UCB CROSS RHYTHMS, having successfully launched its Saturday programming, is now planning to go 24 hours a day, seven-day-a-week by December. Tony Cummings spoke to station director Chris Cole.

Chris Cole
Chris Cole

In UCB's Stoke-On-Trent studios all is a frantic surge of activity. Steve Perry and his trusty sidekick Blaine Davidson are busy pulling CDs from the bursting-at-the-seams music library for their noon phone-in show. Paul Cross and helpers are on air reading out news titbits straight from America's CCM trade press. Dave Cross, the new PR man for Cross Rhythms, is in deep phone conversation with a listener explaining to her how she can get the Word For Today devotional booklet sent regularly. Jon Bellamy is in Studio Two editing up another edition of the Cross Rhythms Experience. And Chris Cole, pastor, radio presenter, publisher, businessman, station director of UCB Cross Rhythms and master at plate-spinning is leading me to a vacant studio so we can talk about where the station might be heading in the light of the announcement that UCB Cross Rhythms goes daily on satellite in December 1997 as the logical next step in establishing a terrestrial CCM national radio station.

Tony: I suppose the first thing you'd want to say to Cross Rhythms readers would be go out and get yourselves a satellite dish and decoder.
Chris: "I think buying a satellite dish would be a positive move. But probably the major concern for me is that Cross Rhythms readers begin to get a glimmer of what God is doing with contemporary Christian music radio and the Cross Rhythms festivals and the opportunities that God is giving us to move on as a ministry and hopefully support other sister ministries involved in contemporary Christian music. We've known for a long time that without people being able to listen to the music, there is a huge problem in distributing contemporary Christian music in Britain. But I think that as we build with other sister ministries, Christian bands and artists and sympathetic churches we can mutually resource each other in a Kingdom of God manner, as we are exhorted to do in the Bible, so that we're not only taking care of our own interests but taking care of the interests of others. I believe that God will then begin to build something in the UK that will be foundational in supporting the contemporary Christian music scene which in itself will support other aspects of what God is doing in the UK."

Tony: Isn't the fact that Cross Rhythms has pioneered broadcasting CCM on mainstream "secular" radio stations mean that you may now be criticised for your involvement in what some would see as a subcultural Christian ghetto?
Chris: "Yes, I think there has been some criticism by my peers. They're asking are you broadcasting or are you narrowcasting? What I've tried to be over the years is faithful to what God called me to. I've found that in a sense you can both narrowcast and broadcast simultaneously if you begin to develop a language of truth, or to use a term we've used before, to secularise the sacred. What I mean by that is not in any way to rob our programmes of the power of the Cross but rather re-define our language, so that it makes sense to non-Christians as well as Christians. Language is changing all the time. I just think we in the Church are getting better today in communicating the Good News, whether the people listening to the programmes are Christians or non-Christians. Of course for communication to occur it depends on whether listeners have their ears open to the truth or not. But that is another subject. And even if ears are open in the beginning that can change. For example, I have met people in the past who have listened to a Cross Rhythms programme on an ILR station, have actually been saved, got into a church, and stopped listening! That really makes more of a statement about the stifling nature of some church structures. We need to recapture Christianity as a lifestyle. From my perspective, the opportunity that God has given us in UCB is to develop a ministry that conveys Christianity as a lifestyle to both Christians and non-Christians. I think that as we grow we'll probably find UCB Cross Rhythms with quite a strong evangelistic edge to it where perhaps UCB Europe might be more for teaching and the edification of the body. There might be two different personalities at the station both with the same character. But I could see UCB Cross Rhythms probably touching the world with perhaps more of an understanding of our humanity. I'm not saying that UCB Europe doesn't for some people. But UCB Cross Rhythms might be more likely to connect through its language and music with non-Christians."

Tony: Where do you think the Church and the Christian music scene are heading in Britain?
Chris: "There is a great debate in our nation, is Christianity a lifestyle or is it a religion? I think that part of the initiatives we are seeing today - sanctified dance, alternative worship, a return to Celtic spirituality, the traditions being touched by God's Spirit, the Toronto Blessing, the new emphasis on social justice are very challenging to some believers, creating quite an insecure environment spiritually where people are being forced to either retreat into sheltered religion or sectarianism or re-evaluate their faith and rediscover that Jesus is the head of each believer and that Christianity is a lifestyle, not something that can be organised and kept within religious structures or rigid compartments. It is very painful because we can't throw the baby out with the bath water. Life does have to be organised. But if we lose sight of why we are organising it, true Christian spirituality begins to flounder. In some churches in Britain today we've lost sight of the reasons WHY we are organised. In such churches believers are just used as pew fodder. Biblically the work of the Church is to build people up into their most holy faith in Christ, not to dominate, manipulate or control. The Church needs to liberate through the work of the Spirit, to graciously love each other and bring revelation that we are a community of believers and God is working that through."

