Guitar Church

Wish you had more guitar players on your worship team? An FCA church in Red Deer, Alberta, has opted to do more than wish. They decided to grow their own musicians through a 10-week training club called “Guitar Church” that meets for two hours on Saturday mornings. And in the process, they’ve created a unique outreach to the community.

“Ages vary from 12 to 67,” says Tom Cameron, worship pastor at Living Stones Church. “We get everything from goth rockers to country ‘n western retirees. They all just want to learn to play better. And we show them how to use their ability to worship God.”

The program is now moving into its third season and attracts as high as 100 learners at a time. Occasionally, big-name players are brought in to give special instruction, such as Doug Doppler (the real hero of the famous Guitar Hero games), Jay Calder (Canada’s equivalent to Phil Keaggy), and in the near future, Glenn Kaiser of Rez Band fame from Chicago. When Rick Derringer (“Hang On, Sloopy”) came to teach last May, four people in the audience gave their lives to Christ that day. The local newspaper carried a feature on Derringer’s 1997 conversion; see
http://www.albertalocalnews.com/reddeeradvocate/lifestyles/Guitar_warrior.html

The Guitar Church program is available to other churches as well. Visit http://www.guitarchurch.com for details. Another FCA church in Alberta, McMurray Gospel Assembly, has already signed on to start its own club this fall.

“This effort has definitely brought people into our church,” says Living Stones Church senior pastor Paul Vallee. “It’s a great way to connect with today’s population.” Tom Cameron adds, “Guitar Church is a method of felt-need evangelism. In our culture today, if Guitar Church can be seen as a fishnet, we have seen it catch lots of fish for God.”

Photo: Guitar Church learners surround guest clinician Andrew Bartley (bottom center in light shirt) and host pastor Tom Cameron (black t-shirt with guitar, to Bartley’s left).

New Name, New Facility for New City, New York

Gracepoint Gospel Fellowship is the new name for New City Gospel Fellowship, located 30 miles up the Hudson River from midtown Manhattan. And Sunday, September 14, 20 they dedicated a new 29,000-square-foot building as well, to accommodate the growing congregation.

“We’re no longer just a New City church,” says Senior Pastor Carl Johnson. “Our people come from all over Rockland County as well as Orange County, Westchester County across the river—and even Bergen County in New Jersey. So rather than have a geographical name, we wanted to convey something of what the church stands for. Our focus is to be a place where people encounter the grace of God.”

The new facility is multipurpose: it can seat more than 1,000 for worship, or it can be turned into a banquet/fellowship space, or even a gymnasium. (Sunday attendance is currently around 1,200, plus an additional Saturday night service.) Total cost for the structure was $8 million, not counting land cost. A few years ago, the church was able to purchase 43 acres that adjoined its present property. The new building connects to the original structure, which includes offices and a K-6 Christian school. The smaller sanctuary will now be used for weddings and other auxiliary events.

The keynote speaker for the dedication was Dr. David Midwood, president of Vision New England, a regional movement for evangelism that involves some 80 denominations. The church’s music department performed an original composition for the special day, and the crowd rejoiced in anticipation of what lies ahead. The surrounding community is invited to an open house on Saturday, October 4, 2008. To see pictures of the facility in use, go to: http://gracepointgospel.org.

Small Town, Big Sound

More than 1,600 gospel music fans showed up in the tiny town of Floyd, Iowa (pop. 360) the weekend of September 5-6, 2008 as Gospel Lighthouse Church held its free outdoor festival in the community bandshell. Lawn chairs and blankets were spread far and wide to hear more than 25 groups from 12 different states as far away as Texas and Oklahoma.

“We began this event back in 1995, and it has grown every year,” says Pastor Paul Phillips. “On the weekend after Labor Day, we start at 10 in the morning and go till 10 at night, with just an hour break for lunch and dinner. Otherwise, it’s one group after another, giving their song and testimony in 20-minute segments.”

This year on Friday night, rains forced the event into a nearby gymnasium, cutting the crowd to 500. But listeners were back in full strength on Saturday, when the weather was great.

A Michigan singer named Brett Bromley of the group Northern Edge said about this inspiring event, “Everyone walking by, whether they know Jesus or not, gets to hear about him.”

To see a full schedule, go to the Floyd Lighthouse website and click on “Music,” then “2008 Gospel Sing Groups.”

