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2nd Chapter of Acts

The 2nd Chapter of Acts Story
Part 1

The blinding North Dakota blizzard blasted against Elizabeth Irmen as the young schoolteacher and her troupe of students trudged through the knee-deep snow. The lane that led from their rural North Dakota schoolhouse to the main road was already obscured. They must move quickly before the whirling winds heaped the snow into mountainous drifts. Otherwise, it could be disastrous.

From behind her, came the drone of a truck engine and turning her facing into the whipping wind, she saw the welcome sight of headlights approaching. Hastily, she huddled her students off the highway and watched as the huge truck slid to a stop near the spot where the children had been walking only a few moments earlier. The door flew open, and the driver, Walter Ward, called to them through the storm. "Come on, kids! Pile in. I'll get you home."

Gratefully, with teeth chattering, the children clambered aboard the warm vehicle. As Walter assisted the children, he asked the teacher "And where do you live, honey?" It was an innocent question. She was so young he'd mistaken her as one of the students.

"Well, honey-" she replied with a twinkle in her eye, "-I just live around the corner. I'm the teacher." It didn't escape her attention that this thoughtful "rescuer" was strong and good-looking.

An awkward introduction, but it was a beginning. Walter and Elizabeth fell in love and married. Soon their lives revolved almost entirely around children. They had nine of their own. Three of those children - Annie, Nelly, and Matthew - grew up to become the "2nd Chapter of Acts," one of the pioneering groups in contemporary Christian music. Much of what they set in motion continues to influence Christian music today.

To understand the impact of the 2nd Chapter of Acts' music and ministry, it helps to reflect upon how God called them into relationship with Himself, how He filled them with His presence, and how He has worked in and through the lives of three shy, unassuming kids from North Dakota and a big guy named Buck Herring. Where did they come from? How did they get to where they are today? What was God saying through them in the '70s and '80s, and what is He saying through them today? Let's go back to the beginning.

The Early Days
In the 1950s, Walter Ward worked hard as an itinerant farmer to provide a sparse living for his sprawling family. He was a happy man who loved to dance, sing, and play the harmonica. Though poor, the Wards were rich in love, fun and music. "There were many things we did not have," Annie recalls. "Things such as indoor plumbing and other 'luxuries.' But the one thing we did have was love. No matter what, we always knew Mom and Dad loved us."

"I never heard my parents argue," recalls Annie. "They were always very kind to each other, and to us."

Music was a major part of the Wards' life. Annie began singing publicly at five years of age, with her older sister, Kathryn and Stephanie. They performed favorites like, "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," while their mom accompanied them on piano. "The Ward Sisters" sang for all sorts of rural festivities: farm co-op meetings, the dedication of a new train engine, school openings, and country church picnics.

The Catholic Church also had a great impact on Annie. It was there when says she first encountered the majesty of God. "I loved the Church," says Annie. "I loved to sing in the choir and to sing those Latin masses. It filled me with a tremendous sense of awe. I didn't understand much about God, but I loved the liturgy. I loved taking communion. The only thing I didn't love about the church was going to confession. That was a scary thing. I didn't always tell the truth in confession, because I was too embarrassed."

By the tenth grade, Annie knew she wanted to be a nun. A wise "sister" explained to her that to serve the Lord in that capacity required a special calling. "Annie, unless Jesus tells you to be a nun, don't go into the convent. In fact, you shouldn't do anything unless the Lord tells you to do it." Annie couldn't fully comprehend her mentor's words. But the message seemed important.

It was late in 1950 that Elizabeth began to complain of chronic headaches and constant physical weakness. Doctors diagnosed her as having epilepsy. Despite their best efforts, Elizabeth's condition grew worse year after year. The family moved to California to be closer to relatives who could help in the face of Elizabeth's deteriorating health.

In 1968, Elizabeth Ward died of a brain tumor. She had been misdiagnosed for more than a decade.

Annie was left reeling at her mother's death. She was dabbling in drugs, searching for the meaning to life in Eastern mysticism and in New Age type religions. Nothing satisfied the inner longings of her heart. The loss of her mother intensified Annie's sense of loneliness and meaninglessness-and it forced her to face the fleeting, fragile, nature of life.

About this time, Annie's boyfriend, Buck Herring, committed his life to Jesus Christ. His new faith was about to make Annie face another confrontation.

A "New" Boyfriend
Buck Herring had hopes of steering a rock band into the big-time. One day, while working as a deejay at a Top-40 station, Buck received a frantic phone call from one of his band members. In a panic-stricken voice, he informed Buck that their drug supplier had "gotten religion" and was refusing to deal drugs any more! Buck was intrigued.

The deal told Buck that he'd been "filled with the Spirit," and it was true, there was an undeniable change. To his own amazement, Buck asked if they could go to church together some time. The moment Buck walked into the church, he realized that these people were Spirit-filled, with a capital "S". The worshippers were raising their hands to the Lord singing and speaking praise to him…out loud!

