Tony Cummings spends some time with three members of the Cross Rhythms team to learn of the latest developments in the Cross Rhythms ministry.
Mark Goodge sits tapping away at his keyboard as the raw rock of The Elms pumps from the computer speakers inches from his ears. But Mark is so engrossed with his intricate manoeuvrings in html which separates webmaster from mere surfer that he appears not to register the latest addition to the Cross Rhythms radio playlist. Only when the track fades does he volunteer a mumbled "I like that" before returning once more to the electronic intricacy of his current work schedule. Mark is working to an extremely tight deadline and he knows it. On November 1st Cross Rhythms Direct goes online on the Cross Rhythms website and Mark has the unenviable task of making sure that from that date its many thousands of browsers will be able to go into www.crossrhythms.co.uk/direct, read any of over a thousand different album reviews on screen and then, at the touch of some buttons, purchase the albums of their choice. Cross Rhythms' move into selling Christian music through etail and mail order is the latest expansion of the ministry. "It's a natural progression," explains Mark. "With so many people visiting the site now that it's become recognised as a quality information resource for Christian music, it's a logical development to enable people to buy the music as well. As anybody who's been following Christian music will know, there are thousands and thousands of good albums out there. Whether you're into punk rock, easy listening, techno, alt country, reggae, you name it, there are albums out there waiting to be discovered. What's been needed is one place which will meet all, or at least most, of a music lover's Christian needs - whether it's the high profile Steven Curtis Chapman album or the new independent EP by the new band they saw at Greenbelt. Cross Rhythms Direct has the potential to become a Christian music one stop shop."
Mark's dream to see Cross Rhythms Direct develop into an electronic Christian music shop with the biggest selection of different Christian music albums ever assembled won't of course be achieved in a day. But when it goes online Cross Rhythms Direct's review service will kick off with an impressive quantity of reviews - over a thousand albums, released in the last two years - and with over two thirds available for purchase. "Online there are numerous ways people will be able to use the service," explains Mark. "They'll be able to quickly search for a particular album under artist name or title. Or, if they wish, they can search under musical genre, say hard music, Celtic, dance, and check out reviews of all the recent releases in a particular style, before making their purchase." For those unable or unwilling to enter the world of ecommerce, Cross Rhythms Direct will also operate a standard mail order service as Mark explains: "If people want to, they can use each issue of the magazine like a catalogue - read a review, check that it's available, then send a cheque to Cross Rhythms. Or they can phone through an order to the Cross Rhythms call centre (08700 118008). The important thing in all this though is to emphasise that by choosing Cross Rhythms as the means of buying Christian music they're supporting the Cross Rhythms ministry - our radio station, our festivals, all our activities. Cross Rhythms is a charity that relies on giving to keep it going. If people don't feel able to become Friends of Cross Rhythms they can at least buy some or all of their albums from Cross Rhythms Direct. It'll make all the difference in developing our activities which have no financial dimension."
I've still to ask Mark about the head-spinning plans to develop the Cross Rhythms website so that it will eventually offer enthusiasts a gigantic information resource containing every review ever published in Cross Rhythms - a staggering 8,000 albums, as well as an online mountain of articles, biographies, photos and music samples - but he's keen to return to his workload and his wrestle with the complexities of US mailing regulations (so that soon American independent albums can be added to CR Direct's quickly expanding catalogue). So I leave him as his fingers fly once more over the keyboards. "I wanna know if you're busy?" sings Daniel Bedingfield on the radio. Clearly Mark is.
THE RADIO PRESENTER
Mike Farrington clicks on Studio 1B's computer and thebandwithnoname roars from the radio studio monitors. "My daughter Joy loves this track," says dad, radio producer and presenter Mike, once he's turned down the decibels of Chip K, MC Presha and The Bobsta's cacophonous rant about God's amazing grace. Mike has teenage daughters and knows full well the importance of a ministry which connects to today's youth. "There might still be religious elements out there criticising nu metal or dance music or whatever, but in the meantime cutting edge ministries like thebandwithnoname are getting on with the job, seeing kids saved, seeing young Christians re-enthused about what it is to be a follower of Jesus and effectively doing what God has told us to do and going out there with the Gospel. Cross Rhythms is sponsoring a bandwithnoname concert in Stoke on November 1st and I can't wait! It may be loud and noisy but God's all over what they do!"
