Close to 400 South Carolinians raised their voices in gospel music Sunday night at Columbia’s new baseball stadium. Thousands more joined in from the stands.
Choirs from four churches came together to make Night of Joy at Spirit Communications Park – a joint effort by the Rev. Charles B. Jackson Sr. of Brookland Baptist Church and Dr. Wendell Estep of First Baptist Church of Columbia and their congregations.
The event – the first major event at the baseball stadium – aimed to showcase South Carolina’s resilience after the June killings at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church and October’s floods, as well as to build unity among Columbia residents.
Estep praised the way South Carolinians dealt with both tragedies.
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“The way they have responded has been absolutely magnificent,” Estep said. “When they had the shooting at Mother Emanuel, the way they came together and prayed and forgave and united – I just thought it was a tremendous display of the family of God. Then, during the flood, there were so many of our churches who worked together with those people who were hurting. They worked, they gave money. We’re just affirming what they’ve already done.”
This isn’t the first time Estep and Jackson have collaborated. Their congregations drew 40,000 people to Williams-Brice Stadium for Easter 2000, according to Estep.
Though the pastors lead two of Columbia’s largest congregations, they said the night was more about worshipers’ attitudes than about numbers. “I’m not so sure it’s the size of our congregation as much as it is the size of our heart for the love of God and his people,” Jackson said.
The pastors also got some help from their sons and their sons’ churches – Erik Estep of Village Church and Charles Jackson Jr. of The New Laurel Street Missionary Baptist Church. “We’re going to the second generation now,” the elder Estep said.
For Demond Coleman with Brookland Baptist, the night gave him a chance to share his faith with thousands of listeners. “It is my earnest prayer and belief that a lot of people will leave here feeling revived, rejuvenated, empowered and motivated to do what is right, and that’s to come together and do what Christ tells us – to love everybody,” Coleman said.
Part way into the performance, organizers played a music video in honor of those killed in Charleston and the October flood. The victims’ names ran across a black screen in the stadium while bagpipes played and audience members rose to their feet.
For Earlean R. Kelly, 65, the night was indeed one of joy. “It was wonderful,” Kelly said. “It reflected to us that even after all we had gone through, we know through Christ he can do all things, and he has healed this city.”
The Columbia native said she did not belong to any of the church congregations that organized the event, but wanted to come enjoy the music and the message. “This city has come together,” Kelly said. “We all love the Lord and we all came together and helped one another and that’s what it was about.”