Oh! No! Buck thought. These people are nuts!

As he stood there, fighting an urge to leave, Buck also experienced a powerful stirring in his heart. The searching question came to him: Are you willing to be foolish in your own eyes-for My sake?

He pondered the implications of this query for less than a minute. Then by a simple act of his will, Buck raised his hands in the air and began to speak words of praise to Jesus.

Shortly after surrendering his life to the Lord, Buck began to sense a conflict between his faith in Christ and the lyrics of the songs that he played as a Top-40 deejay. He resigned his position at the radio station, even though he had no idea where he'd find work.

He also parted company with the rock band. He'd purchased some used recording equipment two years before, in hopes of producing demo tapes of the band. Following his commitment to Christ, he packed up the equipment and donated it all- microphones, tape deck, control board, everything- to the church where he'd given his life to Jesus.

As he was packing the equipment, Buck found himself saying out loud: "Father, I would love to produce records for Your kingdom."

In the years to follow, God would honor Buck's obedience by allowing him to produce all of the "2nd Chapter of Acts" albums, as well as recordings by Barry McGuire, Phil Keaggy, Matthew Ward, Annie Herring, Terry Talbot, Mike Deasy and Michael and Stormie Omartian. He also served as concert sound engineer, manager and primary spokesperson for 2nd Chapter throughout their ministry.

One of the first people Buck wanted to tell about his new commitment to Jesus was Annie Ward. They have been involved with each other previously, but the relationship had soured. By now, Annie was living in Los Angeles, working with a singing group and on the verge of breaking into a successful pop music career. Although she considered herself a "seeker of truth," she really wasn't interested in "Jesus stuff". But since the death of her mom, Annie had continued searching for something to take away the haunting pain and emptiness.

For two weeks following his spiritual rebirth, Buck prayed for Annie regularly-not about a potential relationship, but out of concern for the fact that she was lost without Christ. One day, he sensed the Lord saying, "Go find her." He drove to LA and eventually, found Annie living with the members of her singing group at the home of a famous songwriter, who was hoping to launch the group onto the charts.

Buck zealously shared his newfound faith with Annie. He briefly told her that she needed to be "born again." Although Annie didn't understand what he meant, she was willing to listen. He also thrust into her hands a copy of the Modern English New Testament, Good News for Modern Man. "Read this," he said. And after praying, he left her stunned.

For more than a week, the book remained untouched. But there was something about Buck's prayer…Annie felt as if something profound was happening deep within. Nothing in her life seemed worthwhile-not the drugs, not even the promise of fame.

Several days after Buck's visit, Annie finally picked up the book he'd left and decided to read it-from the back! The Book of Revelation, amazingly, made sense to her. Perhaps it was the sense of majesty she'd felt as a little girl, but she saw Jesus for who He is-King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Still pondering this Jesus of Revelation, Annie sat down at the piano and started fooling with the keys. She didn't really know how to play, but as a child she'd learned a few basics by watching her mother play. To her surprise, she began playing and the words to a song rushed in.

Puzzled, Annie stared at the keyboard. Okay, she thought. This song did not come from me. Where did this song come from? In her mind's eye, she pictured Jesus. He was walking toward her, and Annie had the conviction that the song had come from Him. What did this mean? Then Jesus spoke to Annie and His words seared into her heart: The only thing I am asking of you is to give your life to Me and let Me live through you.

From this unusual event, Annie was convinced of two things Jesus had given her the song, and He wanted to live through her. Meanwhile, Buck continued to pray for Annie. During the next two weeks, he also hungered for a deeper relationship with Christ. When he sought counsel from his pastor, he was told to come for prayer on Sunday morning. That Sunday, Buck experienced a deeper touch from the Holy Spirit.

The Wild Weekend
The next time Annie saw Buck, something was different about him. She was fascinated when he explained that he'd been filled with the Holy Spirit. What kind of spiritual power could change a guy like Buck? She wondered.

That night, Buck asked if he could pray for her. When she consented, he took her hand, and prayed a simple prayer.

The next morning, when Annie got up, she knew she had two items of business to take care of: She quit the singing group, and committed her life to Jesus Christ.

Annie's commitment to Christ was total, even though it meant losing all that she had ever wanted in the music business. "Nobody told me that I had to quit everything in order to become a Christian," Annie recalls, "but once I had made a decision to follow Christ, it seemed like the only logical choice. It was so clear: I could choose everything that I thought I ever wanted…or I could choose Jesus."

That night, Buck and Annie went to the home of some folks Buck knew, "Jesus people" who claimed to be filled with the Holy Spirit. Annie wanted the same Spirit that had changed Buck to fill her life. A group of "Jesus people" gathered around Annie as she sat on a chair in the center of the group. They began praying for her and singing in the Spirit. Suddenly, Annie experienced a vision of heaven. She describes it like this:

"There was a myriad of people around the throne of God. The dimension was different than anything I had ever seen in this world. I saw myself in front of the twenty-four elders-though I didn't know who or what they were then. I smelled the incense around the altar. I sensed incredible power… .