This most unlikely devotee of nu metal/breakbeat has been around in media and broadcasting a fair while. After a lengthy spell at United Christian Broadcasters, 42 year old Mike joined Cross Rhythms at the beginning of 2002 in time to see the station launch its FM initiative into Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under-Lyme, Cross Rhythms City Radio. The thousands of listeners across Europe who've been listening to Cross Rhythms radio via their satellite dishes and digi boxes have had quite a confusing time recently. First it was announced that Cross Rhythms satellite broadcasts on Sky Digital 876 would cease in September. Then an unexpected, some would say miraculous, gift arrived to keep the station on satellite for the next three months with the future of its satellite broadcasts now resting delicately in the balance. I ask Mike what is his take on the changing satellite broadcasting situation. "I think the whole thing shows the subtle nature of walking with God. It's a privilege to serve here under the leadership of a man like Chris Cole (the founder of the Cross Rhythms charity) who knows as well as anyone about the need to walk in faith, yet avoid the pitfall of presumption. As I understand it, at the time of the original decision to come off satellite there simply weren't the funds available through our supporters' giving to justify the big expense of continuing on satellite. To push on in such circumstances would have probably been bad stewardship and even presumptuous - we can't simply do what we want to do and expect God to always endorse it. Now that gift - which was I believe miraculous - has brought the whole thing into question again. Overall, whether Cross Rhythms continues on satellite or comes off, what is really important is that we continue to seek the Lord for his strategies. Unless the Lord builds the house we labour in vain."
A guest for Mike's week day programme, Community Vision, has arrived and Mike is soon arranging for a cup of coffee and checking guest details, in between introducing the next track by Cathy Burton. Will Slater of St James Church in Newcastle has come into the studio to talk about the Alpha discipleship courses.
In a typical week's programming Community Vision could feature a local councillor explaining the state of the city's finances, a Youth For Christ missionary talking about his recent experiences in Thailand, a job centre representative giving details of new jobs that have just come onto their books, a pastor explaining how we handle trauma following something like September 11th, and a musician, Tom Gregory Smith, who's produced an album on the theme of St Patrick's breastplate. Later, after Mike has said goodbye to his guest and he's moved down to his desk - strewn with copies of The Sentinel (Stoke's local newspaper), press releases, mini discs and, rather incongruously, a cuddly toy cow (although he tells me that belongs to Martin Purnell) - I ask Mike what he thinks a station like Cross Rhythms City Radio - Britain's first ever Christian station on FM and one of the pioneering stations in the Access community radio scheme - is achieving. "Above all it's helping break down the compartments people have erected in their lives, saying these are Christian things - prayer, church attendance, etc - and these are non-Christian things - football, unemployment, etc. If Jesus is the Lord of all he's the Lord over Stoke City FC and the city's job scene!"
Cross Rhythms City Radio is at a crucial time. It's one year licence will run out in February and no decision has yet been made as to whether or not another one will be granted. As well as that there is the continuing uphill climb to reach levels of finance to pay for all Cross Rhythms' activities. Financial readjustments because of one-off gifts to the charity mean that the accountants have been able to re-set the target for Friends Of Cross Rhythms down to 2,500. But that still seems like a mountain to climb when the current total of £10 a month givers currently stands at 534. But Mike Farrington remains defiantly optimistic. "Jonathan Bellamy recently pointed out that two years ago there were just a handful of Friends Of Cross Rhythms. We've come a long, long way. Look at this amazing facility." Mike stops momentarily to allow his arm to sweep over the fourth floor of Conway House. "Look at the way the magazine is going from strength to strength. Look at the range of people whose lives are being touched by our radio programmes - grandmother, single mum, rock club owner. Emma, who works in reception here, had a phone call from a Muslim shopkeeper only the other week who told her he really likes the station and plays it all day in the clothes shop he runs. And recently I had a church minister as a guest on my programme who told me that after coming on my programme an old contact of his was encouraged to visit his church and is now getting his life back together under God. All in all there's plenty of evidence that the Lord is showing us his favour."
