Chicopee Village has long been the home of Chicopee United Methodist Church. Over the years, it’s held steady but has a dwindling congregation now, desperate for new attendees. Its average attendance is about 25.
That’s why the church is playing host to Craig Gleason, a musician from Johns Creek, in hopes of drawing more people to its services. The outdoor tent service is set for 11 a.m. Sept. 23.
Outdoor Tent Service
Where: Chicopee United Methodist Church, 3 First St., Gainesville
When: 11 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 23
“Our membership is really down, so we need to promote ourselves,” said Jean Kuehn, music minister at the church. “A lot of our congregation is elderly and ... we don’t have children coming regularly, so that kind of eliminates the younger families.”
Gleason played at Chicopee United Methodist last year for the same event. He said he enjoyed it so much, he jumped on the opportunity when the church called again. Being in Gainesville takes him back to the days of when he drove through town with his rock ‘n’ roll band, playing at Brenau University and nearby clubs.
He started when he was 17 at Underground Atlanta, a shopping and entertainment venue, and grew as an artist, eventually performing in front of thousands, he said. He prefers smaller venues now.
“A bunch of us guys living on the southside of Atlanta ... put a band together,” Gleason said. “We ended up going on the road. We thought we would be rock stars, so I toured for almost 10 years.”
He plays all sorts of events now: weddings, corporate events, charity events, private parties. He especially likes playing for churches, though. Gleason said he had been making bad choices when he was touring, so a friend took him to a Florida prison as a type of intervention to help him clean up his act.
That’s when he became a Christian and everything changed for him.
“I quit playing for a year and put everything away and I just went out,” Gleason said. “I was painting houses, cleaning toilets. All I wanted to know was scripture, I wanted to know the Bible. I just had a hunger that was insatiable.”
That experience led him to start his own prison ministry at the Hall County Correctional Institution. He visits inmates there and has built relationships over the years as he’s performed and shared stories of his life and faith.
Gleason said he will be doing the same during his performance at Chicopee United Methodist. The performance will be similar to last year’s with some different songs and new stories mixed in.
“Just because you go to a church doesn’t mean you’re talking to a bunch of believers,” Gleason said. “They’re filled a lot of times with people who are believers, but there’s also going to be a lot of people who are just going because that’s the right thing to do. Culturally, it’s the right thing to do.”
Gleason likes to sing classics like, “I’ll Fly Away,” “Nothing but the Blood” and “Amazing Grace,” but also provides the audience some variety by singing his original songs, some not as “spiritually deep.”
The small environment will help Gleason get his message across and encourage dialogue, which he enjoys, during his performance. But in the end, the members of the church are hoping it doesn’t stay a small environment for long.
“We’re just trying to reach out to the community,” Kuehn said. “We’re just trying to reach out to anyone, and especially the people in Chicopee Village.”