Suddenly, I saw Jesus. I loved Him so much! I started toward Him, to kiss Him, but I stopped short. Every sin I'd ever committed seemed so real. I just stood there. I could not touch Him. I couldn't touch Him because of my dirt, my filth, my sin. Instantly-without ever being taught this-I knew that there was no way that I could ever earn His good favor. There was nothing I could do on my own in order to be acceptable in His sight. I was covered with sin and I kept thinking, How could He love me?"

To everyone's surprise, Annie bolted from the room. Outside, she ran into an open field, where she sat down and wept. "I felt God could never love me," she recalls, "because I had disobeyed Him and hurt Him so deeply." At home that night, she fell asleep still asking, "How could He love me? How could He love me?" Somehow, during the night, something changed inside. "The Lord ministered to me so beautifully and gently, that I woke up asking, 'How could He love me so much?'"

The next night, Buck and Annie attended a Bible study and prayer meeting where the leader asked them to stand and give a testimony. Buck shared a few facts about his and Annie's spiritual journey. "All I know," said Annie, when it was her turn, "is that I love Jesus. And Jesus loves me." It was her first public testimony. Simple words of a new faith.

Dying to Past Loves
The Monday morning following Annie's spiritual renaissance, she met with one of the top movers and shakers in LA's music industry. His offer was a stunner-everything that Annie had ever wanted as a performer: a package-deal contract, and the promise that he would groom her to be a star in the entertainment industry. Annie saw her choices clearly: "Inside I heard the Lord say, 'He's right. You can have everything you've ever wanted-or, you can have Me.'

"But, because I had 'seen' the Lord, what choice did I have? In my heart I said, Lord, I'll take you."

When Annie refused the offer, the man was confused. "Let me know if you ever change your mind," he said as he rose to leave. "I won't,": Annie replied, "but thanks just the same."

Two days later, she found herself reading the psalmist's words: "I have been young, and now I am old: Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his descendants begging bread" (Psalm 37:25). A short time later, she got a call from the president of one of the largest secular record companies in the world. "Annie, we'd really like to do an album with you," he said. "Thank you," Annie replied sweetly, "but I'm not going to be singing that kind of music any more. I've given my life to the Lord. I'm going to be singing for Jesus."

The man was incredulous. "Oh, sure. I've heard that before. You'll come running back. And when you do, I will not even mention this to you. You just come back." "No," Annie said politely, "I just read today that the Lord will provide for those who trust in Him, and I believe it. But thank you." When Annie hung up, she was only vaguely aware of what she had begun. Through a series of deliberate choices, Annie Ward was dying to herself and was beginning to live for Jesus.

It was a simple wedding, held in a backyard with only a few people attending. Buck and Annie married in February of 1969. Annie made her own Irish-linen wedding gown, with white embroidered crosses on the sleeves. Annie's sister Kathryn was the Maid of honor, and Buck's friend Noel Paul Stookey was the Best man.

The newlyweds became part of an informal prayer group that met regularly on Tuesday nights. They had no pastor or teacher to lead them, so the group shared a meal, sang, discussed scripture and prayed for each other. It was a fresh, free, spontaneous and energetic form of worship.

Soon they were running out of space. Buck and Annie found an old Hollywood mansion in need of repair. The rent was $500 a month. The place was huge-with an enormous living room, six bedrooms, and four-and-a-half baths. The Herrings furnished the house with discount furniture that Buck remembers as "seriously ugly, but comfortable."

Buck had purchased an old upright piano for fifty dollars and had given it to Annie as a present in the first few months of their marriage. Although the keys were yellowed and nearly half the ivories were missing, when the Herrings moved into the Hollywood house, "Brother Bear," as they later dubbed the piano, came along. "Buck and Annie's place" became the gathering spot for the prayer group. Dozens of people came to know Jesus at those home meetings, launching the ministries of many musicians, pastors and missionaries.

Although they were living on a shoestring budget, the Herrings never asked for money to help support the meetings in their home. Nor did they ever inform anyone of their financial need. And somehow God always supplied. Frequently, just as the rent came due, they would unexpectedly find cash on the fireplace mantle following a Tuesday night fellowship.

Trouble At Home
In the summer of 1970, Buck and Annie's lives suffered a serious blow. Two years earlier, as the grieving family stood around Elizabeth Ward's gravesite, Annie's dad had told her, "n two years time, I'll be right beside her." Nearly two years to the day, he died of leukemia.

Annie had visited him prior to his death, and as he sat up in bed, racked with pain, Walter Ward prayed to receive Jesus Christ as his Savior. Then in his first act as a newborn Christian, he prayed for the salvation of his family. He could not have imagined how his prayer would be answered.

