This is a very long review, but it is written with those in mind who never got a chance to go to any of the organized memorials, and for those who are still struggling with Rich's death. May the God of Peace comfort you, and may the Lord Jesus Christ lead you to a more faithful place in your life for having known Rich's ministry and music, listened to and learned through his teachings (whether in person or just through his recordings), and rejoice that he now has joined our loving Savior in heaven.
The service was held at Henry Levitt Arena (renamed Charles Koch Arena after it's renovation in 2002/2003) at Wichita State University. Wichitans call it the "Roundhouse." Before the 7:00pm start, we listened to the conclusion of Light 99's three hour special broadcast program that was fed in over the house speakers. We all listened as, without the benefit of rehearsal, Craig West (now on the K-LOVE morning crew) read live on-air a piece that Rich wrote back in January 1992 as part of the promotion for "The World As Best As I Remember It". In it, Rich imagines "old Moses sitting on a mountain - sitting with God - looking across the Jordan into the Promised Land." He also describes God taking "Moses' thin-worn, thread-bare little body into His hands" and "folds Moses' pale lifeless arms across His chest for burial." When he then wonders "who will bury me," Craig began to struggle with the emotion that surely every person with ears to hear had been and continued to struggle with in those days (and even weeks) after the accident. Somehow he mustered the strength to finish the reading, and was most likely lifted by "the power of His presence."
The stage was on the floor of the arena that held approximately 10,500, and the crowd filled half of the arena facing it, including a few hundred reserved seats on the floor. The attendance was estimated at about 5,000, and though I really expected a full house, I found after visiting with many in the previous days that some didn't come because they thought "it would just be too sad." Those absent for that reason included my wife and daughters, though they listened to most of the memorial on Light 99 which broadcast the memorial live on the radio, as well as live on the Internet. The instruments on stage looked familiar, but there was one noticeably missing - the hammer dulcimer. We sat waiting for the beginning of the program (my guests were my friend Kerry Livgren, who drove down from Topeka, with his daughter Katy, his pastor , and his pastor's wife), read our programs, and glanced around a bit for familiar faces. As well as those we would see later in the program, I saw Beaker (David Strasser) and his wife Julie and the kids, Billy Crockett (Ragamuffin and solo artist), Gay Quisenberry (Rich's former manager), Jordan and Cobra Joe (This Train), and others. Unlike other concerts though, somehow I just didn't seem that motivated to "see who was there." It wasn't until days later that I found out that Rich's mom and some of the family had indeed made it to Wichita for this memorial. On the cover of the program, entitled "Memories of Rich", they had a picture of a very young Rich Mullins leaning up against a building in his trademark "holey jeans", and sporting a very young, big grin. The title and the picture was accompanied by the dates 1956-1997 (Oops - of course it should have read 1955-1997, one of very few indications that this massive event was organized in less than a week!).
The lights went down and the Central Christian praise band started things off by praising the God who made Rich who he was, and had now called him home. They led us in some of Rich's favorite hymns.
This World Is Not My Home
'Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus
Come Thou Font Of Every Blessing
It Is Well With My Soul
Sing Your Praise To The Lord
The praise band members were Steve Brummer (keyboards, song leader), Lee Lundgren (guitar), Nicki Lundgren (BGVs), Robbin Viser (bass), Scott Brummer (guitar), Kyle Stevens (drums), Sherri Howard McCready (BGVs), and Crystal Evans (BGVs). Then we were welcomed by Sam Howard, a close personal friend of Rich, and son of Maurice Howard, the pastor whose friendship and mentoring was the reason Rich moved to Wichita. "Tonight, we want to do two things." said Sam, "We want to rejoice in the hope that we have in Jesus, and we want to remember the joys, sorrows, and life we shared with our friend." Sam described Rich as someone who traveled the world, and everywhere he went, he left a piece of himself - sometimes a whole suitcase. That brought the first of many rounds of laughter that we would enjoy, to which Sam replied, "OK, some of you did know him. That's good." Sam hoped that the evening would be more one of "laughter mixed with tears, or else it's gonna be hard for a lot of us to get through this." He mentioned that the program had kinda taken on a life of it's own, and that we should ignore the program. The program was pretty close, but there were some surprises, which was "exactly as Rich would have loved". I understand such was the case with the Nashville memorial program as well.
