Reprinted here by special permission of the author, Cindy Beckman, a retired Conway High School history teacher who writes local history.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6). Parents of all generations have worried about what their teens might be doing when they are out with their friends. About forty years ago, two of the major activities for Conway teens were the First Baptist Church youth group and youth choir.
On any given Sunday or Wednesday evening, there would be about 200 teenagers at the church participating in these activities with their friends. Teens from other churches would also regularly show up for the planned activities of the First Baptist youth group.
In early 1974, the newly remodeled First Baptist Church sanctuary was dedicated. The building, which was on the National Register of Historic Places, got an updated interior design. The beautiful stained glass on each side of the sanctuary, however, was still there for all to see. There was a “Sweet, Sweet Spirit In This Place” for many years to follow. There also lots of music.
The United States began celebrating its Bicentennial birthday the next year and the Youth Choir, under the direction of Don Bingham, presented “In God We Trust” as part of the Memorial Day celebrations. Dressed in red, white and blue, the teens sang “In God We Trust”, “I Am Thankful to be an American” and other songs, complete with a choreography.
The following year, the Youth Choir presented two different programs in the new sanctuary. They performed a Classical Sacred concert in May dressed in their very best black dresses and suits. At the end of the year, they offered “My Christmas Gift” to remind listeners that “He’s the Reason for the Season”.
The productions were getting much bigger by 1977. The choir had grown to over 100 teens. They took their program, “Village Miracle”, to Florida for an 11-day summer mission trip. This program was choreographed, included a puppet show, and the teens were dressed in their 19 th century village calico dresses, suits and barrels as they sang. They also got to go to Walt Disney World which had only been open for six years and had just opened Space Mountain.
A church-wide production of “The Sound of Music” was performed at UCA’s Ida Waldron Auditorium in February, 1978. Adults, teens and children sang and performed, worked backstage and otherwise assisted. Bill Ward and Janis Banister played the lead roles of the Captain and Maria.
Proceeds from the musical were used to send buses of church teens to Albuquerque, New Mexico to attend the Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts in the summer of 1978. Here the teens learned basic principles for dealing with the common problems that teens encounter.
In 1979, the youth choir performed “Music Machine” in Laurel Park before taking it on the road to Gatlinburg, Tennessee for a week-long summer tour. The teens sang “Have Patience”, “Self Control” and other songs as a giant “music machine” and conductor helped the children learn about the fruits of the Spirit.
We often hear “it takes a village” to raise children. In those late years of the 1970s, a village of people came together, investing their time in the youth of Conway. Those teens are now parents and some even grandparents. They are giving back to their communities and many are investing their lives in training up the next generation.