Following their father's funeral, the family agreed that the four youngest children should move in with their older brothers and sisters. Two went to live with Annie's oldest brother. Nelly and Matthew, who were 14 and 12 at the time, moved in with Buck and Annie. The Herring's had been married for less than a year-and-a-half.

The trauma of losing both their parents, combined with the pressures of being thrust into an "instant" family, took its toll on both the Wards and the Herrings.

From Nelly and Matthew's perspective, Annie had moved away from home while they were small children. Their new "mother" was a 23-year old sister they hardly knew. Their father figure was a big, brusque, bear of a man whom they'd only just met. "I think we were both numb," says Matthew of the decision to live with the Herrings. "We had just buried Dad and it really didn't matter after that… It didn't make any difference where we moved."1

Buck and Annie, however, had been praying for Matthew and Nelly long before their father's death. Their welcome was a foregone conclusion. Although they had little money to provide for Nelly and Matthew the Herrings were excited. "I just knew that they would have a future, says Annie, "and I knew that Buck would be good for them."

At first, Buck and Matthew weren't so certain. Buck was a strict disciplinarian, "verging on legalism." Matthew possessed an incredibly quick wit, and Buck too-often mistook his comments for insubordination. Actually, Matthew was merely relating in the only manner he knew. Buck and Matthew's conflicting personalities made for a volatile mix. Buck's sternness with Matthew negatively affected Nelly, as well. After all, Matt was her brother; she barely knew the brute who was badgering him. Her compassionate spirit caused her to rise up in sympathy for Matthew, while she inwardly bristled at Buck for being so overbearing.

Nelly and Matthew, as well as Annie and Buck, are quick to credit "the grace of God and the lubricating oil of the Holy Spirit" as their secret to surviving these family frictions. Moreover, the tensions began to ease after both Nelly and Matthew came into a personal relationship with Christ. Still, Buck was often baffled in his attempts to discipline Matthew. "I made innumerable mistakes in my early dealings with Matthew," recalls Buck. "Finally, I told the Lord this was obviously not working and He gave me some wisdom in what to do." The turning point in their relationship came when Matthew brought home a series of pink slips from school, indicating the he'd disrupted the class.

Spanking failed, and Buck felt at wit's end. "How am I ever going to get through to this kid?" he lamented. He needed a new approach, and he prayed for wisdom.

After praying, he took Matthew outside the house and drew a three-foot by six-foot rectangle on the ground. "I want you to dig a hole here," he pointed to the rectangle, "six feet deep." Matthew was shocked, but dutifully he began digging. Years later, Matthew recalled, "I thought of running away, but where would I go? I didn't have anywhere to go, and I didn't have any money. So I stayed there and dug."

As Matthew was digging, the Lord revealed to Buck that the hole was to be a grave. Finally, Matthew finished. Buck inspected the plot and said, "You've done a good job. Now to into your room and write on a piece of paper all the things you want to 'die' to. I don't want to see the paper. I don't need to know what's on it. It's between you and the Lord. Then bring it out and I'll help you bury it."

Matthew retreated to his room to write his "spiritual obituary". Half an hour later, he and Buck shoveled dirt back into the hole, burying the paper. It was the beginning a healing process in their relationship.

The Gift of Music
One day, Annie sat on the piano stool in from of "Brother Bear," wishing she could have learned to play when she was a child. With nine siblings, lessons were a luxury the family could ill afford. The best she could manage was to fool with the keys. And then, to her amazement Annie found herself playing a melody. But how? The chords and notes flowed out, as if the Lord was literally giving her a gift of music. "At first," says Annie, "I'd get these beautiful melodies and I'd ask Buck to write the lyrics to go with them." One day, Buck replied, "Annie don't think about writing a song-just sing whatever's in your heart."

It was this encouragement that opened the way to Annie's simple, and deeply intimate songs of praise and adoration. To this day, she continues to write in much the same way. "I'm not a songwriter," she protests modestly. "I'm a song receiver. I start playing, and the music comes."

When Nelly and Matthew came to live with Buck and Annie, they discovered a comfort and closeness in joining Annie around the piano after school. Their voices blended together in spontaneous, smooth harmonies, so tight, so natural. Was it just that the Ward kids had similar genes-or was there another explanation?

Matthew offers: "I used to listen to a lot of AM radio when I was a kid and I learned to do harmony by singing a different note than the guy on the radio. I'd sing with everything. I'd even sing with Mom's vacuum cleaner as it whirred back and forth across the carpet, changing its pitch. I'd harmonize with anything that oscillated-washing machines, or whatever. You could say I learned to sing harmony from household appliances!"

In addition to Annie's special gift and Matthew's offbeat vocalizing, Nelly possessed an amazing ability to find the missing notes between her brother and sister. When this trio sang together, their sound was almost angelic.

