Pink and gold dotted the sky in a splash of color. A canopy of green spread across the Georgia Mountains…the first day of summer had yet to dawn, but the world was functioning as if it was. Nestled in a field below, a wooden cross sat atop a steeple with chipped paint and faded color. The cross stood as a marker of what was taking place in the heart of the building. Praise. Honor. Prayer. The wonder of God’s beautiful creation is a perfect setting for His children to worship in.
I experienced that at New River Park in Dahlonega, Georgia over Father’s Day Weekend. Many of you will recognize this as the weekend of Karen Peck and New River’s Homecoming, and that’s exactly where I was! KPNR’s Homecoming is a two night, outdoor sing located at New River Park…which is literally in Karen and Ricky’s backyard. This year they had the Old Paths and The Perrys on Friday night, well, why don’t we just jump in and see what happened?
Before the evening started Karen, Susan and Jeff came on stage and welcomed everyone. Karen was so thrilled to talk about the new addition to the park this year. She pointed to the area in between the first row and the stage where two old wooden benches sat, one on the right side of the stage and one on the left. Those benches were donated to them from the Methodist Campmeeting that she and Susan used to go to when they were kids. Not only were the pews at least 80-100 years old, Karen also pointed out that they were extra special to them because that campmeeting was the first place that she and Susan sang at when they were children! “These old benches are going to be our altar this year,” said Karen, “and you can down and pray at them any time during the night.”
Well, this was a Homecoming in Georgia, hosted by a Georgia group, so it was only fitting that the quartet to open would be from Georgia also! That was the Old Paths, and they kicked off with a fast song about peace, God’s Great and Oh, What a Savior. “Now,” began Tim, “I see what kind of crowd we have here tonight. We’ve got the #1 song for the month of June and you look at us like a calf looking at a new gate. We sing that old classic and you perk up!” LOL “Speaking of new, this boy joined our quartet back in September and he’s only 16 years old.” He was speaking of their pianist, Josh Townsend, who, as he went on to tell, suffered a stroke when he was a baby and was told that he would never use his left hand. If you’ve ever heard Josh play, you know that the doctors were wrong! Tim went on to say, “I’ll let you judge whether or not God is still in the healing business or not.” Then Josh played I Saw the Light. Afterwards, Tim introduced the rest of the group, telling how long they’d each been singing, who’s singing and where their name originated from. Next they sang Want To Get Closer To My God and God’s Children, Soon We’ll Be Home. “We are thankful we got to come and be a part of this,” said baritone singer Doug, “Isn’t this a beautiful place?” They talked about their product for a few minutes and then closed with Long Live the King.
“We’re just gonna keep it going,” said Karen, “So many have requested this group.” Then she pointed out Mrs. Perry in the crowd. “One thing about the Perry’s,” she continued, “they know how to choose great songs.” Asking the crowd to stand as they came on stage, Karen shouted, “Make welcome The Perrys!” I Got a Hold of God This Morning kicked off their set along with Jerry Pelfrey singing Walking on the Water. After an encore they featured their newest member, Andrew Goldman, on How Long. He Is Mine followed and then Jerry asked the crowd, “Do the Perrys look a little different tonight?” He went on to tell of how he received a call the day before asking if he could come. Brian’s wife went to the hospital with a bad eye infection and he wanted to be with her, so Jerry filled in for him. He introduced Andrew then and explained to the audience that he’s a professor at Oakland City University in Evansville, IN and that the university is allowing him to keep both jobs. Then they sang a new song called Lord I’m Thankful that featured Andrew. Libbi went on to introduce the next tune, “Growing up Mama would take us to the singings and I would ride the ‘hump’ (the spot between the passenger and driver seat) and we would sing this song all the way there and all the way back.” Now, Jerry wasn’t too thrilled about singing this song. He said he didn’t like it because it was Bluegrass. Libbi said, “Well, Brian wouldn’t let me sing it either, but he’s not here, so tough! I’m going to do this one for Mama!” Libbi sang Jesus Hold My Hand while the other guys slipped off stage and let her have the spotlight. Applause followed and Libbi said, “I’m glad ya’ll clapped because if you hadn’t they would have made fun of me when we got back to the bus.” Back on stage, Jerry chuckled, “We will anyway!” Libbi turned to him and exclaimed, “Hush!” When she finished introducing Jerry and Jared to the crowd she mentioned that she’s been having a bout with bronchitis, explaining why she wasn’t singing many solos. Then she went on to talk about Tracy’s stroke. “It pays to be ready to go,” she said, “because you never know when you’ll go. Sixteen and a half months later, sitting on this stage in Dalonega, Georgia would you make welcome my husband, Tracy Stuffle.” Immediately, the crowd stood to their feet. They set up Tracy’s mic and he told everyone, “Thank ya’ll, I don’t really know what to say other than thank you.” Jerry asked Tracy if he would sing Three Men on a Mountain with Jared. Tracy said yes and then Jerry asked, “Are you going to do your verse or Jared’s?” Tracy grinned, “I’ll do both of them.” LOL They sang Three Men on a Mountain and I Rest My Case At the Cross and the audience took in those precious moments as a heavy spirit of worship fell over the valley.
