Sixteen years ago, the Rev. Charles B. Jackson Sr. and Dr. Wendell Estep decided to bring their congregations together for a time of worship and celebration.
“More than 40,000 people came to Williams-Brice Stadium for Easter 2000,” said Estep, senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Columbia. “It was truly an amazing event that brought people from all races and all backgrounds to worship the Lord together.”
This year, the pastors plan to unite their congregations again Sunday for what will be the inaugural event at the Columbia Fireflies’ Spirit Communications Park.
“Night of Joy” will feature choirs, orchestras and congregations from First Baptist Church of Columbia and Brookland Baptist Church. The event also will welcome a new generation of praise and worship teams and choirs from Village Church – pastored by Estep’s son, Erik – and The New Laurel Street Missionary Baptist Church, which is pastored by Jackson’s son, Charles Jr.
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The concert also will feature songs from combined children’s choirs from all four churches, as well as performances by the Brookland Baptist Men’s Choir and the Capital City Chorale.
The night is one that represents a spirit of unity for the entire city, the senior Jackson said.
“We believe blacks and whites don’t trust one another because they don’t know one another and because we come from different backgrounds,” said Jackson, adding he and Estep have been friends for 20 years. “Instead of just a ceremonial changing of pulpits, we believe it is important to come together as a people and get to know each other. We believe in the spirit of unity.”
The event is especially poignant given events in South Carolina over the past year, the pastors said.
“I think that the people of South Carolina have responded in such an incredible fashion to difficulties this past year,” Estep said. “We need to recognize that and then we need to thank the Lord who is sufficient for the needs that we have and to celebrate the unity that we all have in Christ.”
According to First Baptist associate pastor and music minister Steve Phillips, “Night of Joy” will include a time of remembrance and prayer for the nine victims of the shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, as well as for the lives lost in Columbia’s October floods that will conclude with a joint choral performance of “Amazing Grace.”
While the goal of the night is worship, Estep and Jackson believe the location of the event will be a draw for many who want to see the new ballpark before the Columbia Fireflies have their opening day April 14.
“We wanted to have an event at this time anyway and with the ballpark about to come online we decided that would be a great opportunity to have it there,” Estep said. “It’s an absolutely gorgeous facility and I know there are going to be a lot of people who will like the opportunity to see the stadium and also come together for a night of worship there.”
While there will be no popcorn sold or home runs scored Sunday, Night of Joy is an event that showcases the park’s mixed-use functionality, said Fireflies owner Jason Freier.
“We wanted to build a facility like Spirit Communications Park for this very reason,” Freier said. “Our intent is for this facility to be utilized by the Columbia community far beyond playing baseball.”
Night of Joy
A joint community of faith celebration
When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Where: Spirit Communications Park