The Wards and Herrings never intended to become a professional singing group. "We were just singing to the Lord," says Matthew, "and it was a way of releasing our pain. We had gone through something tragic but we knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel."2

Annie agrees. "When we started singing together, there was such a healing, such a joy in our hearts, that we didn't want to take it outside of our own living room. It was a healing balm to us. Precious. Personal. Something that was ours." It would seem however, that the Lord had other plans.

A Fresh Start
One day as Annie, Nelly and Matthew were singing around the piano, they stopped to pray, which was a regular practice. As they prayed that day, they sensed that they were getting a personal message from the Lord.

As Annie remembers: "He said we were three small streams, but when we came together to sing we would be a mighty river. That river would uproot things in people's hearts that had been buried—the way that rushing water uproots things-and cleans things out, and opens things up. He promised that we would sing as one voice."

Yet, the trio remained shy about performing in public. They sang in church when called upon, and in local Christian coffeehouses at the insistence of friends. But that was the limit. "The last thing we wanted to do was to sing in front of people," explains Annie. "We never thought 'Oh, boy! Let's get out there and do concerts!' It was always, 'Oh no! We've got to go out there'.' We felt that way throughout our years of ministry together. We were scared, shy, and very aware of our inadequacies. The good part was that it forced us to rely upon the Lord."

About this time, Eddie Overstreet, the Herring's former housemate, wanted to record a song he'd written. Buck arranged for some excellent studio musicians, most of who were friends, and they went into the studio to record the music track for a song titled, "Jesus Is." The track turned out so well that Eddie felt it was beyond his own vocal ability, and he agreed with Buck that they should find someone else to sing the song-but who?

Buck played the track for a number of their friends and all agreed that it was a "fun, happening" song. But who could they get to sing it? Then one day as Buck and Annie were driving along in their car, they looked at each other and said almost simultaneously, "Why don't we have Matthew sing it!"

On Matthew's 13th birthday, Matthew recorded the lead vocal. Annie and Nelly sang background vocals along with many of their friends. It was a "fun" song, and eventually it caught the attention of Pat Boone, who arranged a contract with MGM Records for the release of "Jesus Is." In 1972, the family's recording career was officially born.

What Kind of Name Is That?
While working in the recording studio, editing a secular commercial, Buck heard a phrase go through his mind: The 2nd Chapter of Acts. Later, he described it as "the nearest I've ever come to hearing God speak in an audible voice. "It wasn't like I should go read this chapter," says Buck. "It was clearly to be the group's name." "I had read that passage of Scripture before, but I didn't have a good idea of what it was about. I didn't want to forget it, so I took a studio grease pencil and wrote 'The 2nd Chapter of Acts' on the front of the tape machine."

Buck couldn't wait to get home from work that night to share the name with the family. Their reaction, however, was somewhat less than enthusiastic. "What?" they chorused. "What kind of a name is that?"

"That's an awful name," Annie lamented. "It doesn't even let anyone know we're a family." Matthew objected, "People will think we are a play!"

But Buck was imperious. He knew he had heard from God. "Okay, go get your Bibles," he suggested, "and go to your rooms and let's all read Acts, chapter two. Ask God about it. Then come back and let's meet together in fifteen or twenty minutes."

The family spread throughout the big house and began to study the passage. When they reappeared, their response was one of resignation rather than overwhelming enthusiasm. They reluctantly agreed, "Okay, if that's what we're supposed to be, that's it. We'll be the 2nd Chapter of Acts."

Over the years, the name proved to be both a blessing and an obstacle. True, it had a fresh, contemporary sound. But it also barred them from singing for some of the largest, mainline denominations in America. "People were afraid we'd come in and start speaking in tongues or something," laughs Buck.

"From our viewpoint, being called 'The 2nd Chapter of Acts' didn't have anything to do with speaking in tongues, or being filled with the Holy Spirit, or any other phenomena commonly perceived as 'Charismatic,'" Buck explains. "But it occurred to us, that if you were cast adrift and you had only Acts 2, you'd have it all. The prophecy of Jesus' coming, the fulfillment of the prophecy, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the birth of the Church, the activity of the early Church as it began to function-it's all there in one chapter. It's the 'Reader's Digest' version of the Bible. "It was never a banner we were waving, concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was meant to portray the whole life and ministry of the Church. And that's what we felt we were about."

If their new identity felt awkward to Annie, Nelly and Matthew, it was soon to become a household name to millions of Christian music lovers.

By the time Barry McGuire met "The 2nd Chapter of Acts," he had tasted the best and the worst of the music business. His music had taken his group, "The New Christy Minstrels," and their idyllic ballad "Green Green" to the top of the charts. And then his career skyrocketed with the 1965 solo hit, "Eve of Destruction."

