New Hope Baptist Church is known for being the starting place of the Burlington Revival – a three month revival with Evangelist C.T. Townsend that took place two years ago…which people are still talking about. In addition, fans of Gospel music will recognize Burlington as the hometown of Greater Vision’s tenor, Chris Allman. But, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, the church was known as the location Greater Vision would be singing at before going home to their families for the holiday. The place was packed! Because of some wonderful friends, we had a seat on the third row. (Thank you, Cheryl and Ken!)
After a congregational hymn, the pastor brought Greater Vision on stage with an elaborate introduction highlighting their accomplishments as a group. When GV stepped up to the microphones, they began with the mellow ballad, “You Were Faithful Yesterday.” It was the perfect opener for a Sunday evening, but you didn’t have to wait long before they kicked into a GV classic, for “He’d Still Been God” was next. The crowd soaked up the familiar message and when they finished, Rodney strapped on his bass guitar. This signaled the start of “Far Above The Starry Sky,” with just bass and piano. “Rolled Back Stone” and “For All He’s Done” followed. Both of these feature Chris on the verses and received an exceptional response from the crowd. The last ballad had folks raising their hands and shouting “hallelujah” and “amen.”
Gerald took his mic and rose from the piano bench ready to introduce the group. He began by saying that long term fans may notice something a little different about the group – there were four people on stage instead of three! The new addition is lead singer, Jon Epley. Gerald went on to share what happened on Jon’s first night with them. They were in Springfield, Missouri. When Gerald saw Jon backstage, he noticed (in his words) that Jon was shaking because he was nervous and said, “Jon, you look nervous.” Jon replied, “You’re not going to feature me tonight on any of those songs I’ve been practicing, are you?” Gerald assured him, “Oh no, I wouldn’t do that.” So they went on stage and Gerald introduced Jon and explained to the crowd that he promised Jon he wouldn’t feature him on a song he’s been practicing. “Instead,” Gerald told the crowd in Springfield, “He’s going to sing a song he’s never sung before.” Then, continued by asking Jon, “Do you know the song ‘Why Me, Lord’?” Jon replied, “It just became my testimony.” With that story, Gerald had Jon sing that same song for us. When he finished singing, Gerald continued the introductions, “And the fella on the end is Chris Allman, and he is from Burlington, North Carolina.” This garnered a big applause from the crowd. Gerald went on to say, “I’ve been saying he’s the best tenor out there and this year at the Singing News Fan Awards in Pigeon Forge, folks finally agreed with me. He was voted Favorite Tenor!” The chosen solo was none other than “I Know A Man Who Can,” and the audience had no trouble showing their approval with shouts, whistles and “amens.” The more the people embraced the song, the more Chris sang his heart out. A lot of songs featured Chris that night and though many of them were staples fans have come to love, Gerald had Chris sing one from their new CD. He began by sharing that Chris brought this song to them while riding on the bus one day and how he was certain it wouldn’t go over because of the song’s title. Chris asked him to listen to it once and by the end of the chorus, Gerald was sold. To the audience at New Hope, he said, “Folks, you will have to get past the title to get to the message, then you’ll understand.” The ballad was “God Doesn’t Care,” and Chris sang it wonderfully. After, Gerald said, “I love watching the expressions on your faces when the lyric clicks for the first time.” Then he quoted the lyrics of the chorus and let the message sink in for a moment.
Rodney was last to be introduced and you just knew a good “Rodney story” was coming. That night, Gerald told the “Animal Cracker” story. In short, a gentleman brought a five pound bag of animal crackers to a concert for Rodney. The next morning, Gerald found Rodney in the front lounge of the bus with all five pounds of crackers spread out on the table. Gerald asked what he was doing and Rodney replied, “I’m looking for the seal.” Gerald questioned, “Is that one your favorite?” Rodney answered, “No, the package said if the seal was broken, don’t eat it!” LOL! Their next song is to date, the most popular Rodney has ever written – “My Name Is Lazarus.” They closed their first set with “Still,” their music video playing on the screen behind them.
The offering was taken up next, played by the church pianist and organist. When they finished, Gerald exclaimed, “That was page 94 in the red back hymnal!” Then, “I haven’t heard that one in forty years!” He also mentioned that they weren’t going to go on with a long commercial about their CD’s, instead, they told the story behind Fanny Crosby’s hymn, “I Love To Tell the Story.” After singing that same hymn, they sang, “He Is To Me” and the power ballad, “He’ll Carry Me.” Afterwards, Gerald said that ballad was his favorite song. Moving on, he mentioned that folks ask if they only let Jon sing one song and Gerald explained that with all the songs they have in their repertoire, they didn’t want to overload him! But to satisfy the crowd, they had Jon sing “The Lighthouse.” Gerald shared with the crowd how the power of music is amazing. It can cause you to feel emotions about a song you haven’t heard in years. In fact, he was at his mother’s house this year and she asked him if he wanted any of her old sheet music. While he went through the papers, he said he could even remember the concerts where she bought the music. As he looked through them, this one caught his eye. He sang it for us – “Until You’ve Known The Love Of God.” This one went right into Rodney singing “He Touched Me.” The evening was winding down and before closing their set they showed a slideshow of their families…and their dogs! While Rodney was talking to the crowd, he went into a Gospel presentation and also an encouraging word for Believers. He talked about the stars and how many grand galaxies there are, but when you read Genesis chapter one, it just says, “And he made the stars also.” Something so big to us, so average to Him. He went on to say that if He made the stars also, He’s also big enough to handle cancer. If He made the stars also, He’s big enough to bring that wandering grandchild home, He’s big enough to save your lost husband. Rodney prayed and then they closed the service with “God Wants To Hear You Sing.”
Conclusion: What a concert. This Sunday evening was an exceptional time. Maybe it was the uniqueness of being in Chris’ hometown, or maybe the energy of the crowd. Either way, there was something about the evening that got into your heart and stirred it. Every time Chris sang a song the crowd roared. And if you scan through the song list above, that was most of the concert. There was a special energy that night which made for a great way to enter Thanksgiving week.