When Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Larnelle Harris performs at Chapelgate Presbyterian Church in Marriottsville a week from Sunday, he will be joined by the Chapelgate choir for three of his songs.
The event might symbolize the shared vision of Harris and Chapelgate, a vision that believes the right music can transform lives.
Harris uses his talent to make a point. "I wouldn't even cross the street to sing a song just for its own sake. I want to sing songs that change people's lives," Harris says.
The five-time Grammy winner has also won numerous Christian music industry Dove Awards. He is touring North America in support of his latest album, "A Story to Tell."
The Rev. C. Harry Causey, minister of worship and music at Chapelgate and director of the National Christian Choir, works hard to book such performers. He finds Harris a good match for his vision for Chapelgate, seeing the model of Harris' Christian life as equally important as his music.
"He brings great variety in his presentation and wonderful messages in his songs. He is committed to the Gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ," Causey says. "He walks the talk. He brings a worship experience, not just a concert experience. People sense what his Christian life is like."
Ken Dallwig, a member of the Chapelgate choir, agrees. "When I have been at his concerts, I have considered them a worshipful experience," he says. "In many ways, it's a ministry."
"Personally," Dallwig says, "I find that many of the songs he sings touch me deeply in the soul. [It's] a combination of the lyrics, his style of music and his vocal range. He can reach some pretty high notes."
To Dallwig, the chance to perform with Harris as part of the choir adds meaning to the experience. "We're excited," he says. "You're a participant, not just an observer. You're participating in the worship."
Noting that the average performing artist's career lasts less than 10 years, Causey points to the longevity of Harris' career as evidence of his calling. In addition, Causey says, "Harris has a reputation as a Christian of integrity."
This is important because, according to Causey, "contemporary Christian music has become very popular to the extent that major secular music companies have bought out Christian recording companies. Corruption can happen very easily. While it's good that many more people are hearing Christian music, I want artists who are genuine, real Christians who care about the Lord."
Causey founded the Artist Series, which brings three Christian artists a year to Chapelgate. Harris is the third artist for 2000. Two Artist Series concerts next year are the National Christian Choir in March and Steve Green in July.
In addition to contemporary Christian music, Causey has brought ballet, drama, Baroque music and traditional inspirational music performances to the church through the series. "We're trying to feature a buffet," Causey explains.
His goals for the series include promoting Christian community and faith. He notes that Chapelgate is one of the larger churches in the Northeast corridor, offering a 1,500-seat worship space in which Christian artists can perform. "For many of these men and women, this is their livelihood, their full-time calling, and we want to support them," he says.
The Artist Series also functions as a form of outreach into the community. "I can invite my neighbors," Causey says. "They may be exposed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the musical ministry of these artists." Finally, he says, the concerts "are fun. We as Christians enjoy coming together for these events. ... They're wholesome, and they appeal to all ages of the family."
Larnelle Harris will perform at Chapelgate Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. Oct. 8. Tickets may be purchased at the door if still available. Advance tickets may be purchased at Chapelgate, through His Way Christian Bookstores and Trustworthy Bookstores, or through Christian Happenings at 800-965-9324. Information: Chapelgate, 410-442-5800.