By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
God uses His children's experiences -- to minister to others. For John Gorham, pastor of Centertown Baptist Church, those experiences touch the world through music.
From the goofy -- such as "You Can't Baptize a Cat" -- to the touching -- particularly "Two Little Ornaments" -- Gorham draws from personal experience for the lyrics to songs on his recently-released CD "Grandpa John."
Drawn to music as a child, the pastor remembers the first time he performed. The pastor's wife in the church he attended coaxed him into singing for a Vacation Bible School program when he was a middle-school student. "I even remember the skit that went with it," he said.
While still in high school, he joined the Wildwood Quartet in Wyaconda where he was reared. "A couple of the guys wrote some of the music," he said. "I tried [to write his own at that time] but was never satisfied."
Bob Woolley, former church music director for the Missouri Baptist Convention, was instrumental in Gorham's trying his hand at songwriting again two years ago. Woolley "was my inspiration for the goofy stuff" as well, Gorham laughed.
So far, "You Can't Baptize a Cat" has been his most-requested song and is on its way to becoming his signature piece. The inspiration for it came from a cartoon -- depicting a kid with messy clothes and hair -- a member had posted on the church bulletin board. The caption pointed out that cats really can't be baptized. "It's the song people seem to remember," he said.
"I tell people all the songs are true -- even "You Can't Baptize a Cat," he said. Even the song's two verses about people "are from true stories shared by pastors."
Gorham draws from his own pastoral experiences and his personal tragedies and triumphs. "Two Little Ornaments" relates how he looks forward to becoming acquainted with two grandchildren lost to miscarriages. Rarely do dry eyes remain in any venue where he sings the piece.
He wrote "Grandpa John" after the birth of his first grandchild. "I hear comments that I need to write one for my other grandchildren," he said. "I will eventually."
"Songs that are closest to me are those songs [written from personal experience]. They are kind of for me, to help me work through it [the experience] as I write it [the song]," he said. "People often have said they have experienced it and they know of others who have."
Because his time is limited, the pastor generally waits for inspiration to write a song instead of trying to carve a specific niche into his schedule.
Once the words are in place, Gorham sits down at his keyboard to work out the melody. "Often I have a melody for a phrase that I can build from," he said.
Gorham pursued music while in high school where he played coronet. While at Northeast Missouri State University (now Truman State), he took private voice lessons and sang with a college-based performing group.
He took some music courses in college because he thought he might teach. And he did, teaching nine years in public school while serving as pastor in Northeast Missouri.
The pastor explained that he felt his call to ministry included music. "When I felt called to go into ministry, I wasn't sure at that point if it was going to be a preaching ministry or a singing ministry," he said.
A high school junior at the time, he felt the call during a revival. About two years later, he said, he felt the call included preaching and serving as a pastor. "To me, I think both aspects have always been there," he added.
Gorham sang with the Wildwood Quartet until he was called to Centertown in January 2001. But he began "suffering from withdrawal," he said and started searching for an outlet. Four years ago, he and three members of Cornerstone Baptist Church formed the Jefferson City-based Boundless Love quartet.
Feeling that God wants him to expand his music ministry, Gorham recorded the CD. For about three months, he has been sending a sample CD to area congregations and dropping by a church occasionally to talk to a pastor or music minister.
Interested churches and individuals can check out his Web site at www.grandpajohn.net. (05-05-05)