A bluegrass revival at Rocheport Christian Church

The longest-standing Disciples of Christ church in the world keeps itself afloat thanks to a Saturday musical service

Church goers socialize before the bluegrass worship service begins and the band warms up.  Many people come early to listen before the actual service begins.

Church goers socialize before the bluegrass worship service begins and the band warms up. Many people come early to listen before the actual service begins.

Photo story by Alex Scott

Pastor Mickey Havener used to see only a handful of people at Rocheport Christian Church every Sunday. New attendees were hard to come by, let alone a full congregation. With six or so people at the service each week, it was only a matter of time before one of the longest-standing Disciples of Christ churches in the country closed its doors.

But two years ago, Havener and Tim Carson, senior minister at Columbia’s Broadway Christian Church, collaborated to keep the church afloat.

In 2012, the church began bluegrass services on the first Saturday of every month. The services start at 5 p.m. and have become a community-wide event.

Overall attendance increased twentyfold.

Each of these Saturdays, about 100 people file into the church for a service complete with banjos, mandolins and sounds that hail back to a time long gone. It is, by far, the most popular event at Rocheport Christian.

“The style is indigenous to the area — bluegrass and country music, hill music or kind of a combination,” Carson says. “It somehow resonates with this place. People have just responded to it natively.”

Jim Stallman plays an opening song as people file into the pews. The sanctuary at Second and Central streets in Rocheport held its first service in 1845. It has been in continuous use since, which makes it the longest-running place of worship among all Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) churches worldwide. Other churches within the denomination that were built earlier have either been destroyed or abandoned, pastor Mickey Havener says.

Jim Stallman plays an opening song as people file into the pews. The sanctuary at Second and Central streets in Rocheport held its first service in 1845. It has been in continuous use since, which makes it the longest-running place of worship among all Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) churches worldwide. Other churches within the denomination that were built earlier have either been destroyed or abandoned, pastor Mickey Havener says.

Four-year-old Daniel Haid peers out from a church pew as, from left, Tahna Long, Audrey Spieler and Bethany Haid, his mother, sing bluegrass songs. “God has more than one medium,” says Spieler.

Four-year-old Daniel Haid peers out from a church pew as, from left, Tahna Long, Audrey Spieler and Bethany Haid, his mother, sing bluegrass songs. “God has more than one medium,” says Spieler.

The draw of bluegrass-inspired worship often packs Rocheport Christian on first Saturdays. The church uses the tithes that come from the service to pay for outreach programs.

The draw of bluegrass-inspired worship often packs Rocheport Christian on first Saturdays. The church uses the tithes that come from the service to pay for outreach programs.

David Weston’s banjo reflects the stained glass from a church window. Banjos are one of the primary instruments used in bluegrass music.

David Weston’s banjo reflects the stained glass from a church window. Banjos are one of the primary instruments used in bluegrass music.

Mickey Havener preaches at the Rocheport Christian every Sunday. Those services are not as well-attended as the Saturday bluegrass services.

Mickey Havener preaches at the Rocheport Christian every Sunday. Those services are not as well-attended as the Saturday bluegrass services.

A group of musicians from the Broadway Christian Church come out to sing at a bluegrass service. Although the musicians and instruments sometimes change, banjos, guitars, violins and mandolins usually make appearances during the bluegrass services. The people playing the music come from multiple congregations. “All those people there are from all different churches,” says Tim Carson. “And they come month after month. They love to play.”

A group of musicians from the Broadway Christian Church come out to sing at a bluegrass service. Although the musicians and instruments sometimes change, banjos, guitars, violins and mandolins usually make appearances during the bluegrass services. The people playing the music come from multiple congregations. “All those people there are from all different churches,” says Tim Carson. “And they come month after month. They love to play.”

The church puts attendance numbers on the wall every day there is a service. Rocheport Christian relies on the bluegrass program to put triple digits in the top row of the sign.

The church puts attendance numbers on the wall every day there is a service. Rocheport Christian relies on the bluegrass program to put triple digits in the top row of the sign.

Thirteen-month-old Bethany Haid shades herself as Carson delivers the sermon at a Saturday service. Carson helps lead the bluegrass worship, and several of the instrumentalists are from his church, Broadway Christian in Columbia.

Thirteen-month-old Bethany Haid shades herself as Carson delivers the sermon at a Saturday service. Carson helps lead the bluegrass worship, and several of the instrumentalists are from his church, Broadway Christian in Columbia.