Interview With Reba Praise

Photo by David Johanson

Photo by David Johanson

By Dennis M. Kelly (Chicago Music Guide)

In 1997, Scott and Helen created Reba Praise… how did the rest of the musicians become part of the band?

God sent us the people we needed. Rob and Mollie Bady heard about Reba Place by listening to an interview on WYLL back in 1996. Ken Stewart grew up here. Anne Gavitt moved here twenty years ago.

What was the music ministry like prior to Reba Praise?

Reba Place’s music has always been progressive in comparison with what other churches were doing. We had a praise band in the 1980s, long before that became a standard component. Singer-songwriter Jim Croegaert was our worship leader until the mid-nineties and Jim composed the core of our worship music. Two of his songs are on our Gospel Journey album.

What sort of impact has Reba Praise had on the congregation? And the community?

What we are doing at Reba Place is embracing the richness of the black gospel tradition in order to remain faithful to the good news itself. The white church needs the black church in order to be the true church. In the early 1990s Reba Place decided that it was a scandal to be a mostly white congregation in the midst of a racially and culturally mixed neighborhood. We had anti-racism workshops, we hired African-American pastoral staff, and we transformed the content and style of our Sunday morning worship. In some ways we just took this church apart and put it back together. It was a difficult transition. Many people left; but by God’s grace we came through to make an important witness in this community. Reba Praise is one fruit of that effort. God’s people are called to be one. The Bible talks about a church drawn from “every tongue, and tribe, and people, and nation.” (Revelation 14:6)

What we are doing at Reba Place is embracing the richness of the black gospel tradition in order to remain faithful to the good news itself.

How long have you all sang and played your instruments?

Helen learned piano as a child growing up in Brazil and then studied formally at Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College. Rob Bady grew up in a musical family that also produced his older brother Percy Bady and his younger brother Ray Bady. (Ray produced Gospel Journey). We all grew up in musical families, come to think of it. It’s been in the fabric of our beings from the beginning. It wasn’t until adulthood, however, that any of us really started using our singing gifts in a public way. Mollie and Rob started singing together as students at North Park University. Ken and Anne have been singing forever.

What sort of outreach programs do you have?

Reba Place Church is very committed to and invested in our local community. We began Reba Place Day Nursery over twenty years ago, one of the first preschool daycare nurseries in Evanston. The Reba Place Development Corporation develops and promotes affordable housing in Evanston. Senior Connections is our elder visitation ministry. We began the local homeless shelter, Hilda’s Place, that is now managed by Connections for the Homeless.

How long did it take you to put “Gospel Journey” together?

Well, it took a lot longer than we wanted it to! We had a lot of people help us out. Church members donated money for production costs. Doug Jones of Columbia College got us studio time and engineered the album for us. The recording happened over a two-week time span in the summer of 2004 but it wasn’t until the next summer of 2005 that the production was completed.

What Bible verse inspires each of you the most?

“One thing I ask of the Lord: that I may gaze on His beauty and dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.” (Psalms 27:4)

Besides your music, what are other areas of interest for you all?

We’re a pretty diverse bunch. Helen teaches music at North Park in Chicago. Rob is a former college basketball player and now is in medical sales. Mollie is a sign language interpreter. Ken is a carpenter (a craftsman actually!) Anne is an artist and illustrator.

If this is not too personal, what struggles do you face the most in your faith?

As a group the biggest struggle is keeping our focus on worship. It’s not about us – it’s about God. When we lead worship every week it can be easy to just go through the motions, mouth the words, but not have it come from our heart. We are constantly calling on God’s Spirit to renew our love and to help us be real. There’s a constant discipline of laying down our self-interested motives and egos. There’s a recognition that we have to be in right relationship with each other. There’s a constant call to be following hard after God all week long, and to let that worship lifestyle flow naturally into what we do on Sunday. Not easy though! We spend a lot of time in prayer asking God to refocus us, to heal us where things get broken, and then to just move through us. God likes to use yielded vessels, and thankfully, doesn’t demand perfection!

With wars, poverty and even secular music and TV getting more explicit, what is each of your thoughts on the state of the world?

Well, it all depends on where you live, doesn’t it? If I have a good job, a roof over my head, money in the bank, and family and friends who love me, then life can look pretty good. But that’s a pretty limited perspective. Jesus teaches us to look at our world from the perspective of those who do not share in these blessings (see Matthew 25). Unfortunately, the numbers of those people are growing day by day. In light of that perhaps the real question is not what is the state of the world, but what is the state of the church? Do we have anything to say? Do we have anything to show? As a church we have to take care of our own, and sometimes that can be a challenge in itself. But beyond that we have to look at brothers and sisters around the world. We are all sewn into the same garment. What affects one of us affects all of us.

If someone is reading this interview who has not given themselves to Christ yet, what would you like to share with them?

God is active in our world today creating a people who can talk the talk and walk the walk. Through the power of Jesus, those who become a part of that people discover a life that is full, abundant, and powerful. Somebody said that the definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over again but expecting different results. If you aren’t happy with the results you’re getting in your life, maybe you should think about trying a different way.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers today?

The old southern gospel song Holy Manna says “all is vain unless the Spirit of the holy one comes down.” We want God to be glorified in all that we do.