Cheryl Hurley, of Broomtree Productions, then welcomed everyone to Wichita, and thanked all those who helped her organize the memorial, including Wichita State University, Light 99 FM, Friends University, and Central Christian Church. Cheryl then shared a memory of Rich by describing the times that Rich would come home from the studio to the apartment he and Beaker lived in, and invite the community of friends over to hear new songs. It seems that many of the close friends (Rich, Beaker, Sprinkle, Cheryl, Doris Howard, and others) all lived in close proximity not only to each other, but to St Joseph's Hospital. Rich had nicknamed the "community" St Joseph Square. Now you know where the subtitle for the song "Peace" comes from. She then introduced Steve Brunk, an elder at Central Christian Church, who was also the one that they all paid their rent to on St Joseph's Square. Before Steve led us in an opening prayer, he described a picture in his mind of Rich seated among the heavenly orchestra, and wondered if the angels were probably asking, "Can you teach us how to do that 'Cup Song?' "
Reverend Matthew McGuinness, or Father Matt, told us that four years ago when he was the youth director for the Wichita Diocese, he first met Rich. "I never quite understood the friendship that developed between a long-haired, free-spirited, hard-living song writer, and a balding, conservative, midwestern Roman Catholic priest, but God taught me a long time ago that friendships don't grow in greenhouses. They grow like weeds - in places where you least expect them." He continued to describe a relationship that consisted of talking, arguing, laughing, and praying. In the beginning of their friendship, Father Matt was not aware of Rich's fame in the CCM industry - he had no idea that you could buy one of Rich's CDs in any store in the country. He remembered particularly one night driving down the street with Rich, and Amy Grant's "Sing Your Praise To The Lord" came on the radio. " 'Gosh, I really like that song'..." (the laughs started warming up in the crowd) "...and Rich said, 'Well, thanks.' " (laughter turns to applause) "And I stopped and said, 'What do you mean well, thanks?', and he said, 'I wrote that.' " He was simply amazed at this ordinary man with these extraordinary gifts. "He used both the ordinary and the extraordinary to give witness and praise to God." Father Matt then led us in prayer.
What followed was one of the strongest spiritual offerings I have witnessed. Ashley Cleveland came out with Michael W Smith accompanying her on piano, and sang "Elijah." The strength didn't come from that incredible voice that she was still somehow able to share, as it was surely dampened ever so slightly by the emotion welling up. It didn't come from the dynamic and "Rich" piano arrangement that Smitty brought with such apparent ease. The strength came from the memory of Rich expounding the Spirit of the Living God - the same Spirit that was present there that evening in a way I haven't experienced but a few times in my life. It was a definite mountain-top experience - like the times when Brennan Manning would come to speak in Wichita for a week at a time before he got more famous (and sometimes you would see Rich sneak in the back of the room).
Next to share his memories of Rich was Friends University Chaplain, Jim Smith, who shared his house with Rich his last years in Wichita before moving to New Mexico. He wanted to share his times with Rich as best as he could remember it, "and there's a chance that I'll remember it better than he did." In addition to being chaplain, Jim also taught theology at Friends, and he told us that we couldn't imagine how "intimidating it is to have Rich Mullins in your theology class - a little like having Einstein in your physics class - I wanted to hand him the chalk and just sit down." After Beaker and Julie got married, Rich had stopped by Jim's house one day as he often did and casually asked, "Can I live here?" So Rich moved in. It is in the attic room apartment of Jim's house where the video for "Hold Me Jesus" was shot. In addition to touching Jim and his family's life, Rich was touched by theirs. Jim's five year old son has never known a world without Rich and only listens to "Uncle Rich's" music in the car. You can hear that love for Jim's daughter (who was born with several birth defects and not expected to live) in the song Rich wrote for her called "Madeline's Song" that many heard for the first time this last summer. Madeline often slept with her hands folded as if in prayer, and Rich made her his prayer partner as he would lean in and whisper his prayers in her ear. Telling his son Jacob that Uncle Rich had died and would not be coming home again, was one of the hardest things he ever had to do. Later Jacob said, "My heart is really full." After his mother asked him why, he said, "Well, Jesus is in heaven, and Jesus is in my heart - and now Rich is in heaven, and he's in my heart, too. So my heart is really full."