Tony: How difficult is it for two ministries like Cross Rhythms and UCB, which for more than a decade ran separately from each other, to work so closely together?
Chris: "I think without a doubt the UCB Trustees and our Trustees at Cross Rhythms are aware of the danger of any step of faith. But I think it's been sensitively evaluated. I think the relational dynamics of the two ministries coming together are extremely important. But the stakes we are aiming for are well worth the risks because we are talking about the first national Christian radio station. God is all over UCB. And I'm not saying this arrogantly, but I think that, down the years, God has been all over us at Cross Rhythms. There's been a sense of God's hand upon us. We've seen that life at the festivals. It's been very challenging and sometimes quite gruelling. But that's what's so beautiful about our faith, I don't think God ever makes us totally secure in what we do in faith. The pressure keeps us dependant upon an intimate relationship with Jesus"

Tony: I know UCB Cross Rhythms had one phone call from a lady in Northern Ireland saying she was stopping her kids listening to the programmes on Saturday as she thought they were 'worldly'. How do you respond to that?
Chris: "This is the difficulty and once again I don't think there's a simple answer to give. I think we can respond graciously. I tried to telephone the lady back. It just so happened that at the time she couldn't get into a conversation because she was just going out the door at the time I made the call. If we look at such a criticism from a theological perspective we would have to begin by acknowledging that each individual Christian is a living stone, Scripture puts the emphasis on each individual Christian working out their salvation with fear and trembling. If, in good conscience, someone has to break relationship with another brother or sister, it's sad but as long as they are working that through with their own conscience that is really what God is looking at. I don't expect us all to see every issue, theological or cultural, from the same perspective. God delights in diversity and has allowed believers to develop different cultures and different theological traditions.

"Finally, we all see as through a glass darkly. Having said that, I believe that if we are trying, within our hearts, to be truly part of the solution instead of being part of the problem, I think we can demonstrate tolerance and love to each other - despite our differences. There is a sense of a microfocus in one's walk where one's got to look at that Kingdom of God within and say how is my life affecting another human being, whilst at the same time stewarding the macrofocus of our own faith and our own vision. Whatever we do in ministry we want to take as many people as we can with us on our journey. But as we know in Church history you can't take everybody, there are bound to be some dissenters. We mustn't get threatened by cultural or theological differences. We've got to start being comfortable in the insecurity of being the Church in a broken world. Our only security is in Jesus, not in our church membership or our theological understanding or our cultural tradition. We've got to say we don't know what the future will hold. My prayer is that we will be able to build so deeply between the two ministries of UCB and Cross Rhythms that we can truly stand against what the world, and even occasionally what religious brothers and sisters throw at us. In the future I think we will be in for quite a degree of persecution. If we are going to be effective for the Gospel of Jesus Christ in terms of broadcasting to the nation, we are going to touch some people where it really hurts and there is going to be some flak. If Cross Rhythms and UCB are not moulded together relationally and in spiritual understanding we won't hack it."

Tony: Are you frustrated that it might take longer than originally thought to get UCB Cross Rhythms on 'ordinary' terrestrial radio?
Chris: "I think Gareth (Littler) and I would like to see the whole procedure speeded up so that we can start getting the transmitters erected and the finance worked through for that. For my part though, I actually am very happy with however long it takes as long as the depth of maturity is reached in all the UCB team. That way, when we do launch terrestrially, we will have the spiritual maturity and confidence and professionalism and graciousness that will be essential to impact this nation."

Mike Rimmer
A Profile Special
10.00pm Saturdays
During those occasions when radio presenter and journalist Mike Rimmer is not listening to music, he's often talking about it with one of the world's top Christian musicians. Every week UCB Cross Rhythms presents Mike grilling an artist about their music and their faith. When asked to recall a few of the many names that have passed before Mike's roving microphone, he responds promptly, 'I've interviewed Steve Taylor, Steven Curtis Chapman, the World Wide Message Tribe, Chris Lizotte, GRITS, Petra, Anointed, Chris Eaton, Caroline Bonnett, Ron Kenoly, Vigilantes..." Mike takes a breath and I move him on before the list alone fills a magazine. What exactly does Profile Special attempt to do? "Christian music is still in a formative stage as far as building a support base in Europe," replies Mike. "Although more and more people every week are listening to it, many of those listening have only the haziest knowledge of where the music comes from, the artist's background, what are his or her most significant songs, etc, etc. I talk to an artist and try and pinpoint their creativity and their spirituality. And I play the cream of their recordings." The best of Mike's regular interviews sometimes form the basis of articles in this very magazine.

Steve Perry
Cross Talk
12.00 noon Saturdays
Every Saturday afternoon listeners from all over Europe dial into the radio studios at Stoke-On-Trent and talk to a 23 year old presenter called Steve Perry giving their views on a myriad of topics. In between snatches of animated and often fascinating conversation of the week's topic (Cash, Alcohol, Job Satisfaction, TV) Steve blends in some artfully selected CCM (the TV theme-Cross Talk recently featured such plucked-from-the-archive delights as "People In The Box" by Farrell & Farrell and "Media Alert" by John Lawry). Steve sees the function of Cross Talk to be a platform where "people can feel free to express themselves about a wide range of topics." Steve, who trained at Bible College in Doncaster before joining UCB in 1993, is encouraged by the way the show is developing. "People phone in from Belfast, from Dublin, Wales, Southern England, France, Germany, seemingly everywhere. The aim of Cross Talk is to get people thinking about their faith and how it applies to any manner of subjects without getting TOO serious." Aided by 15-year-old production assistant Blaine Davidson and with a growing band of volunteers, Cross Talk is clearly succeeding in putting content back into phone-ins. CR

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.