Tony Cummings talks to friends and colleagues to get an update on where the CROSS RHYTHMS MINISTRY is heading.
On a dairy farm near Okehampton, Devon, a young man who only weeks before had been a skeletal wreck as heroin took its dreadful toll, is joyfully singing praises to a God who has delivered him before he joins his instructor on Risdon Farm where he's learning building skills.
In an office/design studio in Plymouth a graphic designer is manoeuvring his computer mouse to put the finishing touches to the front page of Life Lines, a new Christian newspaper intended for free distribution to 110,000 homes in Stoke-on-Trent. In a media complex in Stoke-on-Trent a volunteer is packing a parcel of three Christian music CDs which have just been ordered, via the internet, by a customer in Glasgow.
And in the same complex, as the winter rains lash against the double glazed windows, broadcaster and visionary Chris Cole is leaning into the mic in Cross Rhythms City Radio's Studio One to explain to his listeners how the Church needs to be seen as "the Word in action" and how, quoting Mal Fletcher, "if you do not shape your culture, your culture will shape you." There has long been a close, intimate connection between Okehampton's rehabilitation ministry Gilead Foundations, Plymouth's marketing and design company Cornerstone Vision and Stoke-on-Trent's media outfit Cross Rhythms. But now that connection has been strengthened by what is, quite simply, a God-given vision. After his radio broadcast, and before Chris Cole's hard-pressed PA Angela hustles him away for a meeting with renowned prayer warrior Obii Pax Harry, I sit down with the CR CEO to hear how a vision of an arrow was to prove to be a crucial strategy in the still expanding activities of Cross Rhythms. "Seven years ago one of the original trustees of the CR ministry, John Barr, gave me a word about having an arrow in my hand that I could fire as far as I wanted to. To be completely truthful, I hadn't the faintest idea what that could mean. But John, bless him, was a Father to the Church with an internationally renowned ministry and an unerring ability to hear God's voice. So I took the word to heart and stored it away in the back of my mind. In 2003 I was reminded again about that arrow. This time revelation came. The feathers of the arrow were Gilead Foundations. I'd long had a heart for rehabilitation and knew that Jesus like no other could offer hope for people caught in drug addiction, alcoholism and other dependencies. Gilead, founded by my dear friend Ian Samuel, was doing an amazing work in Okehampton and I'd had the privilege to serve on the board of Gilead Foundations in the '90s. And of course we put on the annual Cross Rhythms South West festival on Risdon Farm. So Gilead - the Word of God very much in action - was the feathers of the arrow and they were joined to the shaft." Chris pauses, reaches for a copy of the CR supporters At Work newsletter then continues. "The shaft of the arrow was Cornerstone Vision, the marketing company in Plymouth that for years has been undergirding the work of Cross Rhythms. Under the stewardship of Chris Girdler and Ian Pilkington, Cornerstone had the vision and skills to work in the mainstream - it designs publications for Sainsbury, for instance - but also to work with the Church - for example, it designs Cross Rhythms magazine, is currently compiling The UK Christian Handbook and in December Cornerstone Vision director Chris Girdler with his wife Debbie launched a free Christian newspaper, Life Lines, to go into homes in Stoke-on-Trent. Marketing and advertising are sometimes treated as dirty words in the Church. Yet without these skills, the Church will flounder in today's image-conscious marketplace. So anyway, I saw that Cornerstone Vision was the shaft. They're working with Gilead, they're working with CR and they have the integrity, the sensitivity and the creative skills to show the Church and the world that Jesus is very much alive and involved in people's lives. Finally, it was revealed to me that CR was the arrow head."