Gary Rowe (another long time friend of Rich's from college days in Cincinnati) and Sam Howard then shared some quips they called "Rich on Rich." Some of my favorites were:
On marriage, "For people who are too weak to handle celibacy, God gives a spouse, and for people who are to weak to handle a spouse, God gives celibacy. So I'm pretty comfortable, but I wouldn't mind being married - especially between ten and two."
On the secret of his music, "If you can't be good, be loud." (Kerry liked that one, too.)
On the Bible, "I can understand why people have doubts about the Bible. It's a wierd, strange, goofy book."
Following these quips, they shared the writing from Rich's journal that we had just heard previously in the evening, as read by Craig West on Light 99. Gary and Sam closed with selections from letters sent to the online memorial book at Calling Out Your Name, and then a letter written by Rich's brother, David, on behalf of the family.
The praise band came out and gave us their rendition of "Screen Door." ("the cup song") They also led us in singing the following songs:
I Will Sing
Hope To Carry On
The Love Of God
Next the lights went down and we listened to a tape of Rich singing "Peace." It was followed by a beautiful solo dance offering by the Friends University Dancer, Melanie Buchanan. She danced to the favorite of many Rich's fans, "Hold Me Jesus" as it was performed by Everyman, a praise band from Pleasant Valley United Methodist Church. (Some of the members of Everyman were cast members of the Canticle musical that was performed at Friends a couple weeks later). Everyman band members are: Kevin Brocksieck, Jared Brown, Jay Lobaugh, and Kurtis Hinderliter on vocals; Jozelle Wallace, keyboards; Bill Suchan, guitar; Nicole-Capri Brocksieck, bass guitar; and Kevin Brightup, drums.
My friend Kathy introduced herself as Kathy Sprinkle to some, Kathy Sanders (from her days as morning DJ on Light 99) to others, and "a lot of you know me as that short little red-headed chick that hung around with Rich all the time and nobody ever understood what was going on between 'em." Kathy had spent most of the week after the accident at Rich's mom's house in support of the family. She then was involved in most of the memorials earlier this week as were many guests this evening (including Richmond and Nashville), and begged our forgiveness for their morbid humor, as they were "starting to call this the Rich Mullins Funeral Tour." Kathy first met Rich back in 1975 when they were both students at Cincinnati Bible College. After becoming good friends there, they were both involved in that "mid-seventies, hippie Christian commune thing where a whole bunch of us lived together ... we had eight people, six cats, two dogs, and my parents wouldn't set foot in the house." They were both involved in Zion Ministries which would be the catalyst for a praise album called "Behold The Man." On that recording was one of Rich's songs called "Sing Your Praise To The Lord", which would later make it into Amy Grant's hands. (Is it safe to assume you know the rest of that story?) "Nine albums and ten Dove Nominations later Rich is known as the poet of Contemporary Christian music, regarded as an activist for poor children, and a vigorous antagonist to all complacent Christians and ALL politicians." She described how Rich will be remembered by his love more than anything, and those funny little quirks and abilities to quote Chesterton and other great authors, and yet not seem to find his keys or his airline ticket. After a reading from Rich that was written less than 48 hours before his passing entitled "Scared Of The Dark", she introduced the third of the "Three Musketeers" - as she loving referred to herself, Rich, and Beth.
Beth Lutz (it was Beth Snell back in the Zion days) was one of those who lived in that "hippie Christian commune", but also was a member of the group that recorded the "Behold The Man" album. After briefly sharing her heart, she sang for us a capella. She just couldn't bear to sing the song with any accompanist but Rich, and hoped that we would hear his piano in our hearts. "Always Here With Me" was a beautiful praise song written by Rich and was only ever recorded by Tony Melendez (or at least Kathy thought so, she told me later) and was also sung by Beth at Rich's dad's funeral and Kathy's dad's funeral.
