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Toledo singer-songwriter Kerry Clark has always focused on two main career goals: one is to make a living playing music, the other is to be authentic.
In recent years, those objectives have aligned in the local church, with Mr. Clark serving as the part-time director of contemporary music at Maumee United Methodist Church.
A former member of the New Christy Minstrels, Mr. Clark has resettled in the Toledo area where he continues to write and record his own music.
Tonight he will celebrate the release of his fifth CD, "On the Road to Human Being," with two free concerts at the Maumee church.
Does his new album fit into the Christian music genre?
"Well, yes and no," Mr. Clark said. "They're all God songs, but they're not Jesus songs."
That distinction, he said, hit him like a slap to the back of the head.
Since deciding more than 10 years ago that he was a Christian musician, Mr. Clark has released just one CD - a response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks titled "911 … Songs to Heal a Nation."
"After that, the music just dried up," Mr. Clark said in an interview this week.
It turned into an eight-year trek through a creative desert, but it also was a time of growth, Mr. Clark said. "Looking back, I can see God was in the whole thing. But I wasn't always happy at the time."
The dry spell began to end when a friend asked him a simple question. "He said, 'What kind of music do you do?' and I said, 'I'm a middle-aged, white, suburban guitarist. I play folk music.' And he said: 'What makes you think God can't be in that music?'•"
That's when he realized he had been trying to force his art and his faith into a "Christian music box."
When he decided to just be himself, the desert gave way to a river of creativity.
"The way I'm wired, I can't be anything but authentic," he said.
Mr. Clark, 45, said the turning point in his spiritual journey came when he was 29 years old and visited his sister in Los Angeles. They went to a support group for AIDS patients, something that was far out of his comfort zone.
The pastor spoke with such love and compassion it changed the way Mr. Clark felt about God and church, going from "an ethereal being who wants to judge me" to "having a relationship with Jesus Christ."
Mr. Clark's foray into leading worship services came 15 years ago when the Rev. Ken Heintzelman, then pastor of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in Millbury, Ohio, offered an invitation.
"I saw in Kerry [and his wife, Amy] authentic, gentle, and loving spirits," Mr. Heintzelman said from Phoenix, where he is a pastor. "In addition to being talented, I believed they would go beyond performance and create a safe and joyful atmosphere for giving praise and thanks."
Kerry Clark and band will perform at 7 and 9 p.m. today at Maumee United Methodist Church, 405 Sackett St., to celebrate the release of his new CD, "On the Road to Human Being." Admission is free. More information is available online at www.kerryclark.net.
- David Yonke