by Liz Cutler Gates
It could be the Grace Brethren version of the well-known question “Will it play in Peoria?,” when New York producers would try their plays in the Midwestern city before taking them on the road. Only the mantra here is, “If it works in Columbus, perhaps it will work somewhere else.”
That’s the principle behind the Grace Media Group, a ministry of the Grace Brethren Church of Columbus, Ohio.
“It was the natural progression of the stewardship of God’s gifts and God’s resources,” says Randy Kettering, the church’s minister of music for more than 25 years. “It was natural for us to try to invest in the creative people, not just the performing people or the technical people.”
The ministry has allowed the Columbus congregation to develop, and share with other churches, resources to be used in the worship services and seasonal concerts throughout the year at the church, which is located on the north side of Ohio’s capital city.
Two product lines are available – compact discs of recorded music for personal use in one’s home or car, and several collections of printed music and accompaniment tracks that can be used by church choirs and orchestras. Eventually, they hope to add a series of tracks for soloists, drama scripts, and accompaniment tracks with videos.
The material is available directly from the church or on-line at www.gracebrethren.org/gracemedia. Recently it became available through two nationally-known Christian music publishing houses – Pine Lake Music Company, Decatur, GA, and Kempke Music Service, Sanford, FL, opening the doors to present it at gatherings where many church musicians review and choose the music they will use in the coming year.
Columbus’ first opportunity to participate came at a music conference in the summer of 2004. Sharing the platform with well-known music imprints such as Word Music, Marantha! Music, Clydesdale and Clydesdale Music, The Brooklyn Tabernacle Music, and Integrity Music, they showcased eight songs in a 45-minute session. “In the time we were there, all morning and afternoon, that group of people applauded nine times,” Kettering recalls with a smile. “Six of those times were during our 45-minute sessions.”
Kettering recognizes the potential for numerous churches to use the material, but is realistic about the efforts. “We are obviously a large church and we’re not trying, on the music publishing side, to be all things to all people,” he says. “Our elders have said you can do this and touch people’s lives and make enough to keep it going,” he adds. “It’s not like we have owners and stockholders who want us to turn a 22 percent profit margin.”
And while the music was originally used in a large church with a 120-voice choir and 40-member orchestra, he says the Grace Media Group material can be used in any sized church. “Anybody who wants to use an accompaniment track has a professional orchestra playing these fabulous arrangements,” he stresses. “They can be performed with 20 singers.”
The Grace Media Group utilizes the talents of individuals already on staff at the Columbus church. Robert Nugent does the writing and arranging for the ministry, and also assists Kettering in working with the church choir, selecting music, and serving as a worship leader. Bill Palmeteer designs the CD cases, book covers, and advertising collateral, when not doing other activities in his role as the church’s director of communications.
Chad Dutka oversees the ministry’s marketing efforts, but also assists with other events at the church. Kettering, who is known for his entrepreneurial approach to ministry, sees himself as a catalyst and facilitator. “I’m just the guy to bring people together to do something that none of us could do independently,” he says.
Nugent has gained a reputation as a talented musician and arranger. “In the current flood of contemporary Christian praise songs, Nugent’s unique musical voice has reminded each of us of the church’s rich musical heritage,” says Dr. Russel C. Mikkelson, Director of Bands and Associate Professor of Music at The Ohio State University who also serves as conductor of the praise orchestra and choir at Resurrection Evangelical Lutheran Church, Hilliard, Ohio. Mikkelson recently conducted music from the Grace Media Group series, “Hymns for All Time,” which was arranged by Nugent.
“I found each hymn setting to be extremely well-crafted, spiritually inspiring, and musically reverent,” says Mikkelson. “He (Nugent) has taken the great hymns of the church, dusted them off, and set them in ways attractive to all who grew up in the tradition of hymnody, but especially to those listeners who are unfamiliar with that tradition.” He adds, “Robert Nugent’s gift lies in his ability to pour this wonderful old wine into new bottles without spilling a drop.”
“I am always looking for ways to add life and vitality to our congregational music,” stresses Miller Cunningham, pastor of worship and music at Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, TN. “The hymn arrangements from Grace have really fit the bill. Not only do they provide challenging and exciting choral and orchestral experiences but our congregation loves them. We have experienced some incredible worship in our body singing and playing these arrangements together.”
For Kettering, the efforts are all part of a believer’s service to God and should come as naturally as breathing.
“Worshiping God is using our skills and abilities from the cradle to the grave,” he says. “Steward your time, talent, wealth, relationships, and opportunities in such a way that it benefits the body of Christ. That’s really what life is about.”
Liz Cutler Gates, who is Director of Communications for the Moritz College of Law at the Ohio State University, is originally from the Wooster, OH, Grace Brethren Church. A 1977 journalism graduate of Grace College, she is now a member, deaconess, and leader at the Grace Brethren Church of Columbus, OH.