The following is a re-telling of the story of Christian Brothers, and how it came into existence.
In all those weeks a great deal has happened. What started as almost a whim, albeit an inspired whim, grew into an ever-changing ministry. We still had at the core of all this a group who met privately to "bear one another's burdens." I need to note here that the members of this group were of a variety of denominations. It has always been that way with us. We continued on Fifth Street for a couple of years under the name of Free House. We then moved to a small building across from the library. It was a small house, actually. The house was so small, we had to have our concerts in front of the building. Later, when we began to meet at Central United Methodist's Youth Hut, that little building served as our first book and record store.
In 1977 we incorporated as Christian Brothers Association. We moved from the Youth Hut to Seventh Street (where SouthTrust bank is now) in early 1978. By that time the ministry was in full swing. The coffee house was booming. Our first annual music festival at the falls had been such a success that we decided we weren't going to have to charge admission to future festivals. The book and record store was making virtually any sort of Christian music available. The sound company was traveling all over the country. It was a very busy time. But, the Seventies were drawing to a close and a new focus was required. The Jesus Movement, which had produced so many new Christians among the young, was giving way to an era wherein these young converts would mature. For that reason, the Eighties were not as dramatic, but just as necessary.
The Eighties seemed to be more centered on relationship than on outreach. The groups were smaller. Where music was a draw to the young people of the Seventies, the kids of the Eighties were not very responsive to the real thing. It was hard to compete with MTV and the like, where substance so often was sacrificed to seductive image. In time, thought, some people began to sense the isolation inherent in our modern popular culture and found that real friends could be found at a place recently opened on Broad Street, Skylight.
Skylight was opened as the Eighties began. This was a big step because we actually bought a building on Broad Street and completely renovated it. It proved to be a place where Christians could gather and find the friendship and support they needed. The Eighties proved to be the decade of “self help" for the Church. This was good for the Church, but it made things difficult for a ministry with a large outreach component. A faithful few retained the vision and kept the ministry afloat. I must confess that I was not one of them. Like so many others, I was working on establishing my own home. I met my wife-to-be at the coffee house in the late 1978 and married her in 1979. My emphasis changed and I became less and less involved. Fortunately, there were those who stuck it out and kept alive something to which I would return in the late Eighties.
We come now to the Nineties. While the organization has grown, contracted, and grown again, and has moved from one emphasis to another over the years, a few things have never changed. One has been the effort to provide a place where Christians of different varieties could gather and form a bond of unity sadly lacking in the Church in this city. We have always considered love for one another more than a nice idea; It was an emphatic command of our Lord. Another has been the desire to communicate the Gospel in a current format. We have not sought to supplant the traditional church, but to supplement it. We have consistently believed that we can reach those that churches cannot. And vice versa.
Also, we have felt that it was part of our ministry to be facilitators of the Body of Christ. We have provided a venue where fledgling musical groups could "cut their teeth" (Many of whom have developed some formidable teeth) When contemporary Christian music wasn't available in Gadsden, we opened a store to make it available. We have provided concert sound systems for Christian musical events. We have opened our doors to groups like Young Life offering them a place to meet. So, whether we were strumming guitars on a flatbed trailer or staging one of our Falls Festivals, whether we were providing microphones for a contata or touring with a nationally known Christian band, we have tried to meet needs as they arose.
What about the Nineties? So far they have been exhilarating. We have more musical talent available than ever before. We see more avenues of ministry than ever before. We have more resources available than ever before. Like everyone else, what we lack most is time, but God has never failed us before, so we must press on and trust Him for that, too. I wish I could say what all we have planned, but this isn't the time. Suffice it to say that the best is yet to be.
Twenty years. To us it is a pretty big deal. In comparison to eternity, of course, it is nothing. What does stack up to eternity is the fruit of twenty years of ministry. Not just souls, but the unity brought to the Body of Christ as well. And all of the little incidental ways we have been able to help churches and other ministries be about their work. I think we have reason to celebrate.
To anyone I may have forgotten to mention in the Central Group please forgive me. Sometimes the old brain cells aren't able to recall like they once did.
Was there ever a place like Christian Brothers that produced more music? I don't think so.
I'm talking about original stuff, not cover songs. Christian Brothers was the launch pad for so many people who honed their craft and played their songs early on in the journey with Christ. It was a safe place where you could try new things musically. It was a unique collection of people that God placed together to share love and Kingdom with everyone we came in contact with.
God on you...