This story has been edited.
On November 12th, an employee of the Ryman Auditorium’s recently-opened CafÃ© Lula named Kimber Engstrom was fired after she attempted to set up a prayer vigil in the historic concert venue for the ailing Joey Feek of the singing duo Joey + Rory. Engstrom wanted to conduct the prayer vigil for November 19th when the Ryman was vacant, even going as far as to create a poster for the event (though she says she never printed any), and setting up a Go Fund Me account to raise the $18,000 fee the Ryman was charging to rent the facility. However the famous “Country Music Mother Church” didn’t look kindly on its name being used without prior permission, and terminated Engstrom from her position.
Now Ryman management is saying they were too harsh on Kimber Engstrom, and even offered to rehire her.
“After reviewing the events leading up to Kimber’s separation, the Ryman management concluded we acted hastily when we terminated her for violating company policy,” Ryman General Manager Sally Williams said in a statement to Wide Open Country. “It is clear that Kimber’s intentions came from a genuine desire to help by organizing an event for the community. We are in contact with her and are working on a way to honor the spirit of her original request by incorporating a time to lift members of the music community in need up in prayer through our Sam’s Place concert series. We did offer Kimber an opportunity to come back to work, and while she has declined that offer, we wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”
Joey Feek of Joey + Rory was diagnosed with abdominal Cancer in 2014 and is currently in hospice care after receiving a terminal diagnosis in late October and deciding to cease treatment. The firing of Kimber Engstrom caused much concern on social media from fans wondering why the space had to be rented for such a high fee when the prayer vigil was not going to be a for-profit event, and the venue was not booked for the evening. However others think Engstrom was presumptuous to assume the Ryman would approve the event.
On Monday (11-17) Ryman Management announced that the Grand Ole Opry show at the Ryman would conclude in a prayer vigil for Joey Feek at 9:30 p.m. Central. Charlie Daniels and other stars that performed on the evening participated in the event. There was also a prayer night held at the Blue Bar in Nashville on Nov. 21st, organized by Kimber Engstrom.
There’s also an effort underway to get the Joey + Rory song “When I’m Gone” to #1 on iTunes by purchasing the song.
Kimber Engstrom provided a statement to Saving Country Music about the situation with the Ryman.
It all started Oct 26, 2015, the day after I heard Joey Feek was stopping cancer treatments.
I was with my best friend Bernie, at his log house, about 35 minutes outside of Nashville, and he said to me, “I love it when you pray for me, will you pray for me now?” So I held his head in my hands, and I prayed.
After we finished , I said “I wish we could all come together in Nashville and pray for Joey.” Next thing I know, Bernie made a Facebook post inquiring if others would want to do the same… and a fire began to burn in my belly.
I had to go with it.
That’s how all this started…
I am 3 years new to this magical town of Nashville, and was 3 weeks new to the magical Mother Church, called the Ryman. While working inside its Cafe Lula, I would do whatever I could to get inside the Ryman building so to feel the atmosphere…. an atmosphere so thick and heavily drenched in the roots of true country music… and faith.
Adding those things together, it only seemed right the answer to the fire in my belly was have a gathering of faith, prayer and love inside this magical building, the Ryman… Of course in Joey’s honor. After all, Joey Feek is what the Ryman stands for , true country music … and faith.
The amount of money didn’t really play a part in what was in my heart concerning this. The numbers didn’t really register. But the fire burned. It burned so bright that all I could see was this amazing Nashville community coming together in this place that is common ground, yet extraordinary…
In my heart, I saw a night where Joey was honored, lifted up and loved on…. and as she was built up, I was hoping we all could be built up.
I reached out to Bill Gather in hopes he could champion this night.
Anyways, that was the fire that burned in my belly and as I came upon obstacles, I burned them down … until the fire was put out…
or is it?
That’s my story.
I am just so grateful for those who have stayed true to their roots in country music. Joey Feek being at the top of my list. Its no question that Joey lives, and always will…. but some days, I’m not so sure about the rest of us 🙂