Clyde Ferguson and his bass guitar, both regulars in worship at Laytown (North Carolina) MB Church, were part of the International Ensemble at the Mennonite World Conference in July. A blues musician who studies, performs and lectures about Afro-American music, Ferguson joined the international group of 11 vocalists and eight instrumentalists leading worship with music from a different continent each day of the conference. Interview by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest
What kind of people did they bring together for this group?
Each musician was truly awesome. Their gift from God was music, and they weren’t afraid to take on whatever music they were given.
Is there someone who really stood out?
One young man reminded me of Lionel Richie. He had won Gospel Singer of the Year in Ethiopia. But there was also an Angolan singer who spoke five languages, a dairy farmer who fiddles, the drummer with a master’s degree in percussion and many others.
How did it work to blend this powerful group of musicians from nine countries?
It wasn’t like the usual when you get a group of musicians together and everybody has to show their wares. We were family after the first hour. Everyone was committed to doing whatever it takes to make the music work. When it was time for one group to practice everyone would sit patiently and wait. Someone said this is what heaven is like.
You were an instrumentalist, but ended up singing a solo.
At church they don’t let me sing. But the director didn’t know Down by the Riverside. In rehearsal she would always say, “Clyde, start this out for us.” I ended up actually singing the first verse in front of 8,000 people.
What inspired you about the overall experience?
It was wonderful to hear the stories of peacemaking from all over the world and to see that the gospel is alive and well. The conference was a piece of utopia we need to take out into the streets and throughout the world.
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