Unfortunately, Barry's personal life was also on the precipice of destruction during this time. He later described his life as a "triple-X-rated horror story," filled with alcohol and drugs.3

McGuire dropped out of the music scene, and spent the next two years with the Agape Force, a group of Jesus People who helped him become established in the Lord. Soon, with new songs to sing Barry began looking for a producer to help record the best, Christ-honoring album possible. His search boiled down to two individuals: one, a highly successful secular producer; the other Buck Herring. Though he'd become a respected studio engineer, Buck had yet to produce an album. Barry prayed, then called him.

Buck invited Barry to bring some songs over to the big house in Hollywood. After a few brief formalities, Barry explained how he felt that God had led him to seek Buck's help in producing his next album. Buck asked Barry if he could hear some of the songs and Barry gladly got out his guitar and began singing.

Laughing, Buck recollects, "When Barry started singing, the house shook! He was banging his guitar and thumping out the beat with his foot as he sang, 'I don't know what you come to do, but I come to praise the Lord!'. It was great."

Before long, two pairs of eyes peeked around the corner of the stairway. Buck motioned for Nelly and Matthew to come down, as Barry sang several more songs. When Barry finished, Buck suggested, "Now that Matthew and Nelly are awake, why don't you guys sing a song for Barry?"

Barry later confessed that he expected the worst. What have I gotten into? he thought. Now this little family is going to sing. Another can-we-have-our-kids-sing-for-you? How many times have I heard that line before? But as he looked at the skinny, bashful kids gathering around the beat-up piano, he though, "Well, praise the Lord anyway." He settled into a chair and attempted to appear as interested as possible.

Annie, Nelly and Matthew began to sing. Barry was stunned. He'd listened to thousands of singers, but he'd never heard anything like this before! Crystal clear harmonies. Lyrics that sounded inspired in heaven. When the trio finished, tears were streaming down his face.

That night, Barry invited them to sing background vocals on his new album. Seeds, was one of the groundbreaking recordings in contemporary Christian music.

Besides working together on the album, 2nd Chapter of Acts and Barry McGuire committed themselves to do a series of concerts. The logical place to start was Sacramento, where Buck had been a popular radio personality. It was also there the "Acts" achieved moderate success, as their second MGM single; "I'm So Happy" soared into the top five on the local charts. And of course, Barry was still well known because of his secular hits. The concert was sure to succeed. In fact, they lost money. Nevertheless, it was the start of something big.

Divine Appointments
In order to have enough material to do their part of the concert, "Acts" had to hire some musicians and rehearse a few songs. Annie had written several new songs, that she had received from the Lord, and afterwards some members of the band suggested to Buck that they record them. Buck shrugged, "I don't have any money."

When the band insisted, the whole troupe went into a studio. This recording session gave us some of the "2nd Chapter's" first classics-including "Love, Peace, Joy," "I Fall In Love," and "Going Home." One song from this session seemed to have a special quality. Annie had titled it, "Easter Song." "Easter Song" was one of those that "just came out," Annie recalls. "At first, I didn't think it was much of a song. I loved it, but I didn't think it was a song for us. I thought it was a choir song. I even said to the Lord, 'Oh Father, that sounds like a song that a lot of people should sing.'

"I was talking with our friends Jimmy and Carol Owens one day. We had been on tour with them in 'Come Together,' a musical they'd written. I thought Jimmy might be interested and I said, 'I have this little song. You might not even like it,"

When Annie played "Easter Song," Jimmy Owens was jubilant. "You don't want to give that song to anybody. You need to record it!" Teeming with confidence, Annie took the song to the band members who, at first, did not share Jimmy's enthusiasm. Drummer, David Kemper whined wistfully, "I don't hear any drums on that song. I just can't hear it." "David!" Buck's voice boomed. "You don't hear any drums on it? Just play! Play something. Do it!" David did. He sat down and put a different drum pattern to the song, taking it out of the choir realm where Annie had first heard it and pulling it into a lilting rhythm that no only 2nd Chapter could sing, but the whole world could sing.

The song was to undergo a transformation from the way Annie first heard it. Drummer David Kemper added a rhythm and eventually Michael Omartian, another friend of the family, added the lively keyboard track that made the song unforgettable.

Omartian's involvement on "Easter Song" began a long-term relationship. Throughout the early years of "Acts" ministry, Annie roughed out the songs, and Michael wrote the charts for the musicians before going into the studio. Buck once said, "When the Lord gives Annie a song, it's like a rough-hewn diamond, dug out of the ground. We give it to Michael, and he cuts it and polishes it and puts it in the right piece of jewelry."

In Annie's estimation, "Michael is such a musical genius. He has perfect pitch, and the ability to play almost any instrument. He's really a virtuoso, and compared to him I could hardly play at all. Back then he'd get so tickled at me. He'd say, 'This song is wrong. You're not supposed to be able to do these chords. But I love it! It's wrong, but it's great.' He'd also say, 'You play the piano wrong, too. It's wrong-but it's fine…how do you do that?'"

