Worship Center and moved to Wheeler Road. New Hope continued to grow and is now on South Old Belair Road in Grovetown.
The Crawford Avenue building was sold to Bethel A.M.E., which continues to meet there.
In January, Sidener, the Flowerses and Mundy began reaching out to former choir members on Facebook to put together a reunion.
It brought Avis Pruitt back to Augusta from Omaha, Neb., after 43 years.
“Of all the places I’ve lived growing up as a preacher’s kid, this was the best,” she said.
She made almost instant friends with Harriett Elliott when she moved to Crawford Avenue.
“I was always in trouble with Harriett,” she said with a laugh. “She got me involved with the Church of God and introduced me all around at Richmond Academy. It’s the first place I lived where I’ve had instant friends.”
She said it was wonderful to reminisce with old friends and listen to their stories.
“The choir was the pulse of this church,” she said.
The reunion also gave her the opportunity to see Elliott, whom she hadn’t seen in 43 years.
“Harriet and I kept saying we’d see each other someday. This is what made someday happen,” Pruitt said.