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Local choir practicing for Deals inaugural prayer service
Each member has a story
Sandra Edwards, center, sings with the rest of the choir of the First Baptist Church on Green Street during a practice Wednesday evening for its program at the inaugural prayer service of Gov.-elect Nathan Deal. - photo by Tom Reed

It takes about an hour and plenty of musical notes to prepare for Gov.-elect Nathan Deal's inaugural prayer service.

The 97 members of Gainesville's First Baptist Church choir met Wednesday night to practice their songs for the first time, but none of them are nervous for the big performance on Jan. 10.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, unless we go to Washington for his prayer service," Willia Banks said after rehearsal as the group chuckled.

"Nathan taught Sunday school classes, so he has touched the lives of many members at some point."

Church members had plenty to say about Deal, who once was a part of the church choir with his wife, Sandra.

"Sandra sat next to me in the alto section, and we all think it's just great to see how far he's gone," said Lounette Hood, who noted she was one of Deal's first supporters when he ran for Congress. "And now he's the governor!"

The group practiced its long vowels and crisp consonants in the church's sanctuary still decked in Christmas spirit on Wednesday night. Paired with Mount Paran Church of God in Atlanta, the group will sing "Great is Thy Faithfulness," "Thou, O Lord" and "The Majesty and Glory of Your Name."

"It's very exciting and an honor to be a part of the prayer service because we all know Nathan as a church and community member," said Janet Bass. "My daughter was a page for him."

The choir will load into buses around 6 a.m. Jan. 10 to ride to Atlanta for the 9 a.m. service. The excitement among those who arrived for practice Wednesday night was tangible.

"I've known Nathan for years and saw him when he won an FFA (Farmers of America) speaking contest in Chicago," said Keith Grogan, who served as a First Baptist deacon with Deal. "I knew right then that he would be going somewhere."

Each member had a story to tell about Deal as a Sunday school teacher, choir singer or fellow church member, and they hope to make him proud on the day of his swearing-in. The group will meet again next Wednesday to practice the three songs for a final time.

"I never dreamed that I would have the opportunity to be part of this wonderful service," said Mark Green, associate pastor of music who directed the group on Wednesday. "I've known Nathan for 12 years, and I teach his granddaughter in one of the choirs here. We feel a real kinship with him and are honored to support him and show the people in the state who they have."

For Harris Blackwood, Deal's inaugural events coordinator and a member of the choir, singing during the prayer service looked inevitable.

"When Nathan announced that he was running, I stood up at rehearsal the next week to make an announcement," he said. "I said, ‘Save the date, we may be asked to sing!'"