Another person who was impressed by "Easter Song" was record executive, Billy Ray Hearn. Hearn had begun Myrrh, a new contemporary Christian record label owned by Word. When he first heard "Easter Song'" he said, "Now that's what Christian music is supposed to sound like!"

Growing Pains
When Buck sent a copy of the newly recorded Seeds album to Billy Ray Hearn, he immediately recognized the record's enormous potential. When Billy Ray came out to the Herring home to discuss the deal, Buck played him some of the songs that 2nd Chapter had been working on. One of those songs was "Easter Song."

Because of the difficulties "Acts" had experienced in doing Christian music for a secular record company, Buck had obtained their release from MGM. Within a few months, Hearn had signed them to do their first album for Myrrh. "The 2nd Chapter of Acts" and Barry McGuire continued touring together, which was both exhilarating and frightening for the inexperienced trio. At first, the group merely stood on-stage and sang, rarely sharing anything from their hearts. Buck believed that in order to be "spiritual," the music needed to be spontaneous. Consequently, he wanted to change the order of songs every night;, which kept them feeling even more unsure of themselves.

McGuire attempted to intercede, "But Buck, last night everything just felt so good ." "Sure," Buck responded, "but God may want to do something different tonight."

Another factor that contributed to "Acts" early inhibitions was audience response. During Barry's set, the audience sang along, clapped and cheered. When "2nd Chapter" began singing-"Going Home" was their opener-the audience grew strangely silent. "We thought everybody had gone home!" Annie jokes. "That would really have shaken our confidence-if we'd had any."

Several concerts into the tour, somebody approached Annie and said, "We're really sorry we didn't applaud-but we've never heard music like that before!" Many others expressed that they had never before experienced worship so keenly.

As Nelly reflects: "One of the reasons people didn't applaud was because we weren't singing songs about Jesus, we were singing to Him. When people recognized that, they sensed His Spirit. They could see Jesus, and they fell in love with Him."

Despite the awkward beginnings, "Acts" and Barry McGuire continued to tour together intermittently for three years. Through his example, Barry taught the group how to communicate with an audience. "Just be yourselves," he'd encourage them. "Be who God has called you to be." Barry's words fell upon fertile soil. "He taught us so much," says Annie. "He's the best communicator I've ever known."

Besides the spiritual power of their music, other factors catapulted "Acts" into the public spotlight. First, touring with Barry exposed them to a built-in audience each concert. Second, "Easter Song" was getting airplay on secular radio stations as well as the few contemporary Christian programs that existed them. Too, their album, With Footnotes had taken off. By 1973, they entered the music ministry full-time. For the next twenty years, they would travel across America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and Western Europe singing about Jesus.

Today, aspiring Christian musicians often ask them how they too can "make it" in Christian music. Buck says, "I ask them, 'Do you feel you are to have a music ministry?' If they say 'Yes," I ask, 'Are you willing to have music ministry even if you never leave your own church, or your own home town?' If they hedge here, I'll ask, 'Are you looking for a music ministry or are you just looking for a career in music?'

"If you really want to have a music ministry, stay on your face before the Lord, and let God raise you up to use you the way He wants to."

Bringing the Band Together
Early on, "Acts" felt the need to have their own band. Nelly's close friend, Jamie Owens told them about a group of musicians at Church on the Way in Van Nuys. "They practice a lot," said Jamie, "but sometimes they don't even play-they just pray." That was good enough for Buck. He approached the band and asked them to pray about working with 2nd Chapter. "We already have," they responded, "and the answer is 'Yes!'"

Since the members of 2nd Chapter also worshipped at the same church, the result was a spiritual unity between the singers and the band members. Later the Lord revealed to them a principle from the life of Abraham. Buck explains, "When Abraham went to rescue his nephew Lot from the enemy, he took members of his own household with him to help. Similarly, the Lord showed us that we were to go out against the enemy with a band called David."

The result was a spiritual joining of forces between "Acts" and "A Band Called David." Perhaps the one person who influenced the "Acts" more profoundly than anyone else was the unassuming pastor of Church on the Way, Jack Hayford. The group began attending Church on the Way when the congregation was less than one hundred strong. (Today, the congregation numbers in the thousands.) "He helped us understand who we are, how to minister, and how to order our priorities," says Buck. "Jack Hayford taught us principles of spiritual integrity, and how to avoid the snares of the enemy."

Indirectly, Jack Hayford also inspired one of 2nd Chapter's most adventurous albums, The Roar of Love, based on C. S. Lewis's classic stories, The Chronicles of Narnia. As Buck and Annie were driving to a camp where they were to minister together, Hayford suddenly said, "Annie, you need to read about Narnia!" Annie had read other works of C. S. Lewis, but was unfamiliar with the Chronicles. When she returned home, she immediately purchased a set and devoured all seven books in one sitting!

