‘I feel comfortable in a small church’

Outlaw Gospel star Cody McCarver plays rural Cullman County church

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Cody McCarver shares his testimony with the congregation at Mt. Joy Missionary Baptist Church Sunday. (W.C. Mann for The Cullman Tribune)

BREMEN, Ala. – On Sunday evening, Mt. Joy Missionary Baptist Church, located south of the Bremen community in west Cullman County, welcomed “Outlaw Gospel” recording artist and former Confederate Railroad keyboardist Cody McCarver for an evening of music and testimony. McCarver, backed by guitarist/vocalist Zachary Olendorf, sang several of his recent hits and talked about his childhood in and out of a rural Tennessee church, his family’s struggles with drug addiction and his father’s imprisonment, and his own 20-plus year addiction to alcohol while enjoying great success in the music industry with Confederate Railroad.

McCarver jokingly lamented to the congregation that he could not perform the Confederate Railroad hit “Trashy Women” for them, but he did share the band’s “Jesus and Mama.”

Coming back to his foundational faith later in life and finding freedom from addiction (telling the audience, “I haven’t had a drink since 2013”), McCarver left the band and embarked on a solo career in gospel music. Shunned by the Nashville Contemporary Christian Music industry for his rough-edged style, he struck out on his own and called his music Outlaw Gospel. Since then, his self-defined genre has found new success, including the hit “Rise Up” which reached number one on the Christian Country charts in 2018, the 2019 number one hit duet “These Hands” with John Schneider (Yes, that John Schneider: Bo Duke!) and an active tour and performance schedule.

How does a music industry power player find himself in a small rural Cullman County church?

McCarver plays his share of concert halls, but he will also perform at 30-50 churches each year, many of them smaller rural congregations like Mt. Joy.

McCarver said, “I grew up in a small church, and I feel comfortable in a small church, you know. It was funny: when we were pulling in here, Zach pulled in and he said, ‘You know, man, we pulled in and there was lots of cars here, you know, and this is a small church. This place is really crowded.’ Zach says, ‘You know, we go play in theaters with a thousand people in them,’ and he says, ‘and I don’t get nervous, but I get nervous when we do these.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, me, too. It’s alright.’

“But I grew up playing piano in a little small church like this, and it’s intimate; it gives people the time to really give your testimony, get your story across. I just feel more comfortable, I guess.

“We went by a great big church-I don’t know the name of it-in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and we were coming through there, and it’s at night, right, and it’s all lit up with all these beautiful red and blue and purple, and all these different colors outside. And I was like, ‘Wow, look at that church! It’s huge!’ And our guitar player says, ‘Yeah, looks like Six Flags over Jesus, don’t it?’ So I enjoy the small churches.

“I came here because I was invited. Nobody said, ‘I’m going to pay you $10,000 to come and sing at this church.’ I was invited, and I accepted an invitation to come. If somebody calls and invites me to go to another small church in Idaho, I’ll probably go there, too!”

See The Tribune’s video of McCarver’s testimony and selected songs, recorded live at Mt. Joy, at www.facebook.com/CullmanTribune/videos/2621581804731943/.

Charles Pierce, the new pastor at Mt. Joy Missionary Baptist Church, said of McCarver’s visit, “I was amazed! It was God’s doing. It amazes me that a man high up in the music world would come to a small church and perform, too; it just shows he’s doing it for the right reasons.”

He smiled, “He chose us and got lost trying to find us up here on Mt. Joy, but he found it.”

The church members met afterward for food and fellowship. McCarver mentioned before coming that he loved good country cooking. The church definitely delivered with a fabulous meal. McCarver took time to meet, sign autographs and take pictures with everyone. Many were eager to purchase McCarver’s new hit CD “Blessings.”

McCarver said before he left for the three-hour drive to his home in Dunlap, Tennessee that he looked forward to returning to Cullman County in the near future. 

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W.C. Mann