When I walk through the valley, where the shadows hang like death,
Lord I will trust You're with me, and my soul will know You're rest.
'Til my cup is overflowing with the joy that comes from knowing,
You are here, You're always here with me.
Reed Arvin, who produced eight of Rich's recordings, told us up front that it really seemed appropriate to be here in Kansas, as many times Rich had told Reed, "I just love Kansas." Reed then shared several stories of dealing with Rich in the studio, many of which described his constant reluctance to be mindful of the recording process. Although, many times Rich seemed aloof of the progress of an album (and would give his usual response "it don't make me no difference"), once Reed asked what he thought of a particular rough cut of "Ready For The Storm" (one of only four that Rich ever recorded that he didn't write). Rich's biting wit came through when he responded, "It sounds like 'I Am Ready For A Cocktail.' " Even though Reed produced 75 songs for him, he still felt like sometimes he didn't know him. Reed was the only person that told us about the "angry Rich Mullins." Sometimes though Rich made a conscious choice to be nice, "that particular choosing used up a lot of energy for him, and sometimes without warning, he would run out of nice, and get absolutely furious - an angry Rich Mullins was a sight to behold." Reed said he would miss that as much as anything, because it reminded him that, as Rich fumed about why the world was the way it was, he was just a sinner like you and me. Rich turned that discontent into art, and now he can ask God for us, why the world is the way it is.
Jimmy Abegg was the only member of the Ragamuffin Band to speak that evening. All the members of the Ragamuffins, past and present, must certainly have been nursing holes in their hearts, and I didn't really expect any of them to make that trip to the microphone. Like all the Ragamuffins, Jimmy would at times temporarily put on hold an existing career to join Rich in his mission to share the Gospel in music whenever he needed him. While sharing about being asked to join the "Brother's Keeper" project, Jimmy explained that he may not be able to do the recording and subsequent tour, because his daughter was having a really tough time and needed him. Rich and Gay and everyone said, "Bring her along." Jimmy then shared a very touching letter from his daughter, now 17, that she wrote after learning of Rich's death. In the letter, among fond memories, she shared of buying a small, simple St Francis pendant as a gift for Rich in appreciation for his love and friendship over their time together during the tour. She said that from that moment on, she never saw him without it, and couldn't help but wonder if he was wearing it the day of his accident. Jimmy read us a letter of remembrance of his own. It held many deep, loving images of Rich and their respect for each other. He told us how Rich had confided in him the desire to become an artist, and how Jimmy confided in him the desire to become a musician. "We agreed in that moment to try a little harder for our dreams." He closed by saying, "If I ever saw the eyes of Christ, I saw them staring at me through Rich. I will mark time with his passing, and thank God this barefooted pilgrim has reached his destination. Maybe when we get back together again, I'll have become a musician."
One of Rich's passions was CIY, or Christ In Youth ministries. Andy Hansen of CIY and his family was another of Rich's treasures. Andy told us, "Those who give of their time to minister to Junior High Youth are either eccentric or in love with young people - and [Rich] was both." He told us of Rich's generosity and how he often had no money in his pocket because he had given it all to others, or simply lost it. One of the threads in this patchwork quilt of Rich (as Sam Howard loved to remind us), was this attitude of priorities that would keep Rich so focused to giving and ministry, that he was constantly getting himself into situations of absent-mindedness. Take the example of moving to a trailer in New Mexico. While the world wondered out loud how he could possibly hope to continue his music ministry that way - all along Rich's primary concern was not that of the music industry, but of the horrid condition that most of his brothers and sisters in Christ were enduring on the Navajo reservation. Yet Rich still managed somehow to continue to minister to his fans with more music and another tour. This past summer tour, though this one time without the Ragamuffins, would also include ten CIY conferences on top of the already scheduled stops. Andy fought back the tears as he grieved aloud with us about not only the loss of a friend, but for the loss of the music and lyrics that was still to some. Rich had just announced at the last CIY conference in Illinois that he had written 10 new songs for a new recording (due to be recorded this fall) that focused specifically on Jesus. (The tentative title for this work was to be "Ten Songs For Jesus.") "It's hard not to ask 'Why God? Why now?' It may not break your heart to say goodbye, Rich, but it sure enough is breakin' ours." Andy had often asked Rich to sing "Elijah" at his funeral, and "did so just six or seven weeks ago. Now I breath these words, knowing that you've already crossed. I guess when the time comes for me, they'll just have to play the tape - while we sing it together in heaven. Enjoy the kingdom of light, Rich. May your music and memory continue to move us in our lives until we, too, get to hear the new stuff - on the other side."
