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Answering the Call : Andrae Crouch Carries on Family’s Pastoral Tradition

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a hand-clapping, rollicking Pentecostal service, gospel singer-musician Andrae Crouch was officially installed Saturday as pastor of Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ--a career decision some say will boost this low-income community and its church life.

The seven-time Grammy winner entered the blue-carpeted sanctuary at the start of the service to the strains of “To God Be the Glory.” It’s a song widely sung in conservative Christian churches and is perhaps Crouch’s best-known recording in a career that has included work with Disney, Madonna and Michael Jackson.

Crouch, 45, is succeeding his father, the Rev. Benjamin Crouch, who founded the church in 1951 and died late in 1993, and his older brother, the Rev. Benjamin Crouch Jr., whose five-month pastorate ended with his death in February. Andrae Crouch, assisted by his twin sister, Sandra, also a Grammy winner, assumed pulpit duties on April 30.

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland of Ft. Worth, Tex., who anointed Crouch with oil in the installation rite Saturday, told the nearly 600 church dignitaries and guests at the service that some unhappy churchgoers “might be saying if you’re not family, you can’t get ahead.”

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But Copeland recalled the New Testament accounts of James, Jesus’ brother, leading the early church in Jerusalem and “that two sets of brothers were among the 12 disciples.”

It is not unprecedented in African American churches for successful gospel singers to take on added duties as pastors. Examples include the Rev. James Cleveland of Los Angeles and singer-pastors Carlton Pearson of Tulsa, Okla., and Marvin Winans of Detroit, who attended a Friday night banquet for Crouch at the Century Plaza Hotel and the installation service Saturday.

Winans, whose gospel recordings have earned him six Grammies, said in an interview that songwriting and pastoring are similar experiences. “In songs, you deal with a myriad of emotions and try to find answers to soothe the heart,” Winans said. “It’s pretty much the same as preaching.”

Crouch’s decision is “a blessing for all of us,” said the Rev. Dudley Chatman, pastor of Greater Community Missionary Baptist Church in Pacoima.

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“Andrae will be good because he brings to the church a name and talent, and he will draw people,” said Chatman, who is also president of the San Fernando Valley Interfaith Council.

Likewise, Los Angeles City Councilman Richard Alarcon told more than 500 people at the banquet Friday that the community of Pacoima is welcoming Crouch back as a prodigal son.

“Many prodigal sons who have left [Pacoima] will be his greatest challenge--to bring back home the sons and daughters who have lost their way . . . ,” Alarcon said.

Pastor Jack Hayford of the large Church on the Way in Van Nuys said that Crouch’s new step “bodes well for the Valley as well as for the congregation and the city of Los Angeles.”

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A light, even awkward, moment in the service occurred as Hayford told about first meeting Crouch when the latter was a student 30 years ago at LIFE College in Los Angeles, where Hayford was a dean and a teacher.

As Hayford was talking, Crouch suddenly excused himself. Confused, Hayford fell silent until it was evident Crouch was heading for the men’s room.

“He did the same thing when he was a student in my class,” quipped Hayford, sparking laughter in the pews.

In a sermon directed at the new pastor, Bishop Chandler Owens of Atlanta, who heads the Church of God in Christ, the nation’s largest black Pentecostal denomination, urged Crouch to favor windows over mirrors. “When you look in the mirror, all you see is Andrae; when you look through the window, you see the beauty of what God can do,” he said.

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At the banquet, Bishop Charles Blake of Los Angeles, whose 12,000-member West Angeles Church of God in Christ is the denomination’s biggest, recalled first seeing Andrae Crouch as a little boy at a home where there was a piano.

Blake said he played one song he knew from his piano lessons, then watched in awe as the little boy “set it [the piano] on fire” with his playing. Blake said that demonstration caused him to give up piano.

“Now, he’s preaching and pastoring, and I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Blake said.

Crouch told the banquet audience that he felt confident that God wanted him to become pastor when, at a church service one week after his brother died, he fell on the floor and couldn’t get up. Crouch said that he heard God say loud and clear that he wouldn’t let him rise until he said “yes” to becoming a pastor.

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According to Crouch, God said, “I don’t want you to say, ‘uh-huh,’ ‘Right on’ or give Arsenio Hall’s ‘woof-woof.’ ” Crouch said that once he said yes, he got up and “became totally happy in every area of my life.”

He added in an interview, however, that the ministerial staff is being expanded so duties can be spread around and he can continue his music ministry.

“The cooks will still be in the restaurant even if the chef is not there,” Crouch said. “They will still eat good food and have a solid diet.”


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