Over several years she collected enough songs for an album, centering around Lewis's story, "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. It would be some time, however, before the album ever was released. But change was in the wind.

Stop, Look and Listen
In 1976, "The 2nd Chapter of Acts" arrived at a crossroads: "Should we or should we not continue?" was the question. Prior to this, the ministry of "Acts" had grown out of the Herring-Ward family relationships. Nelly and Matthew had been drawn into the ministry primarily because of those relationships, and they'd been happy to comply. They'd faithfully helped Annie and Buck pursue the vision God had given to them. Now, however, as they approached adulthood, Nelly and Matt felt it was time to discern what God's will and call involved for themselves.

Furthermore, the family sensed that the "group" had in many ways become an entity of its own. They were no longer the Herrings and the Wards; they had become "The 2nd Chapter of Acts." As Nelly explains, "It got to the point where we didn't know if we were 'The 2nd Chapter of Acts,' or if 'Acts' was us. We were almost becoming a machine-the ministry was taking over the family, instead of being an extension of the family. It was like the tail wagging the dog."3

Annie sensed the subtle shift, as well. "I felt I was becoming more of a part of a group, rather than Buck's wife. Buck had been doing his best to be fair by treating each of us the same. But I said, 'Wait a minute! I'm not the drummer. I'm not Matthew or Nelly. I'm your wife, and you are damaging our relationship by trying to treat us all the same.'

Consequently, "Acts" took time off to seek God, to grow in their relationships with each other and to clarify the call upon their lives. This did not mean sitting idle, though. For several weeks, Annie, Buck, Nelly and Matthew toured as part of Jimmy and Carol Owens's popular, bicentennial musical, "If My People." After three weeks on the road, Buck returned home to produce Phil Keaggy's album, Love Broke Through. A few weeks later, Annie and Matthew came home. Nelly decided to stay. While on the tour she met and got to know a young singer named Steve Greisen. They would marry in 1978.

It was during the '76 sabbatical that "Acts" met another singer-songwriter who would profoundly influence their lives. Keith Green and "Acts" met while working together on a Terry Talbot album. Their friendship blossomed when Keith came to Matthew's birthday party at the Herring's new home in Burbank.

Buck recalls, "We had a rented harpsichord in the living room, and an antique, grand piano in the bedroom. Keith sat down at the harpsichord and began praising the Lord with some of his high-energy music. Before long, the whole party started doing a sort of spiritual 'bunny-hop,' winding around the room. The line danced out the sliding doors of our living room, across the patio, then in through the sliding doors of our bedroom, down the hallway and back into the living room. Keith was playing in the living room, but as soon as the group would go through the sliding doors, he'd jump off the stool, race to the bedroom, and start pounding on the antique piano, just as the group came bouncing through the bedroom doors. He barely missed a measure. "That was Keith - high energy. He could just roll right over you…in love, of course."

Later, Keith wanted Buck to produce his albums, but Buck declined. "Keith, if you and I went into the studio together, it would be a war." "Hey, that's alright," said Keith. "There's a lot of creative energy that comes out of that. You don't have to agree all the time." "No, Keith. I don't want to do that. If I go into the studio, I want it to be a pleasant experience."

Buck prayed about Keith's album, though, and felt that he should recommend a producer to him. "Look, Keith, I know a guy named Bill Maxwell. He worked with AndraƩ Crouch. I'll call him and introduce you to him. He'll do a good job for you." Buck's introduction turned out to be a fantastic musical match. Bill produced all of Keith's Christian albums, which became classics.

Back to Work
By the end of the 1976 break, "Acts" had redefined their ministry. Both questions, "Should we continue?" and "Do you feel that God has called you to this work?" were answered in the affirmative by everyone. Furthermore, by taking the year off from touring as a group, they'd learned a number of personal lessons: how to better appreciate each other, and how to allow each person freedom to be himself. Consequently, 1976 marked a major turning point in their ministry.

Following their recommitment, "Acts" went back into the studio to record The Roar of Love. Says Annie, "For the first time we had fun in the studio, and that came from a new sense of freedom and release." Part of the fun could be attributed to the fact that the studio in which they recorded the vocals did not have a window through which Buck could see the singers. Normally, while recording, Matthew loved to "cut up," laughing and goofing off until the second the "Record" mode was triggered. Yet because of his incredible vocal ability, he could still hit his notes. Meanwhile, Annie and Nelly would be convulsing in laughter, and Buck would be fuming in the control room. On The Roar of Love, since Buck couldn't see the singers, he never knew what was going on behind the partition.

Although the album was completed, the release date of The Roar of Love would be long delayed by contractual and copyright problems. Yet, the detours proved to be providential.

If you are interested in collecting a larger selection of 2nd Chapter of Acts albums on CD, check out the special value of ACTS PACKS ONE and TWO in out online store for a ggreat savings on these collections.

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