Since 1970, the Country Tabernacle Pentecostal Church of God has been putting a unique spin on Independence Day. Instead of the typical fireworks display, the church has combined patriotism with praise and worship music at their annual open air gospel singing night. The Howard family has been an integral part of the celebration since its inception, and father and son Wayne and Darryl told the story of how everything came about. 

“It all started out from a local event that we used to hold the first Saturday of the month,” Wayne said. “The local churches in the area would have gospel singing on the first Saturday of every month, and on July 4, 1970 it happened to be that it was our church’s turn to host the program.”

After looking at the calendar, the church decided to host a special outdoor event, and the rest is history. Out of the last 50 consecutive years, they only had to move inside one time.

“To keep something like this alive for 50 years takes a lot more than one person or family,” Darryl said. “It’s been a true community effort from everybody supporting it, coming out and spreading the word. Our church family has really been behind it all the way. They get excited about it every year. They work hard to get the yard ready and the stage decorated.”

Darryl went on to describe the layout for the event.

“We have four acres out under the oak trees and people bring out their lawn chairs,” he said. “Our statement is what better way to celebrate the freedom of our country than to come and celebrate out under the oak trees. You can listen to the night sounds, hear all the good music, and praise Jesus who gives us true freedom. It’s better than fireworks!”

Wayne said in addition to the gospel music, his favorite part of the event is that it serves as a kind of reunion for old friends.

“I think that’s part of why it lasted so long. People actually plan to come with the intention of meeting up with old friends,” Wayne said. “Everyone is just having a good evening of visiting right along with the listening.” 

He said the freedom to visit with friends is one of the major advantages to having the singing outdoors.

“When you’re indoors you can’t get into that visitation part of everything the way you can outside,” Wayne said. “It makes for a good time of fellowship, a good time of worship. And of course we always recognize our country and everything it has given us — our freedom to serve God as we please. May we hang on to that and fight for that with all that is within us.”

Darryl said a large number of acts are scheduled to take the stage this year. The featured act is The Williamsons. Other acts performing include: The Howards, Cannan Bound, Trinity, the Word Family, Glory Road, as well as numerous local performers.

“Our music is pretty much Southern Gospel, but there are some other types of gospel music performed,” Darryl said. “But it’s pretty much going to be those good old toe-tapping, hand clapping songs where you can sing along and enjoy.”

The 50th Annual Open Air Gospel Singing will take place at the Country Tabernacle Church of God located at 3240 Cheek Road in Lone Grove from 8 p.m. to midnight on Thursday, July 4. The evening is free and concession items will be available for sale. Those who plan to attend should bring lawn chairs for the event.