Church hosts Johnny Cash-themed servicesWritten by Chris Schwarzkopf | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There ain’t no grave can hold my body down. There ain’t no grave can hold my body down. When I hear that trumpet sound I’m gonna rise right out of the ground. There ain’t no grave can hold my body down.”
So goes the chorus of the title track from Johnny Cash’s final album, “American VI: Ain’t No Grave”, which came out earlier this year.
“That one really hit home,” said pastor Loran Miracle of St. Andrew United Methodist Church. “It really struck me. It’s obvious that Johnny Cash was a very religious man.”
Beginning May 1 St. Andrew will present “The Gospel According to Johnny Cash,” the latest installment of its “Toledo Country Limits” program. The services will be held at 6p.m. every Saturday through May 22.
Started two years ago, the program utilizes a blend of contemporary and classic country music to make biblical teachings relevant to a modern congregation.
“I once heard from another preacher that if you want to get a congregation when you move to Miami start a conga band,” Miracle said. “You have to use what people know. In Toledo, by a long shot, it’s country music.”
Miracle, who has ministered at St. Andrew for nearly 14 years, said he hit upon the idea of using the music of Johnny Cash in this way after he recently purchased “American VI.”
“I started doing research and I found that the people who were his, I guess you could say, biographers, divided his music into four categories; ‘Love,’ ‘God,’ ‘Murder’ and ‘Life’,” he said.
These categories will form the basis for a different sermon each week.
“I’d love to say that I did exhaustive research on his entire body of work, but I actually just listened to about 30 or 40 songs,” Miracle said. “I picked songs that I liked and I know the congregation will like.”
For the theme of Love, Cash’s songs, “I Walk the Line” and “Ring of Fire” are spotlighted.The theme of God will feature, “Ain’t No Grave” and “Wayfaring Stranger.” Three songs, “Sam Hall”, “25 minutes to go” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” are the focus of Murder. Lastly, Life breaks down, “16 tons” and “Man in Black.”
“I’ll even wear black for the next four weeks,” Miracle said.
Guitarist Randy Garcia is equally enthusiastic about the program.
“I think we should use any way possible to get the message to people,” he said.
With more than 20 years of experience as a musician, Garcia has played rock ‘n’ roll, country, classical, Spanish and Christian music. As lead guitarist at St. Andrew he has been a part of the program from the beginning. He performs with bassist Jeff Hagele and drummer Mario Dario, Jr.
“It’s a really nice thing that we have here,” he said. “We already have the traditional church-goers, now we want to get the non-traditional ones.”
Producer Dean Thomas also spoke highly of “Toledo Country Limits.”
“We’ve had people come in who were going to quit church and leave religion all together,” he said. “We want them to come in, relax and enjoy the music. The message is hidden in the music and we help dig it out.”
Thomas said even though the size of the congregation has yet to increase since the program began, it remains consistent at 60 to 80 people.
“We have a great mix of people,” he said. “It’s the sort of group where you know when someone is there and when they’re not there.”
Thomas said the church wants to do more sermons based particular artists’ music, but will wait to see how people respond to the Johnny Cash-themed services before making any plans.
Thomas also had a hand in updating the church’s sound system for the new program.
Another church staff member, Don Fifer, was responsible for hiring Garcia and other musicians for “Toledo Country Limits.”
“Loran had the idea and I ran with it,” he said. “We had some different musicians at first, a keyboardist and a different bass player, but the three we have now are solid.”
Fifer also handles the sound and lighting for the services.
“I hate to brag, but our sound system is great,” he said.
Fifer said he is glad the services use a lot of music that isn’t religiously themed.
“We’ve done quite a few songs that you wouldn’t do in church,” he said. “We’re using secular music to get a religious point of view across. It’s more realistic.”
Pastor Miracle agreed.
“Johnny Cash’s music, specifically, works very well for that,” he said. “He had a really rough start, but managed to bring it back around at the end.”
St. Andrew United Methodist Church is at 3620 Heatherdowns Blvd. Visit www.toledocountrylimits.org to learn more about “The Gospel According to Johnny Cash.”