There was so much red, white and blue at First Baptist Church on Sunday that it looked like the Fourth of July came early. For the thousands gathered there, that’s what it was – a way to kick off the week leading up to Independence Day.
It’s an extravaganza the church has put on for 29 years – the annual Celebration of Liberty. Among the crowd was Dave Wilson, 44, of Lexington County, with his wife and several of their children.
“It’s just a really great time for us as a family to take that time, and set aside that time, to remember why we’re here – and to celebrate the liberty that we have,” Wilson said.
In one way or another, Wilson said, his family has been involved with the show since it began.
“My in-laws are in the orchestra and choir here,” Wilson said. “My wife played in the orchestra, (and) I sang in the choir for years.”
Some folks come from even farther away to see the production. Billy Turner, 70, came with a group from Bamberg County.
“We’ve been here about five years in a row,” Turner said. “It’s great – always.”
Turner said the most touching part of the show for him was when eight local veterans were introduced on stage. “That really affected some of us,” Turner said.
For others, 2016 was their first time experiencing the patriotic gala. William Watterson, 54, came with his wife, Marjorie, and his mother, Sarah. A veteran of the S.C. Air National Guard who retired in 2008, Watterson said he deployed five times to the Middle East. Military service runs in their family, he said, and they weren’t disappointed with the show.
“This is a very patriotic family,” Watterson said.
It took a cast of 400 to pull off the flag-waving, fireworks-shooting celebration, according to the church’s website. In addition to celebrating the nation’s history, organizers took the occasion to mark a special occasion for Columbia – the 100th anniversary of Fort Jackson.
Steve Phillips, associate pastor and minister of music at First Baptist, said the annual event is a chance to show appreciation for the sacrifices of those in the Armed Forces, and to celebrate the Christian faith.
“We believe that America was founded upon Godly principles,” Phillips said. “We believe it’s important to go back to revisit the way our country was founded – and also to honor these veterans, because they have given a lot.”
For the first few years after the event was launched, Phillips said, the church put it on at the State House. It moved to the Hampton Street sanctuary in 1993.