Singing in the Park – from Idea to Reality
By Jack Helser

The “Singing in the Park” event in New Kensington, PA the weekend of July 25-26, 2003 was the fulfillment of a dream, and a years planning and coordination by my brother, David Benrexi. What happened there was truly blessed by the Lord, and gave me renewed hope for the future of Christian music.

Since recording a CD, and trying to arrange to sing the songs the Lord has given me, I've been met with one frustration after another. Interrogations by pastor/committee, bucking tradition, worries about money, concerns over PA system volume, our doctrines/beliefs, charismatic or not, have all served to keep new music OUT of the church. I've had places tell me in effect "just sing, don't talk." Others say they don't like to bring in groups because some in the congregation object to giving a donation to someone for an hours work or less.  (Huh?)

It was no different 20 years ago when I lived in Seattle, and mailed brochures to local churches - a 2-3% response rate was good. We had phone calls in response to our brochures that went like this:

"Hello ?"
"Is Jack a Pentecostal?"
Mom who answered the phone said, "No, Jack is a Christian."

It was a year or more ago I was talking with David about those frustrations, which are common to most every Christian musician. He made an interesting and simple observation - specifically - with the number of passages in the Bible which say "sing to the Lord a NEW song" WHY are we always singing 100+ year old hymns, or, in contemporary services the same copyrighted and overdone praise choruses - so much so that they become boring, even losing their ability to minister thru monotonous repetition? David cracked me up with a confession - every time he listens to the lyric "From the earth to the cross, my debt to pay" he hears "my dead toupee."  Anyway - we just prayed that the Lord would open up an avenue for musicians to sing their songs?

The next morning I woke up with a simple idea. I'd arrange a non-church concert venue for David in my area, house and feed him while he's here, and provide the PA system, so all he had to do was come in with his guitar. I'd arrange free advertising in the community section of the paper, local radio, the local church grapevine, etc. When I went to David's home, he'd do the same for me. Made sense - we both sing for free and give our CDs away, and neither desire commercial success, etc. I bounced the idea off of David, and with his input, cobbled together a mocked-up web site at tentatively called Outside the Camp Productions. David took me to task over my lengthy 'beliefs' page because it read like a 'declaration of independence' and a back-handed rebuke of the local churches.  Finally that was pared down to simply Jesus.

David has skills I lack - he was a salesman and is good at meeting people, networking, etc. He took off with the OTC idea, and arranged a festival in Memorial Park in New Kensington, PA. Months of prayer and effort went into it. What happened there was simply refreshing.

On Friday night, from 7-10 there were 6 musicians (every 30 minutes) who shared their original music. People pitched in to help setups and tear downs in record time. People sat in the open air listening to the music. There was NO egotism or competitive spirit - just a bunch of musicians singing about the God they know, and having a wonderful time with their brothers and sisters.

On Saturday, there was live music from noon to 10PM - Food and drink were provided for the musicians (park rules prohibited making food available on a public basis). The weather was beautiful - people wandered in and out of the area at will. Saturday afternoon was the highlight for me - working the stage between musicians, and then talking with people in the listening area - exchanging or giving away CDs - praying with each other - worshipping - sharing information and lessons learned to help each other, etc. All the musicians I talked to expressed the desire to do it again - even volunteering to arrange similar events in Baltimore, Ohio, North Carolina, Illinois, Iowa. Some of the musicians are worship leaders in their local church - others are sharing their gifts elsewhere. It didn't matter - they were singing original songs about the love of the Father for us.

I'm not entirely sure about the story, but there was a musician there who had led worship for eight years at one of the best-known churches in the Pittsburgh area. The Lord had only recently pulled the plug on his activities there, and he showed up with a box of CDs, and gave them away to anyone who wanted one. God is UP to SOMETHING!

I haven't sorted through all of this yet - but understand a little better why the Lord has brought me through this frustration - to help musicians - and it is my great pleasure to do so.

My one observation, and exhortation to the musicians there, was to break out of any mold they've been forced into. So many musicians were singing songs exclusively about Jesus.  It’s not that there can ever be enough songs about Jesus, but it is as if musicians have felt compelled to write songs and lyrics within narrow confines, perhaps, by the clergy who says to musicians, "Just play songs and leave the theology to us." I’m encouraging them to branch out - to use their prophetic giftings to sing about that which needs to be exposed and repented of in the church - to use songs/music to confront the lies of the enemy, the bondage of religion, and to provoke the church to get God's house in order. We musicians need to present the complete / rounded word in song.

Lastly - there are several 'prophecies' out there about the coming 'new music' - and there are all manner of interpretations what that will be. This weekend, I think we heard it. It will NOT be perfectly executed / arranged / engineered music - but rather, broken musicians singing about their Daddy, with the natural gifts He has given them - without being trapped up in the worldly notion of having to be perfect musically. After all, He uses the simple to confound the wise. The world will listen with their ears and some will say, "That stinks!"  But those whom the Father is calling will hear with their hearts, and they will respond.  I imagine the music will be new only in the sense that it will be songs that haven't been heard before - no need to copyright them - that system is of the world - the Father gives freely, and He is limitless and always good for a new song through his minstrels.

Sing to the Lord a NEW song! ;^)

Jack Helser

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