Young Church Makes Impact

Bricktown Gospel Fellowship in Haverstraw, New York, is only six years old, yet it managed a successful Vacation Bible School last month for 33 children—the majority of whom came from unchurched homes in the neighborhood. “We ran for five nights,” says Pastor Tim Tyree, “and it was such an exciting outreach.”

First-graders through sixth-graders got teaching and activities built in part around the popular VeggieTales program, “The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything.” The teenagers in the church were active as staff helpers, alongside the adults. Since the VBS ended, several families have been back to visit the church on Sunday.

During the same month of August, Pastor Tyree and five other members went on the church’s first mission trip, to Quito, Ecuador. They helped a local congregation there do its VBS—in Spanish, of course. Nearly everyone on the Bricktown team spoke Spanish, which made it possible for them to jump in and help teach the children directly.

The New Yorkers had brought along four heavy suitcases full of school supplies, prizes, Bibles and other gear, plus a cash offering of $300 for the Ecuadorian church. After the VBS sessions finished each day, the men got busy painting the church building.

On the way home, one woman told Pastor Tyree, “You know, you said we’d fit right in with those people and feel like one of them. We sure did!” This woman is now spearheading plans for a return trip next year.

Bricktown Gospel Fellowship is a church planted by nearby Gracepoint Gospel Fellowship in New City, N.Y.

Honoring Rev. Richard Balken

On April 25, 2008, the FCA Convention in Minneapolis gave special honor to the long and noteworthy ministry of Richard Balken and his wife, Joanne. The following tribute was read and distributed at that time:

Richard Balken was born in Duluth, Minnesota to Rev. and Mrs. Obed and Alice Balken. He grew up in Minneapolis and came to saving faith in Christ at the age of nine while attending a convention at the Duluth Gospel Tabernacle with his family. Raised in a pastor’s home, Richard felt the call to full-time ministry not long after beginning college.

Richard and his wife, Joanne, both attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. On June 1, 1957, just five days after graduating from NCBC, they were married. Immediately thereafter, Richard and Joanne began working with Richard’s father in ministry at Philadelphia Church (now Hope Christian Church) in the North East neighborhood of Minneapolis.

In 1958, Richard and Joanne, along with Richard’s brother and wife, formed a singing group and began traveling across the U.S. ministering to local churches. This endeavor continued until 1960, when Richard and Joanne began pastoring a pioneer congregation in Winnebago, Minnesota. It was in the fall of 1961, however, when Richard and Joanne received the call to what would become, in many ways, their lives’ work.

In 1961, the Gospel Tabernacle in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin (now Lighthouse Christian Church), had a congregation of approximately 40 people and had been in decline for some time. As its new pastor, Richard recognized the congregation had lost much of its vision. He began the hard work of helping restore and renew the people’s passion for God and for lost souls. While not easy, God blessed these efforts.

By 1965 the small church building began to fill up, creating the need for a new facility. The next year a building fund was established, and a parcel of land was purchased. In 1969, the congregation voted unanimously to construct a building that would seat 250. Pastor Balken served as the general contractor for the project, the congregation donated their time and abilities, and, by 1970, what was known in the local community as the “labor of love project” had been completed.

Continuous growth at Fond du Lac Gospel Tabernacle led to major building projects in 1973, 1987, 1988, and again in 1998, as well as the expansion of ministry outreach. In 1978, the congregation moved to establish and host a K-12 Christian school, the first in the Fond du Lac area. The church established a Christian daycare center in 1988. During this time, Richard and Joanne were also kept busy on the home front, raising a family of five children: Brenton, Eydie, Byron, Heidi, and Christopher.

With the growth of the congregation, Richard and Joanne had the joy of seeing many young people and families respond to God’s call into full-time pastoral and mission work. They also were able to minister themselves on several foreign fields, including China, India, Indonesia, Colombia and El Salvador. All the while, the mission to present the gospel to the Fond du Lac region never faltered.

In 2005, Richard resigned from Lighthouse Christian Fellowship after 44 years of fruitful and rewarding ministry. He and Joanne are kept busy by five children and their spouses, as well as 20 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. They continue to reside in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.

Rev. Richard Balken has faithfully served God, the Body of Christ, and the Fellowship of Christian Assemblies for more than 50 years. Today, he continues this faithful service as a vital member of the Church’s endeavor to spread the good news of God’s Kingdom. The Fellowship of Christian Assemblies is privileged to recognize Rev. Richard Balken as a 2008 FCA Heritage Honoree. May God’s grace, peace, and richest blessings continue to rest upon Richard and Joanne.