Sam Howard came back out and introducing his mother said, "This is just something I never could have imagined happening in my life. The next speaker is my mother, and following that will be Michael W Smith."
Doris Howard's husband, Maurice, was the head pastor of Central Christian for many years. When their son Sam met Rich at Cincinnati Bible College, Rich then also later met Maurice, and it was that relationship that ultimately drew Rich to Wichita. Sadly, three months after Rich moved to Wichita to be discipled by him, Maurice died. Doris gave us a wonderful mother's perspective of Rich. She spoke of God revealing to her three truths the night after Maurice's death. "These three facts re-entered my mind last Saturday morning, and again I knew that death is non-negotiable, that God's will is perfect, and that you and I have to learn to walk in His perfection." Rich was then discipled by Dr. Bill Allen, and then he died. "...This was very puzzling to Rich. This week the thought had crossed my mind of Dr. Bill and Maurice and Rich in heaven, no longer discussing the questions that none of us can answer, but delighting in knowing that now the answers are real to them, that they can enjoy the glory of God, and that both Greek and Hebrew are now fully understood." (laughter) Doris told us how Rich would often just show up unexpectedly at their house, like last Christmas. "He said he had many people to see that day and he could only stay for a little while, but you know what, he stayed all day. And what do you do when Rich stays all day? You talk, and you talk, and you talk, and you talk. And now as I look back on that day, I think what a special gift." Then there were the unexpected phone calls, sometimes into the wee hours of the morning. She told of one such time he had a new song, and really wanted to read it to her. "I slipped out to the kitchen table so as not to wake Maurice, and he started reading me these profound words, that to this day, is still my favorite song. And it's my favorite song, because if you knew Rich well, you knew how much of Rich was captured in these words. As I listened to the words my heart was just filled with an overwhelming emotion, my arms had Holy Spirit goosebumps, and my eyes had tears. And it's a moment that I've never forgotten, and these were the words: 'If I stand, let me stand on the promise that you will see me through, and if I fall let me fall into the grace that first brought me to you.' [sic]"
After a pause, Michael W Smith begins to play the intro for "If I Stand" and says, "This is also one of my favorite songs of Rich's." It is this writer's personal favorite, as well. I remember the first Rich Mullins concert I ever attended in 1989 at Central Christian. When he played that song, the entire audience (I didn't know at the time it was his home church) sang every word of the chorus in typical "Rich Concert Audience Wonderful Harmony." What I didn't remember this night of the memorial was that it was Michael playing the piano on the original recording of that song. Michael was accompanied by the entire Ragamuffin band. It was a little difficult to watch, as the usually exuberant band was very reserved and melancholy. My heart really ached for them, but they still did a wonderful job. Then Michael grabbed a guitar (I do believe this is the first time I've ever seen him play guitar) and led us in "Step By Step."
Sam then introduced one of Rich's favorite professors back at Cincinnati Bible College. Dr. Stephen Hooks (now at Atlanta Christian College) was "a person Rich kept in touch with throughout his life, and a person he turned to for a lot of counsel and theological discussion."
