Credit to Dale Stultz for picture of Gospel Trumpet Company picture at Grand Junction 1898.
I found my identity in the church early in my young life. One of the ways I discovered who and what I was came through congregational singing. That was before the newer contemporary worship style came in, when congregational singing meant congregational participation.
Congregational singing focuses upon the congregation and involves participation and harmony in the music, with less focus upon the platform and on entertainment. Among the songs I sang as a child were those of Barney Warren, long known as the “Chief Singer” in the Church of God Reformation Movement (cf To the Chief Singer, Bolitho, 1942).
Barney grew up in my home community, just a few miles out of town headed East, in what is now Geneva Township. Barney’s parents homesteaded 40 acres in the Township, which is about midway between South Haven, on the Lakeshore, and Grand Junction, where the Gospel Trumpet Company rocked the cradle of the emerging Reformation Movement, between 1886-1898.
Barney encountered Christ in his life as a teenager under the ministry of Elder Daniel S. Warner, the leader of the growing religious reformation, then focused in and around Grand Junction, MI. Warner was an itinerant evangelist and wanted to form a musical group to accompany him in his travels. He needed a good bass and Barney had the ability and the timbre, but he needed his dad’s permission.
Tom Warren did not give up his son easily, but he did eventually surrender him to the ministry, as well as three other sons and himself. Barney left the growing congregation that formed in Geneva Center and began his travels for the next 28 years. That took him from the community several decades before my birth. So, while I encountered heavy influence from Barney through hundreds of hymns he eventually wrote, I never met him personally.
Barney became a successful minister and a songwriter-composer of some, finally settling in Springfield, Ohio. Barney never won a Gold or a Grammy, but he inspired a whole religious movement to find faith and spread joy. He served as the chief musical architect of the Church of God Movement until Bill and Gloria Gaither launched their career. That is not to take away from others like J. C. Fisher, A. L. Byers, et al.
The congregation that nurtured me began the winter of 1922-23. S. Michels, also from Geneva Center, had operated a home for Senior Adults on the lakeshore for nearly 25 years. In his declining years, the home began to transition, due to his age and ill health and a changing local economy. My then teenaged father, his mother and step-father took up residence with Brother Michels and when daughter Pearl visited her dad shortly after her marriage, she invited my to-be-dad to help her organize a Sunday School. With that, my family became the core of what would become the last church plant of S. Michels.
There we sang many of Warren’s songs. By then, he had become one of the primary leaders of the rapidly expanding Movement. One that we sang often contained these words:
I will sing hallelujah, for there’s joy in the Lord,
And He fills my heart with rapture as I rest on His Word;
I will trust in His promise, I will shout I am free;
In my blessed loving Savior I have sweet victory. . .2
I now know first-century Christians overcame persecution, poverty, and penury of spirit by living a contagious spirit of joy and leaving it in their wake. As their joy increased, so did their witness. They became like the sand on the lakeshore, where I played and picnicked. Their vision conquered circumstances, making their joy contagious and their beliefs irrefutable.
Following years of my own ministry, I now know Christians like Stephen became the yardstick for measuring Christ-like living. People found him gentle, steadfast, full of faith, and filled with the glory of joy. Inquirers found little social gain in becoming Christians, but Jews and Gentiles alike experienced transformation through peace, love, joy, and healing of body and spirit.
Some sang from jail cells and others endured martyrdom. We best remember them for their mutual love of each other, more than their job status, or acquired wealth. Spiritual Awakening aroused more than sentiment and emotion.
During that time the Apostle Peter experienced his radical deliverance from lifelong racial prejudice. He witnessed to a hated Roman soldier, named Cornelius, of his transformation. Cornelius was also a Gentile, which only made the deliverance more dramatic. As with Peter and Cornelius, so it was with Stephen and Phillip - “great joy in that city” (Acts 8:8, NIV).
When lashed, shipwrecked, and stoned, for his faith, Paul joyfully endured hunger, thirst, cold and nakedness. In spite of adversity, he greeted his friends by encouraging them to “Rejoice in the Lord.” “Again,” he wrote, “I will say rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4, NASV).
Having just passed my 64th wedding anniversary (2-9-47), I also approach 59 years since ordination at Hampton Place Church of God, Dallas, TX (March 1952). From what I have seen and heard, and based on so may people I’ve known en route, I can say Barney had it right, “There is joy in the Lord.” Joy characterizes the faith of Christians as no other world religion.
Another of Barney’s songs that came out of his early years of spiritual struggle, learning to separate his emotions from his external surroundings, and questioning his relationship with God. Finally, he says, he latched on to I Corinthians 10:13, and “every doubt fled away and my happy soul began singing: ’I am a child of God.’”
I leave you with his first verse from that 1907 hymn:
Praise the Lord! My heart with his love is beaming,
I am a child of God;
Heaven’s golden light over me is streaming,
I am a child of God.
I am a child of God,
I am a child of God;
I have washed my robes in the cleansing fountain,
I am a child of God.
Such is the power of music in shaping the soul and in fortifying a person’s character. Thanks be to God!
From Warner’s World,