Sameah performers reunite decades after touring ended

A group photo of Sameah performers was on display at the reunion.A group photo of Sameah performers was on display at the reunion.

By Donna Thornton/News Editor

Starting in the early 1970s, a revolving group of young people from Rainbow City United Methodist Church and what was then Westminster High School took part in a unique ministry.

They were members of Sameah, and traveled all over the southeast performing dramas and musicals that shared the message of Christ in churches from Virginia to Oklahoma.

Former members said the group toured for 11 years, with members coming and going as some left for college, jobs or families. An estimated 140 young people were involved at various times, as actors, singers, musicians and crew.

On June 22, all the members of Sameah were invited to the Rainbow City Community Center to reunite, get reacquainted and relive memories of a special ministry. For some members, who were involved at different times, the reunion was a first meeting.

The group got its start when the Rev. George Gravitte, pastor at RBC Methodist, encouraged church minister of music/youth director Anne Butler, who was also choral director at Westminister, to combine the groups and do “something special.”

Drummer Tommy Hight gave the group its name after researching in his father’s library (his dad was pastor of East Gadsden Baptist Church). Sameah is a Hebrew word meaning “a deep, intense joy in anticipation of the second coming of The Lord,” Butler said.

Harry Butler said for many, involvement with Sameah meant a lasting leaning to ministry. Several young people from the group who are now ministers.

“Literally, it changed the direction I was going in,” Tommy Campbell said. Campbell played Jesus for many productions. “It changed our lives.”

Anne Butler said the group attracted young people from across the county and was quite large at times – as many as 46 participants. Some of those involved in Sameah honed talents used through out their lives.    

Mike Beecham was an actor “and a little bit of everything,” during his time with the group, and went on to work with shows at Six Flags and continues to be active in community theater. He said he got involved in Sameah while he was in junior high through knowing the Butlers

“I made so many friends through the group,” he said. Beecham recalled the group traveled sometimes three weekends a month. “I can’t tell you how many times Harry Butler told me to sit down on the bus.”

Mike Mayben said he got involved because of his best friend, Tommy Campbell.

One day, Mayben said, Tommy wanted him to go pray with him before they worked out. “I didn’t want to drop the weights on myself,” Campbell explained.

“Next thing you know, I was in Bible study,” Mayben said.

“And the next thing you know, you’re married to Harry and Anne’s daughter (Laurie),” Campbell said.

“I just carried the speakers,” Mayben said. “They had two 8-foot speakers and I could carry them both at once.”

Campbell recalled a performance where he played Jesus and left the stage, going downstairs to look for the bathroom. He got lost when he came back and he came back on stage on opposite side from where his castmates expected him. It made for an effective scene, Campbell said, when Jesus surprised the doubting disciple Thomas and invited him to put a hand in his side.

Jennifer Gasque was involved in Sameah in seventh and eighth grade before moving to Birmingham. She said she had great memories of the ministry and its impact on her life.

“It was a wonderful experience,” Gasque said.

Rebekah Armstrong said she was more of a groupie than performer, but she traveled some with Sameah and enjoyed the experience. She said she had great memories of spending time with the youth group at the Butler’s home.           

In addition to renewing acquaintances, attendees got the chance to look  through photo albums, and old programs from their performances. Several group pictures taken through the years were on display. Some joked about how the 1970s wardrobe had not aged well.

“Oh those outfits were hideous,” one former member said, looking at the photos.

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