At this point, I must confess Kerry and I turned to each other and both agreed, this is getting really long. While it was certainly a night to remember, still we had been there over two hours, it was unusually warm in the arena, and now we're gonna have a sermon!? Well, I must also confess I soon forgot about the time and the temperature as Dr. Hooks opened up the Scriptures and preached about the Gospel of Christ about as bold and clear as I've ever heard. What a wonderful message! He admonished us, "The bandstand is dark, and the liturgy has been silenced - forever, some are saying, by the demon we call death. Do you really believe that? Do you really think that Rich has written his last lyric and played his last melody? Do you think something so rude, so crude, so painfully ordinary as death can silence the songs of a saint?" He then continued to share the secret that Rich carried in his heart and that we share - "it stood at the heart of his 'Creed' and it stands at the heart of the Gospel. 'The dead in Christ shall rise.' " Through the stories of Jesus' conquering death, one by one, Dr. Hooks led us eagerly - just like a man certain of victory because of overwhelming evidence would plead his case to a court of law. "And you know what? [Jesus is] not through yet. In 1 Corinthians 15:20, Paul writes, 'but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the first fruits of them that slept.' His resurrection is but the first of many more that will follow. For the scriptures tell us that Jesus is going to make one final visit to the cemetery. And He's not coming with flowers and tears. But with a shout and a trumpet sound." The sermon was peppered with cheers and laughter, and the thought flashed through my mind of this pastor/teacher and Rich in fierce debates and fervent prayer. After more wonderful oratory, he concluded, "As we gather tonight to honor Rich's passing over Jordan, some would seek to console us by reminding us that he will live on - in his music, and in our memories. But I'm here to tell you he lives on in a far greater way than that. There's a Ragamuffin loose in heaven. (applause) There are bare feet on the streets of gold. And I tell ya' heaven will never be the same. The restless pilgrim who once wept as a man who is longing to go home is finally there. He is at last set free to compose that music which he once called 'higher than the songs that I can sing'. Well you can sing them now Rich. So sing them. Sing them well, sing them loud, let the hammer dulcimer be heard all over heaven. Let heaven's choir sing their praise to the Lord. And as you look back, and watch the stars as they fade to the flicker of a candle, let angels above join with the saints below, and declare to the world - our God is an awesome God!"
If there was any doubt remaining for any person within the sound of Dr. Hooks voice, then he, at least temporarily, wiped clear any trace of it. Before the sermon, I was sad and tired - but following that clear proclamation of the Gospel, I had nothing but joy and a full measure of that indescribable peace.
Following the sermon was a video montage that alternated between Rich expressing his views on a wide variety of subjects and sound clips of some his most profound songs - "Sometimes By Step", "If I Stand", "The Love Of God", "Calling Out Your Name", and "Verge of a Miracle." It concluded with the entire original version of "Elijah" (from Rich's first album).
The Central Christian praise band came back, and as they led us in "I See You", the Friends University Dancers brought the song to life. They gave the song feet and hands and action, much like we are to do with God's Word.
The service was closed with Sam Howard reading the lyrics to "Be With You" that read in part...
Everybody each and all
We're gonna die eventually
It's no more or less our faults
Than it is our destiny
So now Lord I come to you
Asking only for Your grace
You know what I've put myself through
All those empty dreams I chased
And when my body lies in the ruins
Of the lies that nearly ruined me
Will You pick up the pieces
That were pure and true
And breathe Your life into them
And set them free.
And when You start this world over
Again from scratch
Will You make me anew
Out of the stuff that lasts
Stuff that's purer than gold is
And clearer than glass could ever be
Can I be with You
Can I be with You
After the service (which lasted right at three hours), there was plenty of hugging and visiting and tears - mostly of joy. I got to introduce Kathy Sprinkle to Kerry Livgren (she always wanted to meet him), and we shared "Rich" stories. I greeted several friends, some of whom were able to come from great distances, though I didn't get to see everybody, I appreciate your letting know by email that you made it.
Some of my cyber-friends actually came all the way from Houston, and even made the Wichita Eagle front page the following morning. Chris and Melanie Castleberry (who were one of only ten addresses when the RichMailList started almost three years ago) and I got to meet face-to-face for the first time. They even brought their five kids, who were wonderfully patient, even though we visited for another hour after an already long evening. I relied on their memories and notes and proofing to help me with this review. It was a wonderful service, and it has enabled me to better cherish the memory of the ministry of one Rich Mullins.
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