BUIES CREEK -- As the assistant coordinator of Campbell Divinity School’s fourth annual OASIS: Renew for the Journey Church Music Conference, April Brown had spent nearly a year helping lead a 22-person team that planned the three-day event being held this week on Campbell University’s main campus.
She helped organize three public concerts, four worship services, and nearly two-dozen workshops. She helped pick the hymn – “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know” – that serves as this year’s conference theme. And she helped carry out the plan and logistics that brought 150 worship leaders from across the state and nation to Buies Creek for the conference.
But not even a full-day into the conference that began Monday, July 14, and concludes Wednesday, July 16, Brown, a Master of Divinity student at Campbell, couldn’t stop herself from wondering: “How am I really helping?”
She asked that aloud to her mother, a music minister from Alabama who traveled to Campbell to attend the conference. “You are helping,” her mother answered. “You promoting us to be here and now just me being here is my renewal.”
Providing time and space for worship leaders to find renewal was a primary driver in establishing the OASIS conference four years ago, and that hasn’t changed, said Larry Dickens, the Gay T. and Haskell A. Duncan Professor of Church Music at Campbell.
“It’s so easy to burn out when you’re in leadership week after week,” he said. “It’s not just what we give worship leaders in the context of our sessions, but it’s the interaction they have with each other. They understand each other because they have similar goals and responsibilities, so they find encouragement and comfort in sharing with one another.”
Over three days, pastors, worship leaders, choir directors, and musicians participate in worship services, choral readings, concerts and numerous sessions led by well-known leaders and thinkers in the field of worship and church music.
Among the featured session and worship leaders were Mary McDonald, a composer, arranger, producer, pianist and organist who currently serves at the Central Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee; Billy Orton, the minster of music and worship at First Baptist Church in Huntsville, Alabama; Jayne Davis, the minister of spiritual formation at First Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C; and Constance Cherry, professor of worship and Christian ministries at Indiana Wesleyan University. Topics of sessions included Coaching Approach to Ministry, Rekindle the Gift of God Within You, and Purpose, Passion, and Praise!.
The schedule also incorporates time for fellowship and rest.
The effect of all this -- and OASIS -- is “profound,” said Greg Barmer, the music of minister of the First Baptist Church in Washington, North Carolina, who has been attending the conference since its inception. “The community that gathers here is a huge resource, and I give Campbell a lot of credit and thanks for that. You come here and truly find renewed motivation.”
Kelley Garris, the coordinator of OASIS for the past three years, added that she has seen how her own renewed motivation spills over and invigorates First Baptist Church of Wilson, North Carolina, where she’s the organist and minister of music. After each conference, for example, she takes back to her church materials, anthems, and organ music that she can use in worship.
“[OASIS] definitely empowers the local church,” she said. “God’s Spirit is working through this event to refresh the leadership in our churches. Without this annual respite, our leaders and our local ministries will suffer.”
Before the formation of OASIS four years ago, there were no conferences held between Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, where worship leaders, many from the Baptist tradition, came together to focus on their own replenishment, Barmer said.
Seeing the gap, Campbell Divinity School Dean Andy Wakefield called the Rev. Dan Ridley, then at the N.C. Baptist State Convention, several years ago and told him that Campbell Divinity had a dream to support local churches and their leaders, especially those that value the training of children, students and adults in worship.
Wakefield asked Ridley, now the minister of music at Hayes Barton Baptist Church, in Raleigh: “Would you help us to begin a music worship conference that would meet the need of those churches?”
It didn’t take Ridley long to say yes. Not only would he be helping create a conference where worship leaders would come for renewal, but also one that was encouraging multigenerational worship and hands-on learning experiences for students, Ridley said. “We must be multigenerational in our worship, and we need to train children and students in worship and give them opportunities to use their gifts in worship.”
The public concerts held during OASIS reflect the multigenerational feel of the conference. The concerts this year began Monday night in Butler Chapel with “A Mary Night at the Creek,” which featured the N.C. Baptist Senior Adult Choir, while the conference closes Wednesday, at 7 p.m., in Butler Chapel, with the N.C. Baptist All-State Youth Choir.
In addition to this multigenerational emphasis, Ridley said, through OASIS, “Students are not only learning to be good worship leaders but also learning how to create events.”
Among the students helping during OASIS is Johnson Ramsaur, a Master of Divinity student at Campbell. He played the organ during the Monday night concert, was a member of the conference’s planning team, and has been assisting the All-State Youth Choir throughout the conference.
“OASIS gives us great, real-world experiences,” Ramsaur said. “It’s also a great resource builder and provides us with an opportunity to network with music ministers from across the state.”
Getting that experience is one of the reasons Brown agreed to serve as the assistant coordinator of OASIS. The other? To help show church and worship leaders that “they are not alone,” she said. “There are some leaders here who feel stuck in a rut, and I helped plan this and set this up to get others out of the rut.”
That’s exactly what OASIS provides, Garris said. “This conference has become for this region a real renewal and resting point for ministers of music and pastors. I’ll be coming to the conference for as long as it exists because it fulfills a real need in our part of the state.” -- Cherry Crayton