With increasing animation Chris continues, "Cross Rhythms is a voice, a media initiative that can reach into the world while serving the Church. We are able to penetrate today's marketplace of world views and present an authentic, biblically Christian worldview. What is important to grasp about CR is that we are not a bunch of evangelical hotheads playing at media while the world outside the insular confines of the Church ignores us. Take Cross Rhythms City Radio for instance. Yes, it serves Christians who want to enjoy Matt Redman or The Tribe and think about their faith. But it's also an important vehicle to take the message of Christ in to the wider world. Feedback shows that the station is heard in taxis, hair dressers, chip shops, petrol stations, barbers, council offices, pubs, schools, universities, doctors' surgeries and a church foyer! We've had invitations to deejay in a local pub and were recently asked onto a local council committee who want to develop Stoke-on- Trent as Music City! So the arrow head of Cross Rhythms, when joined to ministries like Gilead and Cornerstone Vision, is able to communicate stories about a young lass coming off heroin through the power of the Holy Spirit, or a couple having their marriage restored by God, not with sensationalism, but honestly, openly and with maximum impact. In the UK much of the Church is in decline across Europe. We are still losing 7,000 people every week in Europe from our congregations. But if we can build real unity, and work together for a bigger strategy, we can still pierce the darkness. That underpins the vision of the arrow."
The demands of Chris Cole's meetings schedule conclude my interview. I get the lift down to CR's fourth floor open plan office to talk to Mark Goodge. Mark is the webmaster who co-ordinates Cross Rhythms Direct, the etail and mail order side of CR activities which gives Christian music lovers the chance to buy from possibly the largest selection of Christian music albums offered by any UK company. On December 1st Cross Rhythms Direct relaunched after a website consultant had done an analysis of the site. As well as technical changes, simplifying the whole ordering process, the site has undergone a complete re-design courtesy of Cornerstone Vision. Dragging Mark Goodge away from his computer is far from easy but he finds time to talk to me as he takes his turn at the coffeemaking rota. "The new site is simpler to use, nicer to look at, but still offering the widest range of Christian music albums, each independently and impartially reviewed, to be found anywhere in Britain."
Why, I ask Mark, should customers buy albums from Cross Rhythms Direct? Weren't there already other good sources of supply? "Yes there are," admits Mark. "But if you have a vision for Christian music to make a wider impact in our world, buying albums from us will be helping to achieve that. CR Direct will in the future be a key means of financially supporting the CR ministry. Remember, Cross Rhythms is still expanding. It is involved in many activities most of which bring in little revenue. Our supporters financial help is essential."
I leave Mark as he gets back to the financial intricacies of overseeing a £2 gift voucher scheme. I make my way down to the second floor of Conway House which now houses the offices of the youth division of God TV. The 2nd December saw the launch of the third series of The Dream On TV, the pioneering TV series aimed at Christian youth and now filmed in Conway House. An exciting new element to the series is that each programme is filmed before a studio audience of young people and will feature interviews with studio guests, Christian music news, reviews and contemporary Christian music videos. Taking a moment away from the complexities of digital editing The Dream On TV's producer Rick Brock speaks about the series. "It intends to encourage young Christians to make a difference by living an active Christian lifestyle that demonstrates Christianity's relevant place in today's society."
A team of presenters will oversee each programme which will broadcast Tuesday to Friday every week and began airing on 2nd December. The Dream's presenters are: Chris Cole and Steve Perry of the Cross Rhythms media ministry (Tuesday); TV presenter Jennifer Hughes and Rick Brock of God TV (Wednesday); noted pastor, author and musician Dave Markee and Rick Brock (Thursday); and Emma Owen and Lindz West of The Tribe band (Friday). One of the things Rick Brock is most excited about is the Stoke-on-Trent filmed Dream On TV programmes will have a studio audience. "The interaction with the audience will bring a whole new dimension to the programmes," he enthuses.
Back upstairs, I have a final word with CR general manager Jonathan Bellamy about the fast moving world of Cross Rhythms. "There are plenty of things to get excited about," he says. "There's CR partnering again with God TV to help put together a Dream On TV programme, there's the rebirth of CR Direct, there's the extension of our original licence to broadcast on FM until the end of December 2004. And there are other initiatives beginning to take shape. For instance, CR is now working with Blab - a ministry of young people who go out into Stoke-on-Trent's nightclubs to talk about the Lord to clubbers. The literature they hand out carries the radio station frequency and on our Soulcure hiphop programme each Friday night DJ Proclaimer connects with the Blab team on air before they go out. Or there's the possibility of more live gigs here in the city. It all comes back to vision though. This is a time of preparation. We believe God has given us direction and our whole effort must be to keep walking with him."
"As straight as an arrow?" I volunteer.The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
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