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Music man'ss circuit takes him out of town
more than forty weekend gigs a year

 
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Music man Ross Jutsum's circuit takes him out of town
for more than forty weekend gigs a year

by Dixon Cartwright
 

BIG SANDY, Texas--Everybody's heard of Ross Jutsum. At least you've heard of him if you're in the WCG/GCI or one of the splits. Chances are he wrote at least a few songs in your group's hymnal.

Dr. Jutsum (he has a doctorate in music arts from the University of North Texas) was musical even from his youth.

He no longer travels around the country with WCG pastor general Herbert W. Armstrong, the WCG founder having died 23 years ago. But the native Australian and naturalized citizen of the U.S.A. (he has held dual citizenship since 2004) still makes music in more ways than one.

The 55-year-old resident of Sierra Madre, Calif., plays and sings every week for Christian fellowships and other gatherings to inspire Christians of many stripes in their efforts to worship God and Jesus.

One-man show

Dr. Jutsum stopped off in Big Sandy the Sabbath of April 18, 2009, to participate in church services of the independent Church of God Big Sandy and present a community concert, a one-man show, in the church's building on Saturday evening.

Then Dr. Jutsum, who performs his own and others' songs and even takes requests during his concerts, was off to do something similar the next day in a Baptist church in nearby Gladewater.

In Big Sandy Dr. Jutsum's presentations had him singing while simultaneously caressing the 88 weighted keys of the CGBS's Yamaha Clavinova.

The audience could sing along thanks to the accompanying PowerPoint text on the large screen overhead.

In his Sabbath presentation, and in an interview the next day with this reporter and CGBS pastor and Journal columnist Dave Havir, Dr. Jutsum explained how he got here from where he was back in 1997.

That was the last year of Ambassador University, when many members of the COG splits last heard from him.

But first he began at the beginning.

Passed up a free ride

Ross Frederick Jutsum was born in Warwick, Queensland, Australia, population 10,000, Nov. 30, 1953, and soon learned to play the family's old upright.

He, his parents and four siblings lived in the farming community of Warwick. His father sold life insurance, mainly to farmers.

Ross was musical from an early age.

"My family tell me I was playing songs like 'God Save the Queen' with both hands when I was 2 years old, but my earliest specific memory was in grade one, when I told my teacher that I'd like to show her how the song should be played."

He began taking piano lessons at age 6 and continued with them through high school.

"I also taught myself to play guitar and bass when I was 13 and formed a rock band."

Ross won a prestigious scholarship, upon his high-school graduation in 1971, that would have been a "free ride," he said, from the bachelor's through the doctor's programs at the University of Queensland.

"However, I became interested in the church [the Worldwide Church of God] at that time.

"I did start at the university majoring in music, but I also applied for Ambassador about halfway through my first year at the university in Brisbane."

His counselors at the school pressed him to decide whether to work toward a career as a concert pianist or as a teacher. During the second semester of his freshman year he told them:

"You know, I think I'm going to go off to England and see the world."

Translation: "I've decided to attend Ambassador College."

Three years at Bricket Wood

Ross studied the Bible and other subjects for three years at Ambassador in Bricket Wood, England, until it closed in 1974.

"But," he said, "I was asked to stay on [in Bricket Wood] to fill two roles, as music teacher at Imperial School and to put together a group of singers, kind of a precursor to the Young Ambassadors called the New World Singers."

Imperial was the grade, elementary and high schools the WCG operated on all three Ambassador campuses. The young Mr. Jutsum found himself teaching all of Imperial's music classes from kindergarten to grade 12 and organizing a group of young adults and teens to serve as a public-relations tool for the church.

In 1975, a year after Ambassador shut down in Britain, Imperial in that country also succumbed. But Mr. Jutsum went to Pasadena and served as a church, or maybe as a college, employee.

In the spring of 1975, after moving to Big Sandy, Texas, the younger Mr. Armstrong, Garner Ted, invited Mr. Jutsum to work directly for him, even though Garner Ted lived in California.

Mr. Jutsum's duties included playing for sing-alongs when Mr. Armstrong was in town ("in England we used to call them hootenannies"), and Mr. Jutsum was involved with the church's Summer Educational Program (SEP) in various locations, including Scotland.

"I actually wrote a song when Garner Ted came to visit the camp at Loch Lomond, 'Welcome Mr. GTA,'" he remembers. "I had all the campers sing this song. He was really moved by it. It was the same melody as 'Welcome to Ambassador.' You might remember that."

The unforgettable Dr. Hoeh

Ross had met both evangelists Armstrong on the same day in Pasadena, Calif., at the "faculty reception" for new students in 1971. Although he was headed from Australia to England, his travel to the British Isles had taken him first to California.

At the reception "the person I remember meeting that evening that actually made an even stronger impression on me than did the Armstrongs was Herman Hoeh."

When Dr. Hoeh, a WCG evangelist and AC faculty member, heard Ross's Aussie accent, he said: "Young man, you do realize that Australia is a cultural vacuum?"

Nevertheless, "we became friends," Dr. Jutsum said.

