Bluegrass band brings respite to tornado-stricken community - Word&Way

Bluegrass band brings respite to tornado-stricken community

JACKSONVILLE, Ala. (ABP) – First Baptist Church of the Williams community of Jacksonville, Ala., has been a beehive of activity since tornadoes destroyed 200 homes in the area April 27. Last Sunday it was time to kick back and relax.

Gary Furr, pastor of Vestavia Hills Baptist Church in Birmingham, called his friend, Williams Pastor Mike Oliver, to offer a free concert by Shades Mountain Air, a bluegrass band that Furr formed a few years ago as a hobby.

“I told him that cleanup, support and rebuilding is not all they need,” Furr said. “Since it is a long haul, they need to celebrate, rest and have some fun along the way.”

Gary Furr, second from right, pickin’ and grinnin’ at First Baptist Church of Williams.

Oliver accepted the offer, and the church decided to expand it into a carnival and shrimp boil for the entire community. Volunteers of a sister Baptist church served the meal so Williams members could sit and rest.

It provided a much-needed day of respite and joy for a congregation that has served as a port in the storm in the past month. Hours after the storm the church began meeting neighbors needs.

The Williams church collected and gave away food, clothing and toiletries. Members formed chainsaw teams to help clear driveways and worked alongside neighbors to recover what they could from wrecked homes.

The congregation began serving daily meals for emergency and power-company personnel, but soon opened it up to storm survivors.

Furr, who became friends with Oliver on a trip to Israel and has continued to meet with him monthly as part of an ecumenical group of pastors, led Vestavia Hills to work with three other congregations to send a 24-foot truck of supplies to Williams when the disaster hit. But he still wanted to do something more.

“While our band was practicing recently, I asked the members if they would like to give something musically to the community there that is working so hard to help others even in the midst of their own losses and needs,” Furr said. “They all agreed without hesitation.”

Furr, who grew up in a musical family, sings and plays guitar for the acoustic bluegrass band that has recorded two CDs, Shades Mountain Air in 2000 and Sky’s A Clearing in 2004. The group has performed on college and university campuses, in churches and coffee houses and at festivals and conventions. 

Furr started Shades Mountain Air in 1998 as an outlet away from congregational demands and to deal with stress. “About 30 minutes with a guitar will get anything out of you,” he said in a feature story in the May 2011 issue of Baptists Today.

A woman in Furr’s church is part of the Magic City Clown Alley, a group that donates time weekly at Children’s Hospital to entertain sick children and families. About a half dozen of the clowns decided to come along to Williams to paint faces and give out balloons to children. Lines were so long they eventually had to cut them off.

Two men from Vestavia Hills brought cookers and helped prepare more than 300 pounds of shrimp.

“It was an idea, but eventually a lot of others picked up on it and made it so much more,” Furr said.  “It was a great day.” 

Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.