The sounds of original gospel music will fill Augusta’s Springfield Baptist Church on Friday as the congregation kicks off three months of celebrations leading up to the church’s 225th anniversary in August.
The Rev. Al Sharpton will speak at a service celebrating the anniversary on Aug. 12. Other events are planned in the Springfield Village Park, adjacent to the church.
“It really is truly an exciting time for us,” said the Rev. Hardy S. Bennings, who celebrates his third anniversary as Springfield’s pastor this weekend.
Organized in 1787, Springfield is believed to be the nation’s oldest continuously meeting black church. Today, it has about 175 members.
Several of them will participate in Friday’s concert, a free event that features original writing, music and dance by members of the church and community. The concert will be recorded on CD and DVD and released at August’s anniversary celebration.
The concert was a vision of the church’s minister of music, Kelvin Jackson, Bennings said.
“It was a dream of his that started over a year ago,” he said. “The Gospel concert is really a dream realized.”
There will be performances like Holy Hip Hop by Travis Wright, a local spoken word poet; It is Well, arranged by Fitzgerald Ryans, the minister of music at Good Shepherd Baptist Church; and How Do We Say Thank You Lord, written by Aundra Golden Clark, a member at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
Other anniversary events include Praise in the Park on Aug. 3 in the Springfield Village Park, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this summer. The event features a host of local choirs and talent in support of a local nonprofit.
“It’s not just Springfield events. It’s a community event,” Bennings said.
In all, seven to 10 anniversary events are planned and culminate with the service at the church and Sharpton’s appearance as guest speaker. Sharpton, a Baptist minister, is founder and president of the nonprofit civil rights organization National Action Network and a syndicated radio show host.
“It’s exciting,” Bennings said. “Everybody is just totally
bananas about all this. We think this celebration will be historic.”
More details will be released about other upcoming events as plans are finalized, Bennings said.
“I’m overjoyed at the possibilities of what can happen here,” he said. “We’ve really opened ourselves up to have an impact in the community. Blacks, whites, all colors, creeds, it’s my vision to open church up across all these boundaries.”
Bennings said he often asks his church, “Are we writing history or are we living legacy?”
“I don’t want us to be a church that lives off of our legacy,” he said. “We want to be of service to all people. We want to have an impact today.”