Born and raised in a rural South Carolina town, Shanez Padgett is now Director of Worship and Media Arts at Christ Community Church, Batesburg-Leesville, about an hour outside of Columbia, SC. In addition to his worship gig, he has a full-time job in Lexington. Batesburg-Leesville may be small, but, as Shanez describes it, it “has so much love and soul, and a lot of history.” Even with its imperfections, he is proud of where he was brought up.
The majority of his family lives there, as well. His parents are divorced. His mother has remarried, and his stepfather has children of his own. One of his two brothers lives in Charleston with his niece and sister-in-law, and he also has a half-sister. His extended family, as well as his girlfriend Talia, live nearby too.
Shanez has Black, Southern Baptist roots. As a young boy, he attended Ridge Branch Baptist Church in Ridge Spring, South Carolina, with his paternal grandmother, who is still to this day very involved in various ministries. He credits her with his own early involvement in the church. When he was six or seven years old, he stopped attending. “And we just ended up waking up on Sunday mornings and being lazy. We just didn’t have the motivation to get into the church. And as much as I love my family church, I couldn’t quite comprehend, due to my age, what was coming from the word. Because it was more so an older church, it was tailored towards those older individuals, which I’m grateful for, but I wasn’t able to learn.”
Around 13, his uncle Robert and aunt Lala, invited him to church one Sunday. After his first visit, the pastor, Otis Kitchens, asked him to do an apprenticeship with the drummer who would be leaving for college a year later. He didn’t touch an instrument for nearly the entire year during Sunday service but was able to watch and learn the ins and outs of music ministry by immersion. He recalled “There were Sundays we didn’t play music, we just sang hymns. We had the type of worship services where we would actually just read the Word, and then everyone would break out into the music that correlates with that.” He reflected on the impact this had on him, “Being much, much younger, I was like, I don’t even know what they’re saying. I don’t know where they’re getting this from. And that just shows you the depth of the roots and how involved Black people are within gospel [music] and within the church. Because everyone knew it. You didn’t have to look at a book, you didn’t have to look at music. Everyone knew.”
After he learned the drums, the pastor continued to find opportunities for him to learn and Shanez expanded into piano and organ as well, without really reading music. He’s had several mentors but is basically self-taught. Besides YouTube and watching other musicians, he’s received no formal training. He has been enriched by getting to minister to others through music. “God opening so many doors has truly blessed my soul,” he shared. “And I pray that through the musical ministries that I’m a part of, I’m able to bless others.”
Not being able to read sheet music is not foreign to the Black church tradition, which often uses a numbering system based on each chord’s position within a chord progression. Shanez is well-versed in these chord charts. He explains, “As opposed to saying CG or A or A flat—we just hold up numbers in that key and figure out which chords or progressions that we need to do.” His years in band in high school helped tremendously.
Pastor Otis has played a huge part in Shanez’s life, and the two had a great relationship. Shanez explained, “He knew how to bring the word and was just a huge father figure to me. I still talk to him to this day.” Despite genuinely feeling as though God was calling him to help pioneer the church plant at Christ Community, it felt almost like he was betraying the church he was leaving. He shared, “You really get immersed into that culture and have those relationships and ties and to leave that was just incredibly heartbreaking.”
Christ Community Church, Batesburg-Leesville is a church plant around four years old, started about a year or two before the pandemic. Typically with church plants, you start with a core group of people meeting, and then the building comes. With CCCBL, however, the building was donated to the presbytery before they had any people to fill it. COVID briefly disrupted their usual operations, but they are back to their average pre-Covid numbers, which is about 40 to 50 people – a tight-knit group.
Shanez met Kent Suits, the pastor of CCCBL, three years before he started working at the church through the visual performing arts company he previously owned, P3 Media LLC. Suits was interested in hiring P3 Media to do some drone photography and videography of the church. That project never got off the ground, but three years later, Shanez got a text from Suits asking him to give him a call. His mind raced, trying to figure out what he could possibly want: “What did I do? We haven’t talked for about three years. Oh goodness, what happened?”
Over a meal, they shared testimonies and Suits also shared the vision of Christ Community Church. “It took a lot of praying, meditating, and conversations, but I truly felt, in the end, that God really called me to help pioneer something like this.”
Shanez is very grateful for the provisional session as well as the pastor’s honesty as there was a lot for him to work through coming from a Baptist background. They didn’t pressure him to agree with all the PCA core doctrines in order to come on board. One of the biggest challenges for him was the women’s ordination issue: “I grew up with women pastors, not necessarily pastoring me, but our revivals services. I had a mother who raised me, who loved me, who is outstanding. It’s a tough thing for me to understand.” “A lot about the denomination feels really foreign. And we don’t have a legacy. Most of our grandmommas weren’t nowhere close to a Presbyterian church. So we’re learning. Right? Sometimes you come in on one side, and then a few years later, you end up on another side. Or you have a real opposition to it, and you may hold onto that opposition the entire time. I just encourage people to understand we’re growing here.”
Before Pastor Kent first told Shanez about the church plant, he’d never heard of the PCA, “I got Presbyterian and pescatarian mixed up several times,” he shared. It was definitely an adjustment, partially because of the racial dynamics of the church. Apart from him and his mother, there are only one or two other Black attendees, but their numbers are starting to grow.
When he came on board, they looked through the hymnal together. Shanez selected about nine from over 200 hymns to use. Even then, he shared, “About five to seven of the nine I played much differently than what [congregants] were accustomed to. It’s a lot more soul added to it.” While Shanez likes the congregational singing aspect within the PCA, it was very different to get used to. He continued, “We definitely have more growing to do in terms of being more interactive and we gotta work on our clap.”
As much as it has been a learning experience for him, it’s also been one for the church, which is predominantly Caucasian. He plays two different songs for each service – ranging from playing Amazing Grace, Blessed Assurance, or Nothing But The Blood, something old school, to going and playing From the Depths of Woe, something more modern. Shanez reflected, “It has definitely been uplifting for me and has allowed me to grow as well. Having a love for and still being fulfilled somewhat through the Black gospel music that we play, I’m also able to learn and adapt to what the Caucasian people of the church and the community are aware of.”
While Shanez is not a member of the PCA quite yet, he is choosing to stick around at Christ Community. The first thing keeping him there is Ken. “He is a true ally. We’re best friends. His kids call me Uncle Nez and are just like my blood niece and nephews. I’m very grateful for him being understanding. In one of the first conversations we had, he brought up fornication; can’t get closer than that. I’m very grateful for that friendship and brotherhood.”
Church members have also been so welcoming and understanding. “I have a beautiful home group. I’m very grateful for the members, the conversations, the trust that they are giving me. Them welcoming me into their homes, and having the openness to be uncomfortable—we’re all growing and trying to unify and I’m very grateful that they’ve been very open and loving to me.”
On getting to lead worship, he shared, “Music just has a special bond with my heart. When I play, it’s me praying to God. Sometimes I don’t use words. Sometimes it’s a specific chord. It’s a certain way that I play. That it really is a prayer without any words.”