“It’s feeling good out here, doesn’t it?” asked Karen, emerging from backstage. Beckoning Danny Jones to join her and talk about the Singing News and his books. His promo for the one of the stories was, “Like the day she tried to kill me in the middle of this field in a pickup truck!” LOL
Danny went on to introduce our host group, “About to walk on this stage are some of the dearest friends I’ve ever had…number one songs, Hollywood movies, they’ve done it all, and they’ve done it well, Karen Peck and New River!” KPNR began their set with some of their best, like Ephesians 1, I Wanna’ Know How It Feels, On the Banks of the Promised Land and a Jazzy version of the classic, I’ll Fly Away. “Are you glad to see Susan Peck Jackson tonight?” asked Karen. Susan sang Sustaining Grace and then Karen talked about how 13 years ago they dedicated this Homecoming to the Lord. “We had our pastor come and pray and we gave this park to the Lord for His glory,” said Karen. She went on to introduce Jeff Hawes and expressed how pleased they were with him when he came on board, “When he started with New River we made him sign a 100 year contract!” Karen was so excited she stumbled over his name and so Jeff had to tease her. “Maybe you’ll remember my name after the 100 years,” he said laughing. Susan interjected, “Don’t feel bad, she can’t remember my name and I’ve lived with her my whole life!” LOL Their next tune was the definition of what they do that weekend – Revival. As the intro began to play, Karen told the crowd, “This is for all of you who have been to those tent revivals and if you’ve never been to one, you’re about to right now.” What can I say, it brought the spirit down! Robe and Crown followed and they waved Susan’s son, Joseph, out on stage to sing with them on this one. The crowd was on their feet in no time! With all that energy in the air, it took a minute for everyone to get settled in their seats once again. Jeff shared how his pastor passed away a year ago and how going through that brought a new meaning to his solo, You Did It Anyway, then he sang the touching ballad. Well, when KPNR began singing Four Days Late you knew it was time for the first half of the program to end, which Karen closed in prayer.
By the time everyone milled around the product tables and the concession stand the sun was hidden behind the mountains and darkness was descending upon the sky. But the lights from on stage cast a glow over the field by which to find your lawn chairs…and the second half was about to begin.
The Old Paths sang two songs, Battle Stand and I Passed Over Into Canaan Land before Jeff brought the Perrys back on stage. Libbi began with The Potter Knows the Clay and then they went into the popular I Wish I Could’ve Been There. When the crowd stood to their feet and the Perrys encored the chorus, a little boy (who I am going to assume was Jerry’s little boy) came up and sang with them. He looked elated to be on stage! As the Perrys were going to step off stage, Karen appeared from backstage and asked Libbi if she would sing God Walks the Dark Hills. Without waiting for an answer Karen turned to the audience and asked, “Would you like to hear Libbi sing God Walks the Dark Hills?” The crowd cheered and shouted, “Yeah!” So the Perrys sang God Walks the Dark Hills and Karen sang with them.
The rest of New River joined Karen on stage for an exciting round of the fun song Hey. “Thank you so much,” said Karen to the audience, “we want to thank you for coming again, these are the songs you’ve requested…” The next one was I’ve Been Broken, featuring Susan. By the time they made it to the first chorus of another, Everybody’s Going Through Something, a lady and her friend went down to the front to pray. Shortly after, an older gentlemen joined them on his knees…and then another…and another. Karen paused to pray and thank the Heavenly Father for those who came to the altar and eased into My God Will Always Be Enough. If you could imagine that song being sung in a field enveloped in calm and blanketed by a night sky full of twinkling stars, with only the crickets and frogs adding to the chorus…well, I don’t know if it’s possible to imagine the peace and power of the lyrics upon one’s soul, but I can tell you that it was an experience you won’t find anywhere else. The stillness of the moment will always be impressed upon my mind. Karen prayed again, “Father, we thank You that You are all we need.” Then she turned to the band and said, “Let’s sing something fast.” Another chorus or two of Robe and Crown closed out the evening.
As we folded up the chairs and slid them into their bags a million thoughts raced through my mind, but the one that was foremost was how powerful the evening was. Yes, it was a Gospel Sing, but it was so much more. It was a place where hearts were poured out, burdens lifted and voices raised. It was a place of unity. A few weekends prior, we went to Carnesville, Georgia for the Indian Creek Memorial Day Gospel Sing. Before this evening began Karen announced how the folks at Indian Creek came over and helped set up the tent and Karen had Pastor Bill Stacy dedicate the night in prayer. Someone had told me that it is really hard to get people to come out to concerts/sings in Georgia because the state has so many and, well, why drive to see someone sing when the same group will be at your church next weekend? Yet, with only one weekend between the Indian Creek sing and KPNR’s Homecoming, there were the folks from Indian Creek doing what they could to help KPNR. Not worried about competing with each other, but working together. Now that is a true picture of the body of Christ! All of God’s people gathering together to worship their heavenly Father. I don’t know about you, but I think that is something the church can’t get enough of, especially in these last days – we need each other.