Benefit Concert

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 The purpose of this benefit concert is to build bonds of love and fellowship through music between residents of Atlanta and Hattiesburg by raising funds for the rebuilding of Westminster Presbyterian Church, destroyed in the tornado that passed through Hattiesburg, MS on Sunday, February 10, 2013.

What’s the connection?

On Sunday, February 10, 2013, a tornado moved through Hattiesburg, Mississippi, destroying my church, my home, my alma mater, and countless other businesses and houses in the area. But on that day, I wasn’t thinking about endings. I was thinking about new beginnings.

Atlanta, mezzo-sopranoLate this past summer, I fled Hattiesburg and landed with family in Atlanta. As I prayed for guidance, God opened my mind. I began to see glimpses of Divine possibilities for my life and a path full of Joy, Truth, and Spirit. During this transitional time, the most difficult decision I made was to pursue divorce. So on the day of the tragedy, I was simply traveling down the road of new beginnings: I was returning to Hattiesburg to move my things out of my former residence, meet with my lawyer, and plan for my future.

I don’t understand why Mother Nature destroyed much of my hometown, but I do know that God has called me to respond. Westminster Presbyterian is the church where I was born, baptized, and raised. As a musician, I have worked in a variety of churches; yet even when I was working as a staff singer or music director at another church, Westminster was always my home, a community full of supportive, caring people.

In times of trouble or need, God calls us to use our talents and skills in service to others. So in a spirit of love and faith, I am raising my voice in song to build a bridge of music among friends in my new Atlanta home and friends in my former Hattiesburg home. I invite you to join in supporting the rebuilding of Westminster Presbyterian Church by contributing as you are able!

Sarah Mabary
Atlanta, Georgia
February 19, 2013


The program features the oratorio arias, “But Who May Abide the Day of His Coming” from Handel’s Messiah, “O Rest in the Lord” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, “Pie Jesu” from Duruflé’s Requiem, and “Agnus Dei” from Bach’s Mass in B Minor. Next are hymns and spirituals by composers affiliated with Mississippi, including “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” by James Q. Mulholland; “Resignation” and “Wondrous Love” arranged by Frank Pesci; and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” arranged by Raymond K. Liebau. Johannes Brahms’s Vier ernste Gesänge are nextfeaturing scriptural texts from Ecclesiastes and I Corinthians 13. The program concludes with a jazz- and blues-inspired song cycle entitled Dreams, with settings of poetry by Langston Hughes by composer Howard Keever, an Atlanta native.

View photos of Westminster Presbyterian Church

In the Pastor’s Words, Steve Ramp, M.Div. (90), Ph.D (97)

“Westminster is a great church. We’ve got conservatives, liberals, moderates, independents, you name it. Our average age has dropped considerably in the last 10 years. We’re around 210 in membership, but we play above our weight class. We are ACTIVE!! The Sunday after the tornado, 174 showed up for worship (in a nearby Methodist church). We’ve got ministries for all ages. Where we really shine, though, is carrying Christ into the world. Many of our members are active on civic and charitable boards. I serve on 5 or 6 boards and am very involved in low income housing matters.

Westminster is also an ecumenical leader in the community. Nine years ago an Episcopal priest and I started a weekly pastor’s Bible Study. We meet every Monday at different churches. We’ve got Methodists, Episcopalians, a Pentecostal, a Cooperative Baptist, and one Calvinist. Great group. We’ve very close and sometimes we actually study the lectionary texts for the coming week.

Our church got hammered by the tornado on Feb. 10. Fortunately, no one was killed. The church is built like a battleship – steel reinforced concrete, but the 170 mph wind and the pine trees that were thrown into the church did a great deal of damage to our roof system. Our 3 outbuildings that housed the Presbytery of Mississippi, Christian Women’s Job Corps, and our youth and college ministry were destroyed. Total losses. We’re known as the Pine Belt. Pine trees are nice too look at but they’re dangerous in a high wind. They become missiles.

The structural engineer hired by our insurance carrier says the second floor of the main building is unstable and needs to come down. Big bucks. We think the sanctuary is repairable. The adjusters have been working to determine replacement cost. We have good insurance, but the carnage and cost to rebuild could easily exceed the policy limits.

Prior to the storm we were contemplating new construction to accommodate our growth. We were not counting on having to repair our existing building.

You would not believe the outpouring of support we’ve received here. A nearby United Methodist Church is allowing us to use their sanctuary every Sunday morning (we now worship at 9:30 instead of 11) and Wed. evenings. That is so helpful. We received offers from 2 Baptist churches, and 2 PCA churches to use their facilities as well.

Our presbytery has suffered the loss of 10 churches in recent months, but Westminster is committed to the PC(USA). We received a great deal of help following Katrina. (Our church wasn’t damaged, but we were active in helping others and housing relief workers). It looks like we need help once again.

The good news is that no one was killed. 800+ houses and businesses were destroyed, but no loss of life! Also, thanks to the tornado, we now have plenty of places to park on our campus! Losing 3 buildings gives us lots of options.

You can check out our website at There’s an online giving link if anyone wants to give that a shot. Also, if you use Face Book, check out Westminster Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, MS. Lots of cool pictures including the whole church last Sunday (Feb. 17) gathered in our bombed out sanctuary. I’m in the pulpit which is covered with a blue tarp. We held a short prayer service there so people could see what we’re dealing with. Very healing.

Thanks for your interest and concern. There are hundreds of uninsured and underserved people in Hattiesburg who will need help for the next 3+ years. When we get our situation squared away, we would welcome groups coming to Hattiesburg to re-roof and restore homes. Some of these homes are located in a flood plain, which means they can’t be torn down and rebuilt, but they can be “repaired.” Some of them need extensive repairs.

Keep us in mind as you are looking for mission projects. Katrina taught us to accept help when it’s offered. Blessings.”




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