Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
From the very start, local Southern gospel musician Miles Pike has lifted his voice in praise of the Lord, sharing the good news for all to hear.
On March 2, at his 6th annual homecoming at Colonial Hills Baptist Church in Tyler, Pike will be backed by 90-voice interdenominational choir whose very presence illustrates the message that despite their differing church backgrounds, they all are members of the Body of Christ.
“From the outside looking in, it would be easy to believe that the Church is more dissonant than ever” because the vast number of Christian denominations, Pike said, but uniting choir members from different churches “is an important reminder to us of the great truth behind what we see – that we are not as secluded as we feel, and that there is a much larger family surrounding us and supporting us in ways that we cannot as yet see.”
Choir members Mary Rice of Nacogdoches and Doris Bacon of Lake Palestine say the annual Pike homecomings – a musical gathering that caters to a gospel musician's hometown audience – have always been inspiring, and to be part of this new choir excites them.
Rice, who has been a promoter of Pike's music and career because “I think he has a real message and a unique way of delivering it,” said she chose to take part in the historic choir “because choir singing – to sing hymns of faith is almost a lost art. I want to be part of this choir so that it might inspire others to do the same.”
Bacon calls the endeavor “most unusual,” but like Rice, she and her husband James have been staunch supporters of Pike's music and ministry.
“It's just a joy to be part of (the interdenominational choir), and it's my first time to sing in such a large choir,” said Bacon, a member of Jacksonville's People's Church. “It'll be very nice to meet other Christians, and be part of the celebration. I want (the audience) to see that we're all the Body of Christ – all (Christian) denominations – and anyone who wants to take part in it, can.”
Rice, a member of Pineywoods Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Nacogdoches, added, “the central truth of what we will be sharing is the Gospel of Jesus Christ (which carries the same message) regardless of (Christian) denomination.”
The March 2 homecoming begins at 6 p.m. at Colonial Hills Baptist Church, 7330 S. Broadway, in Tyler, with doors opening at 5 p.m. Special guest Larry Ford of Fort Myers, Fla., a Gaither Homecoming artist, also will perform.
Songs will include those from his albums, “The First Ones Covered by the Blood,” “Timeless Songs: For Times Like These,” “Walk Through the Pages” and “Blood Kin,” released last year.
The homecoming choir members mostly hail from East Texas, although there are some members from Oklahoma and Louisiana, Pike said.
Members from Jacksonville-area congregations helping form the choir include those from People's Church, First Assembly, First United Methodist, First Baptist, Cove Springs Community Church, Trail to Christ Cowboy Church, Woodland Heights, Calvary Baptist, Afton Grove Baptist and Lookout Valley Nazarene.
Because of the logistics involved in gathering such a geographically diverse group for regular rehearsals, Pike will hold a single practice on concert day.
“We'll meet the day of the concert, practice the songs to get the parts just right, and share a meal together before performing in the concert later that evening. Doing this in just one practice would not be possible except that most of these members have sung in church for many years, and many sing parts and read music,” he said.
When he came up with the concept of an interdenominational choir to perform at this year's homecoming, “my original intent was to shoot for 75 people to sign up, knowing that over the course of (time), a myriad of things would certainly prevent the attendance of some who had signed up,” he said.
“The minimum I wanted to work with was 50 people … I haven't done a complete count, but we're at around 90 now, (with more than) a hundred sign up,” he added. “I never really put a cap on it, because I never thought I would need to put a cap on it … so it has become 'the more, the merrier.' I am very pleased at the response we've had to this idea, and can't wait to see the whole choir singing together.”
In the meantime, Pike is excited about next weekend's event, where he'll also share the stage with his wife Martha, who “often plays solos, accompanies me on the piano or sings a duet with me in concert.”
The couple met at The Stamps-Baxter School of Music in Nashville, and now call East Texas home, which isn't surprising, because Pike grew up in Pierce's Chapel.
“It's an old farming community (in western Cherokee County) and one of the reasons that Jacksonville was the Tomato Capital. My family grew some of the biggest and best tomatoes around right here. We love being able to come back from off to road to quiet country life and to our little garden, surrounded by family,” he said.
The homecoming event – held in past years in Jacksonville – was moved to a larger venue in Tyler to accomodate crowds.
“Last year saw us outgrow one of the largest venues in Jacksonville, and we were forced to look at other options that would allow for growth, which led us to Tyler,” he explained.
For more information about the 6th annual Miles Pike Homecoming, call 903-586-8605, or visit www.milespikemusic.com.