23 Feb Beating The Hell Out Of Sheerness!
‘You’ve got a lot of bottle to play that thing in here, sir!’ The time: 1979. I had just started out on the road to discovering the amazing potential of a schools ministry. The place: an unsuspecting sixth-form common room somewhere in the South of England. The ‘thing’: my new ovation six-string guitar, which I managed to drop on its first performance. It has never been the same since.
I rewound my memory banks to the day when I had my first brush with the owner of the ears on the receiving end of my twanging guitar. It was 1966 (ouch!), and with a low- slung Broadway solid electric guitar, which cost around £7.14s.6d. (secondhand), and my supercool sixties image, complete with adequate haircut and sideburns, I hit the headlines in the Sheerness Times Guardian!
It took me completely by surprise! I never thought I’d be shot at verbally by someone I was supposedly representing! Here was a clergyman going public on the evils of ‘beat music’ and the audacity of young whipper snappers claiming to be communicators of spiritual truth. There’s nothing new under the sun!
The plain fact is that this minor incident had a major effect on me personally and indeed sparked off a controversy which was to rage for weeks on the letters page of the local rag! It started like this:
‘Beat Group Bid to Save Church’
“‘The Victory Side’—the Island’s own gospel beat group—has been called in to save Queenborough’s ancient Congregational church. Dwindling congregations in the past years have necessitated this move by organist Mr Harry Poppleton and lay preacher Mr Colin Steele.”
It came to a conclusion like this:
‘Victory for Beat Group’
“News of the services conducted by the Island’s gospel beat group, ‘The Victory Side’ at Queenborough Congregational Church on Sunday, was flashed across Britain over the BBC Home Service on Monday.”
The controversy in the middle went like this: (Letters page of the newspaper)
“Sir, it is possible that your news item, ‘Beat Group Bid to Save Church’ could be misconstrued by a casual reader…I would like to point out that a policy of directing one’s efforts to one small section of the community to whom too much attention is already paid—the teenage community—could well drive away members of long standing who have supported the church loyally.” (Rev P. E. Gee)
“I cannot understand why a minister, who obviously had found the answer and has a good congregation, first-class choir, etc., should bother himself about a group of young men who are trying to follow Christ’s teaching.” (A ‘Fuddy Duddy’)
‘Beating the Hell out of Sheerness’
“Sir, my efforts to set the record right as far as my own church is concerned, regarding the place of ‘beat’ services in our area, and the denial of the fact that we are dull and lengthy in worship, seems in danger of becoming a first-class argument. I believe the church is basically a family… so the teenage element must be prepared to forget the dominance which it has in the world outside by virtue of its high purchasing power, bizarre costume and uncouth appearance.” (Rev P. E. Gee)
Letters like these appeared in the paper for several weeks, some supporting the way we were trying to reach the kids on the street with the good news about Jesus, and others supporting the more traditional view of the clergyman.
Thankfully, things have changed! These days guitars, keyboards and drums in church is a regular feature of worship.