A Peace Profound

 In Business, Church, Culture, Faith, Fred's Blog, Music, People, Religion

Listen to “A Peace Profound” by Fred Smith

 

I think it was long-time Chaplain of the Senate Dick Halverson who said, “In the beginning the church was a fellowship of men and women centering on the living Christ. Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe where it became a culture, and, finally, it moved to America where it became an enterprise.”

My introduction to the enterprise was in the late 60s as a college student employed by Word Records in Waco, Texas. Word had begun in 1951 as the brainchild of Jarrell McCracken with the publishing of a single recording, “The Game of Life.” Jarrell originally presented this one-man recreation of a fictitious football match between the forces of Good and Evil on Sunday nights in churches around central Texas. Everywhere he performed, he had requests for copies and eventually began to press his own records. That small beginning eventually became the major publishing company we all know today.

I worked in the Word warehouse stocking books and organizing inventory. I remember walking in the first day and seeing hundreds of split boxes and books spilling all over the floor. Records were stacked up in corners or piled into cartons to be shipped. Flyers announcing concerts around the South were scattered and waiting to be swept up when they expired. The business was growing faster than their capacity, and you could sense the boundless (and messy) enthusiasm of those days before the entrepreneur was absorbed by a corporate owner.

Sometimes gospel groups – like the Happy Goodmans, the Cathedral Quartet, the Florida Boys or Blackwood Brothers – would come through in their buses. They all loved Jarrell and the people around him for they were treated with respect as they all shared the same roots. Still, unknown to the artists, a little red light came on in the warehouse to signal everyone to put out their cigarettes, clean up their language, and be ready to greet the talent.

I loved it. Soon, I moved up to selling new titles on the phone at night to Christian stores across the country. All those stores were “mom and pop,” and the owners made the decisions about what products to carry. If they liked you and the products you recommended moved off the shelves, it was a good relationship. This was before buying decisions were made elsewhere and these small stores folded or were bought out and franchised.

The Worship Industry

To be sure, there were more than a few people in the business who were less than altruistic, and the signs of the “worship industry” that blossomed in the next decades were already obvious. There was money to be made, and it attracted the attention of international players.

Jarrell first sold part interest to ABC in 1976. When ABC merged with Capital Cities, he was ousted from the company. Eventually, Word was then sold to Thomas Nelson…and then to AOL/Time Werner…and then to Warner Music Group. This last sale for $2.4 billion was led by Edgar Bronfman and a group of investors.

Tonight, as I remember this, I am far from home sitting in the nave of an old Episcopal parish church in Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. The youth and children’s choir is singing a Choral Evensong of hymns and prayers while the sun sets behind the stained glass. An elderly woman in front of me is resting her head on the pew beside her – not quite sleeping. Attentive parents and grandparents are listening for the one voice they came to hear while strangers, like me, have stepped inside to be a part of the fellowship tonight. I am old enough to know this church is far from perfect but listening to the choir and reading the words of Scripture together as a congregation reminds me of a time that has not passed here. This is not an industry or an enterprise. It is a church. The people are members – not customers. Not sheep to be sheared but a flock to be loved. But I am not here to reminisce about an unrecoverable time that is past but to remember and be grateful.

There are no microphones or sound equipment – just the vault of the chamber, the organ and our voices joining theirs as we lay this day to rest.

“Now, on land and sea descending,

Brings the night its peace profound;

Let our vesper hymn be blending

With the holy calm around.

Now, our wants and burdens leaving

To God’s care who cares for all,

Cease we fearing, cease we grieving,

Touched by God our burdens fall.

Jubilate! Jubilate! Amen.”

 

Art by John Watkins Chapman

You can purchase “Where The Light Divides” here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Showing 12 comments
  • Avatar
    John Kelly
    Reply

    I love to read about nuggets of your past and am always astonished how you seem to be part of seminal influences. I’m reminded of Woody Allen’s Zelig. Your contrast between the trajectory of the ‘enterprise’ and the simple yet touching observation of the little church you were in is beautifully rendered.

    I’m also wondering if I still have those Dallas Holm and Evie records somewhere….

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Evie Tornquist was a genuine heart throb! I’ve always been present but not attached!

  • Avatar
    Kerry Hasenbalg
    Reply

    Fred,
    Once again, thanks for your thoughtful words.
    Despite the iterations and degradation in the way human societies have worshipped over the course of time, I am grateful that God never changes. The voice of Him,
    who is the same yesterday, today and forever, keeps proving faithful to invite us back (or to allow troubles to incite our return) to purity and that peace profound. In these times of corporate-style troubleS and uncertainty, the schemes and facades of “the flashing red lights” that have long stood seem to be “a tumblin’ down”. May we be found faithful and to simply draw near “To God’s care who cares for all, Cease we fearing, cease we grieving, Touched by God our burdens fall.“

  • Avatar
    Clare De Graaf
    Reply

    Fred, I too have sat in the same Episcopal church as you. While I’m not generally a “high church” fan, when I do visit those kinds of churches, I feel a reverence and respect for God that I grew up with. I don’t feel that in most churches with a worship band and attendees in flip flops, where God is their friend.

    I understand the need to change to be relevant to the culture, but something precious has been lost. The old people all know each other because they wouldn’t think of changing churches every dozen years. Through good preaching or bad, they are loyal to the church and each other. A lost virtue. And one reason those churches are dying.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Some of my friends are going back to those “quiet” churches and leaving the entertainment behind them.

  • Avatar
    David Galloway
    Reply

    I remember the advent of the “consumer church”. I listened to the dude from Garden Grove tell me about finding the need and filling it, that’s what built his Crystal Cathedral….now owned by the Roman Catholic diocese.
    No brand loyalty, they taught, meet their current need. I pushed against it but saw the wisdom in terms of the current culture, which always trumps everything.
    The idyllic picture of an Episcopal church on an island has a certain pull on me, particularly as I now call one home. It begs the question of what need is it addressing.
    As always, thanks for thinking. And making me think.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      There’s no going back, is there? I’m liking idyllic more and more!

  • Avatar
    John
    Reply

    How did I forget that you and I have a shared history at Word (and practically shared careers there)? Of course, I was there during the Cap Cities/ABC years, the Thomas Nelson years, and then the Gaylord Entertainment years (between Nelson and AOL/Time Warner). Yes, the Spirit often got lost in the midst of profits, but I would trust in the idea that ultimately there was an earnest follower of God who might need what I was selling one day.

    I remember sitting in a church one time and being moved by a father and his two grown children singing a beautiful song. As I listened and was moved I thought, “This is how it starts. Someone wants to somehow capture this moment and take it with them so they decide to put it on “tape” and then sell it so others can share this moment.” I suppose it’s ironic that I have praise music playing through my headphones right now, even as I type this to you.

    • Fred Smith
      Fred Smith
      Reply

      Yes, the cycle is like most good ideas. The trick is holding on to the “magic” that made it unique in the first place. Jarrell was a hero to me.

  • Avatar
    Charles Gordon
    Reply

    Thanks Fred. I’ve added now on land and sea descending to my favorites!

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