UM quartet marks decade of pickin’ for the Lord

By Jessica Connor, Special Contributor…

UNION, S.C.—The music starts with a chaos of energy—the smooth strum of the guitar, the delicate strings of the mandolin, the burst of melody from the banjo, the deep thrum of the bass.

As they gather for their weekly jam session at the Union County Arts Center, the four men lean into their instruments and let the music pour through them. Smiles spread across their faces as they build the piece into a chorus, voices harmonizing while the strings provide a backdrop. The Spirit is tangible in this place.

From left, the Rev. Gary Byrd, Philip Arnold, Bob Love and Clark Beavans say their band, Gospel Grass, is a blessing to them and to their audiences. PHOTO BY JESSICA CONNOR

From left, the Rev. Gary Byrd, Philip Arnold, Bob Love and Clark Beavans say their band, Gospel Grass, is a blessing to them and to their audiences. PHOTO BY JESSICA CONNOR

This is Gospel Grass, a bluegrass quartet of United Methodists that is going stronger than ever, 10 years after it began.

“It’s a real blessing to get to do this, and to think it’s a ministry is awesome—to realize someone is being blessed, and to look out at the crowd and see that in someone’s eyes, see that smile,” said band mate Bob Love.

Gospel Grass got its start in 2003 at Grace UMC, Union, when two members, Clark Beavans and the newly arrived Mr. Love, teamed up for a guitar duet at a Fifth Sunday music program. Soon enough, fellow Grace member Philip Arnold joined them, along with their pastor, the Rev. Gary Byrd, also a musician. Their four-part chemistry was instant, both on a friendship and a musical level. Mr. Arnold plays bass and banjo, Mr. Beavans plays mandolin and guitar, Mr. Byrd plays guitar and Mr. Love plays guitar and bass.

“We’ve got all the voice parts, and we can switch around, too,” Mr. Love said, noting how seamlessly the foursome was able to navigate the music, even though none of them except Mr. Arnold were accustomed to playing in a band. Mr. Arnold’s other band, Split Rail, plays up and down the East Coast.

“I’ve always dreamed of playing in a band, but I didn’t think I could. But we started working on a song, and I realized I could halfway do it, and then I could actually do it,” Mr. Byrd said, recalling how the weekly practice and strong brotherhood of encouragement kept band mates’ spirits strong when they might have faltered from inexperience.

Even after Mr. Byrd retired in 2008, the band didn’t lose pace. His band mates gave him a Martin six-string as a retirement gift, and they all kept right on playing, though Mr. Byrd now serves as a retired supply pastor for Aldersgate UMC in Inman, S.C.

Today, they play “most anywhere for whatever reason,” Mr. Arnold says, from church events and community fundraisers to state fairs and folk art centers. They give most of their proceeds to charity, though they might treat themselves to an occasional post-concert ice cream.

Crowd favorites include Gospel-centered bluegrass renditions of “I Found the Way,” “Crying Holy,” “He Arose” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”

The band members say God is at their core, whether in the light they bring to their audience or the brotherhood they share as a group.

“It really moves you when He comes and gets down into it,” Mr. Love said. “It gets us closer to each other, and gets us closer to God.”

Mr. Beavans said the fellowship and fun are so powerful for him that it’s hard to imagine his role in Gospel Grass is contributing to an actual ministry; after all, there is challenging music to play, and he gets to play with three other men who are truly his friends.

“I’m glad it’s a ministry, but I feel selfish because I feel really lucky,” he said. “It’s more of a blessing to me than anything.”

Mr. Byrd said he appreciates that Gospel Grass is representing Grace UMC, as a gift the church can share with the world.

“I just want everyone to know about us,” Mr. Byrd said.

Mr. Love agreed: “God really blesses us with this, and if we can bless someone else, too, that’s a bonus.”

Ms. Connor is editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, where this story first appeared.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to

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