A Peace Profound
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.