Despite a rare condition that makes him legally blind, a Southern Illinois native’s lifelong dream of singing southern gospel music is coming into focus.

Gregory Ridenhour, who was born and raised in the Anna-Jonesboro area and later served as pastor of Beech Grove Baptist Church near Alto Pass, recently was named tenor singer for Instruments of Faith, a Belleville-based southern gospel quartet with a growing following. Singing with a group is something he says he has always wanted to do, even forming a group with others from Anna First Baptist Church when he was 16. Except for a time as a student at Hannibal-LaGrange University in Hannibal, Mo., when he also sang with a group, he has spent most of his life performing as a solo artist, recording three albums and promoting other concerts around his current home in Mattoon.

It was in his efforts to organize a southern gospel concert that he got his chance to again sing with a quartet.

“I happened to call the Instruments of Faith to schedule them,” he recalls, “and they told me they were looking for a tenor. Jokingly, I said to them that if I lived closer I would love to audition.”

The Aug. 18 concert turned out to be an audition. After only a few hours of practice, Ridenhour went on stage with the group for the first time.

“We did a concert for a men’s retreat in his church, and he sang with us that day,” says Gary Brannaman of Instruments of Faith. “He did a wonderful job, and we thought he was a great fit for us.”

Ridenhour says he was anxious during the audition concert, not because of who he was singing with or in front of, but rather the part he was singing.

“I was always a lead singer, so I always did the melody,” he says. “This was the first time I had ever sung the tenor part. It was brand new to me. I was more nervous about that because it was something I’d never done before.”

Brannaman says of all of the tenors who have auditioned for Instruments of Faith, Ridenhour was the first to perform with the group as part of the audition.

The group, which has performed together since 2000, recently signed a contract with a national southern gospel recording label and is expanding its reach.

“The whole purpose of our group was to get guys together and sing southern gospel,” Brannaman says. “We’ve really been serious about it the last few years.”

The group is serious enough to travel throughout Illinois and Missouri for performances and making regular trips to Mattoon to practice with Ridenhour, who is legally blind.

“I was born with aniridia, meaning that I have no iris in either eye,” he explains. “Over the last six years, it has gotten worse, to the point that I am legally blind. I’ve always had limitations, but I’ve never let it be a disability for me; it’s an inconvenience, and God uses it as part of my testimony.”

Ridenhour says his ministry is a team effort with his wife of five years, Phyllis, who drives him to performances as well as to his job as a retention specialist with Mediacom.

He says he is able to read documents with the help of magnification software, but his blindness has not affected his ability to share his talents and abilities.

“He has brought an enthusiasm, excitement and gentle heart to our group,” Brannaman adds. “Plus, he’s a great singer.”

Brannaman says Ridenhour has started using his natural charm and exuberance to promote the Instruments of Faith.

“He loves to be on the phone with churches and radio stations,” Brannaman says. “He’s really getting the word out and coming up with new ideas. In just the little time he’s been with us, he’s been a real asset.”

Ridenhour says he’s looking forward to scheduling concerts in his home area of Southern Illinois. His parents, Larry and Marsha, still live in Anna. He’s already booked the quartet for a Jan. 20 performance at Bethel Baptist Church in Cobden. The group will also be featured in the regional artist showcase at next year’s National Quartet Convention and is hoping on being part of the annual Illinois State Quartet Convention in Marion.

More than anything, he says he is excited about the opportunity to sing and share with a group.

“This is a definitely a dream realized,” he says.

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