THE MARKETING MANAGER
Heather Bellamy may be only 26 but she's already learnt to be versatile. Today she's already had a meeting with a Stoke-on-Trent prayer warrior, has been wading through a flurry of faxes offering design suggestions for the new Cross Rhythms Direct logo, has taken several calls about advertising in the magazine and will soon be into a meeting with Sam Oliver, Cross Rhythms' IT whiz who is currently designing the systems to enable Cross Rhythms magazine to be launched as a by-subscription ezine on the internet in March.
The growth of the Cross Rhythms website is possibly the most unnoticed yet the most spectacular aspect of the ministry's multifarious activities. The figures are amazing. In June 2001 it was getting 154,000 hits. In August 2002 it had over 1,100,000 hits. Managing the website ministry Heather is anxious to stress the sheer diversity of the website. "There are so many dimensions of the site - people can go in and listen to the radio and interact with the radio presenters; they can visit the chat room and comment on whatever they want; and now of course they'll be able to visit Cross Rhythms Direct. One of the things I'm most excited about is the way in which the ministry dimension of the website has really taken off. It really began with a Prayer Board where people could key in their prayer requests. It took off and people began to share very deep needs, serious illness, bereavements, things like that. From that we developed a weekly Cross Rhythms Bible Study put together by four youth workers in the city. Now over 600 people have signed up for that. And recently a lady called Sarah Hesbrook from a church in Stoke has agreed to write weekly teachings on prayer. I've got a passion that I want to take people into the throne room."
Heather has just finished a meeting with Sarah, a lady with a vision to see a day-and-night prayer initiative established in Stoke-on-Trent. This thrilling plan comes on the back of the groundbreaking 2C7 monthly prayer and praise meetings organised by the Saltbox Trust, which sees 600 plus people from over 50 different churches meeting every month for serious intercession (Cross Rhythms City Radio was launched at such a meeting) and is another sign that the town is beginning to throb with fresh spiritual life. The sprawling urban mass that only a year ago was named the town people least wanted to live in is finding a new spiritual vitality and prayer is at its heart. Enthuses the elfin-like Bellamy as she reaches across her paper-strewn desk for a schedule, "It's thrilling what God is doing in Stoke." Heather, wife of Cross Rhythms' general manager Jonathan Bellamy, has several distinct roles at Cross Rhythms. She coordinates all the marketing activity for Cross Rhythms, organises the Cross Rhythms Christian Music Directory, administrates all advertising and contributes to and manages the CR website. But it is her enthusiasm for the Kingdom of God and the dynamic of prayer which guides her workload. "I want God-Marketing to happen in my life. What I mean is marketing, advertising, everything we do has a supernatural dimension to it. These things don't just operate in the physical. God intervenes, God has his own strategy and plans. It's our job to access these and work with him in bringing them through. It's prayer which is keeping Cross Rhythms on track. We have prayer meetings every morning lasting anything up to an hour. All kinds of things get prayed for - people coming into the building that day to be interviewed on radio, situations that have come up in the lives of the team, whatever the Lord puts on people's hearts. We had a prophetic word awhile ago that Cross Rhythms could only go forward if we paid attention to prayer. So we're trying to be obedient to that and in the process are having some tremendous times with the Lord. My heart is that soon more frequent words of knowledge, healings, miracles will all come in those prayer times."
The phone rings - in the noisy bustle of Cross Rhythms open plan office the phone is always ringing - and Heather takes a call about delivery of some advertising artwork while I gaze out the window at the sprawling Potteries townscape. As if on cue a Matt Redman song begins to play on the radio playing on Heather's computer. "Can a nation be changed? Can a nation be saved? Can a nation be turned back to you?" the singer muses. As I think of that Muslim shopkeeper playing CR City Radio in his shop, the Newcastle-under-Lyme rock pub giving the Goths and bikers a monthly Christian rock disco, the minister explaining how his son who'd once wanted to go to Ibiza was now an avid Cross Rhythms listener, I'm pretty sure I know the answer to Matt Redman's enquiry.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.
View all articles by Tony Cummings