Nationally recognized organist Hebert Buffington, left, will be featured in a concert at First Presbyterian Church of Covington, performed to unveil the Presbyterian Church’s new hymnal. Assisting Buffington will be FPC organist Alice Walker, among others. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
As a gift to the local community, the First Presbyterian Church of Covington will present Hymn Festival, a free concert featuring organist Herbert Buffington of Atlanta, five choirs from area churches and 20 musicians as it debuts the denomination’s newly released hymnal, “Glory to God.”
It has been a quarter of a century since the Presbyterian church has released a new hymn book and while the denomination will begin a national celebration next month, the Covington church is anxious to introduce the new hymnal to people across the region.
The Hymn Festival concert will be at 4 p.m. Jan. 26 at the First Presbyterian Church of Covington at 1169 Clark St. Everyone is invited to attend the hour-long event. The Rev. Dr. William “Billy” Wade is pastor of the church and Alan Bunn is director of music. Assisting Buffington will be Bunn; Alice G. Walker, organist at FPC Covington; Martha U. Clay, music director and organist at Conyers Presbyterian; and Becky G. Ramsey, organist at Covington First United Methodist Church.
“After 25 years of using the old hymnal, we now have a new one,” said Walker said, organist at Covington FPC and director for the church’s Ambassador Choir.
“We are so excited about that and as a gift to the community, we want to have a hymn celebration to acquaint everyone with this wonderful hymnal. It has a lot of old hymns and new ones. It’s very eclectic…It’s quite a fine hymnal. We’ve all enjoyed it.”
Walker said hymns representing the liturgical seasons have been chosen for the concert with songs from Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost along with other selections to be performed by Buffington and several choirs each from the First Presbyterian Church of Covington, the First Presbyterian Church of Conyers and Covington First United Methodist Church.
Children’s choirs from the Covington and Conyers Presbyterian churches will also perform, as will a handbell choir. The concert will feature more than a dozen other musicians, including a brass quintet from Kennesaw State University.
There will be a liturgical dancer for one portion of the program. First Presbyterian Covington member Liane Bouchillon, who danced this past year in “The Nutcracker” at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, will dance at the upcoming event.
“It requires a lot from all people,” Walker said. “Herb has spent 30 hours just on the arrangements. It’s a big job. He’s going to do a great job and I’m so proud to have him come and do it.”
Buffington and Walker have been friends for many years.
“He started as a choir boy at the Cathedral of St. Phillip in Atlanta and became interested in church music,” Walker said. “He’s become very proficient and presents recitals in this country and in Europe. I know Herb from the American Guild of Organists. I’ve heard him deliver several recitals and programs and thought he would be great to tie this all together.”
A native of Atlanta, Buffington has held the position of organist and assistant choir director at Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta since 1996. Prior to that, he was the organist and choirmaster at Decatur Presbyterian Church in Decatur.
Recognized nationally, he has served on the faculties of church music conferences and as a clinician for the American Guild of Organists’ (AGO) workshops and Pipe Organ Encounters. He has been featured on “Pipe Dreams” and on Minnesota Public Radio’s “Performance Today.”
At the 2010 AGO convention in Washington, D.C., Buffington won second prize in the National Competition in Organ Improvisation, having also received third prize and the coveted audience award in the same AGO competition in 2008.
Buffington received his bachelor of arts degree from Duke University and his master of music degree from the Peabody Conservatory of Music at The Johns Hopkins University.
“I think this is a really fine hymnal,” Buffington said. “…It includes a lot of different styles and different traditions of hymn singing. It tries to be inclusive. It’s obvious that the Presbyterian Church USA is reaching out to all demographics.”
Buffington said the new book offers many choices and new hymns.
“We’re doing a hymn that is a Chinese melody and Chinese text that deals with gifts of the Holy Spirit,” he said. “…I think the new hymnal has a great depth to it that other hymnals don’t have. I think it will serve the Presbyterian church well for many years.”
“We’ve just had wonderful enthusiasm about this,” Walker said. “It’s an effort of many, many people coming together.”
Walker said they are “trying to use all the stops on the organ.”
“The handbells, the sounds from the organ and the brass quintet will be crisp, accurate and wonderful,” she said.
Titled “Glory to God: The Presbyterian Hymnal,” the book came about following the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2004, which authorized the Presbyterian Publishing Corp., the Presbyterian Association of Musicians and the Office of Theology and Worship to research the feasibility of a new Presbyterian hymnal.
The book began arriving in local churches in fall 2013.
Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Gwinnett County. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.