Elevate, a worship band formed at Clanton First United Methodist Church, performs at The Awakening at Oak Mountain Amphitheater.
Elevate, a worship band formed at Clanton First United Methodist Church, performs at The Awakening at Oak Mountain Amphitheater.

By Stephen Dawkins

Elevate worship band began as an effort to bring contemporary music offerings to Clanton’s First United Methodist Church.

Since the band first played together in 2002, its reach has grown exponentially, as new members were added and the group became a fixture at CFUMC services—and at events across the country.

Drummer Mike Graham and vocalist Tommy Lenoir put the effort into motion.

“We had a vision just to try to do something different music-wise,” Graham said.

First, the band performed every fifth Sunday in the church’s sanctuary. Then, the performances became every Sunday night. Eventually, the band moved out of the sanctuary and into the Helen Parrish Activity Building as one of the primary features of a new Hydrate contemporary worship service.

“God just kind of placed a vision on everybody, and the church was receptive,” Lenoir said. “God has been successful with this. He has done great things in spite of us.”

Bass player Mike “Stroke” Bailey, acoustic guitar player Trent Tatum and electric guitar player Derrick Hopper settled in with the band early on, and the name “Elevate” was chosen when it became apparent they could no longer go by “the worship band from First Methodist.”

Keyboardist Whittley Rasberry became the band’s first female member when she joined in 2004, after first playing with the band at the age of 14, and violinist Anna Davenport joined in 2008.

In addition to the local worship services, Elevate has performed on many big stages, including the National Methodist General Conference at Fort Worth, Texas in 2008; the popular Rick and Bubba Show; The Awakening at Oak Mountain Amphitheatre; En Fuego; Youth-A-Palooza; and the Peach Jam.

One of the band’s favorite memories is a trip to Atlanta on a Sunday afternoon after playing at a morning worship service in Clanton.

“We convinced our guitar player and keyboardist they were meant for each other,” Lenoir said about the marriage of Hopper and Rasberry.

The band family has grown: Since they started playing together, band members have seen 10 children brought into the world—not to mention the Hoppers’ dachsund.

“We all have full-time jobs and families, so there’s not a whole lot of time to get together,” Lenoir said. “We have very supportive spouses. It’s really just like a big family.”

Many singers also perform with the band, including Amy Cleckler, Wendy Dale, Alice Graham, Lacey Ellison, Britney Ray, Tonya Marsh and Ashley Darnell.

Band members try to get others in the church involved—so that there’s someone to fill in if one of the regular members misses a Sunday and to ensure the band’s survival.

“At some point, somebody else will have to do this,” Graham said. “We can’t do it forever.”

Elevate has done it this long. They don’t attribute their success to their own talents.

“Most youth don’t want a band that’s got a 47-year-old drummer and a 50-year-old singer,” Lenoir said about he and Graham. “God just continues to pour out opportunities for us to go out and minister. He has definitely had his hand involved in this.

“It’s proof positive that God can use anybody. It’s very humbling to be a part of that.”