Among the things dear to Jack Sartain’s heart are music and his church—especially the church’s missions program. He found an opportunity to combine those two passions and the community is benefiting with quality concerts and money for area nonprofits.
In 1999 Sartain and other members of Lawrenceville Road United Methodist Church’s United Methodist Men started Music for Missions. Since then, the group, sponsoring one to three concerts each month, has held 204 concerts.
A professional musician who’s both a tenor vocalist and a trumpet player, Sartain is emphatic that the music be of the highest caliber. Artists for the program are selected by what Sartain calls “informed referral.”
“If a musician or a group is interested in performing here and I’ve never heard them, I ask where they will be performing and go hear them to be sure they produce the quality of music we’re looking for,” he said.
Despite the fact that performers are never paid for their participation in Music for Missions, there’s no shortage of musicians who want to be part of it. “Most of them just love the idea of what we’re doing,” Sartain said. “We have never asked someone to perform and had them turn us down—not once. We usually have to work with their schedules, but they all agree to perform when they can. It’s amazing.
“I know a lot of people in the field, so I’m already familiar with a lot of the area’s talent,” Sartain said, noting that sometimes he reunites with people he has performed with in the past. “For example, there’s Dan Doster, a world traveled tenor with whom I did opera and musicals, and Harland Ragle, who is now with The Atlanta Vocal Project a men’s choral group. He and I also sang opera and musicals together.”
Most of the events have gone smoothly, although Sartain recalled an evening when there was a power outage at the time of the concert. “Lawrence Weaver, a pianist and tenor, provided us with a candlelight concert,” he said.
Sartain said several elements come together to make Music for Missions a success. “There are three legs to this milking stool,” he commented. “First, we provide a place for artists to perform. They are always looking for performance opportunities. We provide a quality arts experience for the community and we use the funds to help charitable organizations in the community.”
Although fundraising is part of the formula, Sartain said he was emphatic from the beginning that no tickets would be sold, no admission would be charged and there would be no parking fee. “People donate whatever they choose to donate. If somebody gives $1, that’s OK. A dollar may be all they have. We have one lady who gives $100 every time she comes. So far, we have collected about $130,000 in offerings from our generous audiences,” he said.
The sponsoring church men’s group selects the charities that will benefit from Music for Missions. “The $500 to $1,000 we give a charity wouldn’t mean much to a large national charity, but it’s a lot to a small, local charity,” Sartain said, adding that none of the money stays with the church—it’s all passed along to nonprofit organizations.
A typical audience is 100 to 150 people in the sanctuary that comfortably seats about 200. “The performers already have a following and some people come to hear a particular artist. We get more people from the community than from our church; I’m not sure why,” Sartain said, adding that another Tucker church often brings a van full of people.
Sartain said that although the events are held in a church sanctuary, they are concerts, not worship services. Gospel concerts are among most popular in the Music for Missions series, but bluegrass and other genres also are included.
Although performers are professional musicians, Sartain said he keeps an eye out for promising new talent. “I want keep the programs fresh and good—no junk. I am now looking for what I call the up and coming talent of every genre—strings, solo, choral, dance, circus, jugglers etc.”
Sartain said he would like to see other churches duplicate the model that’s been a success for Lawrenceville Road United Methodist Church’s United Methodist Men for 14 years.