Tony Cummings spoke at length to the Dublin-born Pentecostal country gospel singer REVEREND KELLY LEE
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Kelly faced many difficulties and had a few misadventures. "One of the ways I could help the lads on the streets and in the doorways was with cardboard to sleep on. Somebody said, 'There's plenty of cardboard in that big skip,' and I tried to climb up to reach in and I went in! I was in there for two hours. I couldn't get out so I phoned the emergency services and they came around looking for me. In the end they looked down and said, 'Are you having a good time down there minister?' So I got to know the fire department. They said if, in the middle of the night I ever wanted to come in and talk to them and have a cup of tea, I could bring people in. It kind of snowballed from there. The first 18 months of Streetwalk I dealt with a hundred people a night, not just in the town, but out of the town. We'd feed them."
But serving the broken and lost on Warrington's streets was having devastating emotional effect on Kelly. She said, "I was heartbroken with the dead bodies and people dying and my heart was breaking because I thought have they gone to a lost eternity? Lots of things were progressing: I was the first ever female minister in Cheshire, first ever minister on the streets. But it was very hard. One Saturday I had to identify a dead body in the mortuary - one of the lads that I was very close to. I was heartbroken. I walked down the street and looked up and said, 'I didn't sign up for this. I'm sorry. I love you but I don't want this.' Then I heard the audible voice of the Lord - you don't hear that very much - and he said, 'I want you to come out of the back alleys now and go down with the revelers.' I said ok. I took to it like a duck to water. I have a friend, he's just retired from the police, he sings as well. He told me, 'We [the police] used to watch you dealing with things. For the first year we all thought you were mad. But then we began to realize you're not.' Eventually, Kelly was to lead the hardened policeman to the Lord. And the Streetwalk work continues. "I've got friends now who twice a month will come down during the week and we'll go out together. I promised God hail, rain or snow, we'd go out. Alongside the street work I was outreach minister for six years at another church - URC. I had a clinic there and lots of storage. People began coming to me and saying do you want bread, do want this, do you want that. . . I had more stuff than I knew what to do with. If I go out this Christmas Eve and New Years it'll be 13 Christmases and New Years I've done. But I don't think I'll be going out with them this year."
About three years ago it began to be clear to Kelly that God was opening a door concerning her singing. She was seeing some amazing results during the occasional gospel concert she was able to slot into her busy schedule. Explained Kelly, "People started saying to me, 'God wants you to get out there and minister to the people with these anointed songs.' At first I ignored it. Remember, going back to my childhood, at three years old being told you'll never amount to much, you're no good, nobody will like you. But as time went on I began to realise that it was the Lord's strength, not mine. It was nothing to do with me. I had recorded before but I wanted to make a country gospel album. I thought, well, if I'm going to do it, I'd better do it properly and get the best person I can to produce it. On reflection, looking back at it, the time that I decided to do it I wasn't really in the best frame of mind, emotionally."
The 'Reverend Kelly Lee' album was produced and arranged by Terry Bradford (The Fureys, Charlie Landsborough) at Bradford's Music 24 studio in Dordogne, France. Said Kelly, "I knew about Terry Bradford. I knew about his reputation and I knew that he was the type of person who would do his best. He would not just take somebody and think right, easy money, quick money. No, he wouldn't. He said, 'If you've got something and I hear something in your voice that I can work with, it's going to be very hard, it's going to be very tough, you won't like it.' And again I have to say because he's such a good producer, he's so sensitive and he's a brilliant musician, great songwriter, he knew, with listening to me sing, how he was going to produce that album."
The choice of songs on the album is masterly. From "Joy Comes In The Morning", written by Bill and Gloria Gaither, to the Catholic hymn "I Watch The Sunrise"; from the Ray Griff song once popularised by Jim Reeves, "Where Do I Go From Here?", to the Southern gospel gem "I Found The Lily In My Valley" composed by Native American Quinton Mills, plus some self-composed originals like "The Man" (now a video on YouTube), the effect is powerful. Pride of place on the album is Kelly's cover of the old Crabb Family song "Please Come Down To Me" which has had the greatest effect on those who have heard it. Recounted Kelly, "The September before I recorded the song I was doing a concert at Silverdale Elim Church in Newcastle-under-Lyme. It's a fabulous place to do a concert: great sound engineers. I had Joanne Cash and her husband as my guests and I always finish my concerts with the song 'Please Come Down To Me'. What happened was amazing. People were coming down the aisles in wheelchairs and just praising God at the front. One guy got up out of his wheelchair. I have to stress, that was nothing to do with me, that's the anointing on the song and the power of God. But we go back to what Jesus used to say, it was the lack of belief that stopped people getting healed. People are desperate. My piano player was sat at the front and I was going what do I do? And she said carry on, carry on. It was beautiful. Just to my left Joanne Cash was sitting with her husband and she was open-mouthed."
Kelly's album, particularly her heart-stopping interpretation of "Please Come Down To Me", has been receiving exposure on UK Christian radio. Kelly has also made a couple of videos which have been aired on country television. Now she has recorded with Terry Bradford a Christmas single, "Lowly Stable (First Christmas Morning)". She said, "I want to do some Christmas concerts. Let's put Christ back into Christmas. There's a line dance out to that Christmas song and there's a YouTube video teaching the line dance."
The future looks likely to be busy for this street worker/country gospel singer. "I just want to serve the Lord to the best of my ability 'cos I mean, time is going on, I'm getting older and we struggle in places, you know. I had an accident to my left foot in April and it was overlooked so that's causing me some problems. But I believe the Lord will not just heal my foot, he'll give me a brand new one so I can get round to do his will."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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