By Joe Earle
The offering had been collected and the Doxology had been sung. Choir director Terri Evans turned to the congregation and suggested they open their big red hymnals.
“Call out the numbers of some your favorites,” she said.
And some did. And the choir sang them.
At Sardis United Methodist Church, the choir takes requests.
It’s a tradition that church members say dates back at least a decade, maybe more. During a portion of the service called “Our Favorite Hymns,” the choir lets the congregation name the tunes.
During most weekly services at Sardis, a brick building that rises above Powers Ferry Road near its intersection with Roswell Road, anyone in the congregation can call out the number of a favorite from the hymnal and the choir will have a go at it, whether they’ve practiced it or not. “We always give it a try,” Evans said.
“I just love that, don’t you?” said Anna-Lisa Kovaka, who’s been attending the Buckhead church since about Easter. On July 25, she called out “Number 365” and heard the choir sing the first verse – they usually only do one verse – of “Grace Greater Than Our Sin.”
“Methodists love to sing,” said fellow church member Jill Mason. “I just love the fact that the congregation chooses.”
So does Rev. Blair Boyd Zant, minister at Sardis. She sees “Our Favorite Hymns” as a way to make sure the weekly service at the church – one of the oldest in north Georgia — feels open to the congregation.
She’s worked at bigger churches – she also serves as assistant pastor at Sandy Springs United Methodist Church in Sandy Springs and her husband is pastor at North Springs United Methodist Church in Sandy Springs – yet she seems truly enthusiastic about the small congregation that worships at Sardis. There are 89 members on the church rolls, she said, and 40 or so may show up on any given Sunday.
It reminds her of a country church.
And the choir is open to anyone willing to get up front and sing, she and Evans said. The choir has had members in their 80s. Sometimes, singers in the choir find themselves soloists even though they had never before sung alone in front of a group. At times, choir members bring in instruments – guitars, flutes, even a dulcimer – to add to the sound, Evans said. “It’s a really accessible choir,” Zant said.
It’s also a small choir. Most Sundays, there are only six or seven singers. Some weeks, there may be fewer. On July 25, when there were about 30 members of the congregation in the church, just six singers sat in the choir’s space up front. The group swelled to a septet when Zant joined them. Some might say it was more of a singing group than a choir, but Evans isn’t ready to agree. “A choir is a small chorus,” she said.
“If we had more people – more guys maybe – we could sing more parts,” said John Yancey, who’s sung in the Sardis choir for four or five years. “Who knows? Maybe we could do Beethoven’s Ninth.”
But small can be beautiful. Evans teaches chorus at The Galloway School and has worked with larger choirs. “I think for a church experience, I really love this,” she said. “You don’t get caught up in the performance so much and you remember that the purpose is to worship God.”
Choir members echo her enthusiasm. Michael Boyd, Blair’s dad, joined the choir after his daughter became pastor at Sardis. His wife Jo Ann, Blair’s mom, also joined. So did Lindsay Fowler, who said she’s been a friend of Blair’s since their days together as kids at summer camp.
Michael Boyd has done most of his singing through the years in rock and roll bands. He’s sung rock oldies with bands such as Dr. Bob and the East Cobb Snobs and The Big Biscuit Band, he said. He’s sung in big church choirs, too, and says he thinks there’s something special at Sardis.
“There’s an old Southern hymn,” he said, “‘The Little Old Church in the Wild Wood.’ That’s this church. It just happens to be in Buckhead.”