Music in Pasadena

Ross's church employment took him from England to California to work for Garner Ted Armstrong in the church's personal-appearance department.

In Pasadena in the late '70s he worked with another WCG musician, Terry Miller, in leading the Young Ambassadors music group, although at first it was called the New World Singers rather than the YAs.

"When the Big Sandy campus closed down in 1977, we had only the one group left in Pasadena," he said. "I was the director for the 23 years of the main group."

He was also responsible for some of the logistics of organizing Garner Ted's personal appearances, specifically having to worry about advertising, radio and television publicity and travel arrangements.

In Big Sandy for his last two Ambassador-student years, the young Mr. Jutsum graduated in May 1976, a year behind the class he had started with.

He stayed in Big Sandy until 1978, when the church decided to move the personal-appearance department to California from Texas.

That year was a big one for the church. Garner Ted Armstrong left the employ and membership of the church ("he was kicked out," said Dr. Jutsum) and began the Church of God International in Tyler, Texas.

"When Ted left in '78, that was the end of the personal-appearance department."

Organizing melodies

In Pasadena Mr. Jutsum, not a doctor yet, began a church department called music services that mainly concerned itself with organizing songs and scores for Feast of Tabernacles sites.

"That was quite a lot of fun. I interfaced with pastors and scheduled music coordinators for the U.S. and Canadian Feast sites."

His duties in music services "morphed into more of a faculty position," he remembers. "We started the YA films in 1980, and the YAs became a formal college class.

"Then I was teaching the band and directing the band and soon after that became the chair of the music department. I think that was around the mid-'80s."

Last of the three

In 1997 the chaos in the Worldwide Church of God was inspiring many church members to wrench themselves from the mother church, even though they had supported it for many years.

That year the college, by then an accredited university, shut down for the last of several times. Big Sandy was the last of the three Ambassador campuses.

"In 1995, two years before the college closed, I had finished my doctorate and wasn't opposed to continuing in some kind of educational role," Dr. Jutsum remembers.

"But I was open to other things, because, really, for a good part of my employ with the church I think I enjoyed working for the church every bit as much as what I did for the college.

"That was especially true when we introduced the hymnals and new music to the church. That was fun."

Without a job

In the summer of 1997, right after the last AC, or AU, commencement exercise, "my friend Martha Williamson had heard the college was closing."

Ms. Williamson was the producer, main writer and driving force behind the popular Touched by an Angel series on CBS television from 1994 to 2003. She was also the inspiration for Steven Waldman's startup of Beliefnet.com in 1999.

Dr. Jutsum met Martha shortly after she graduated from Williams College in 1977 and moved to Pasadena to "break into show business," as she put it.

"Tammy and I were dating, and we met Martha at the apartment of a college friend of hers who lived in the same complex. Several days later we were all three guests of a Pasadena community leader for a concert at Ambassador Auditorium. When our host introduced us, we told him we'd already met."

One day in 1997 Ms. Williamson phoned from California.

"I heard the college is closing," she said to Dr. Jutsum. "That means you'll probably be without a job. I've got a job for you. I want you to produce my wedding."

Producing a wedding wasn't a full-time commitment, but the project led to Ms. Williamson introducing Ross to Jack Hayford at his office in Van Nuys, Calif.

Dr. Hayford is the 74-year-old pastor of The Church on the Way, a big congregation in Van Nuys. Pastor Hayford has written many books and composed the popular hymn "Majesty."

"You need to meet my pastor," Mrs. Williamson said.

On his next trip to California "I had this meeting with Jack Hayford," Dr. Jutsum said. "I'd heard of him. I knew his song 'Majesty,' which is a wonderful hymn.

"He had known about the Worldwide Church of God and had followed what had been transpiring. He was just very encouraging."

Dr. Jutsum had no intention of starting any kind of ministry, he said, but after lunch one day, while they were talking in Dr. Hayford's car outside The Church on the Way's office, Dr. Hayford asked Dr. Jutsum if he could pray for him.

"I said sure. Why not? And, literally in the course of a five-minute prayer, it was very clear to me that God was using him to call me into a full-time ministry. He even gave me the name in the prayer, just in passing, for State of the Heart Ministries."

So Dr. Jutsum began State of the Heart, and 12 years later he's still carrying out his work of visiting a variety of churches that have taken him to more than 40 countries throughout the years.

"In some," he said, "they clap their hands. Some raise their hands. And some sit on their hands.

"But, just as there is tremendous variety and, yes, even friendly disagreement among various Churches of God, there's tremendous variety in every stream, if you will, of Christianity.

"For example, when people hear 'Pentecostal' they get very nervous. They think of speaking in tongues and other manifestations they might consider strange.

"But that is the exception, not the rule. I have been in many Pentecostal churches where there was none of that, yet there was a really strong presence of the Holy Spirit. It was all good and healthy."

Looking back, Dr. Jutsum said, Jack Hayford "almost gave me a template for the ministry, and maybe this is one of the reasons why I've been welcomed in so many places, because I do believe in the adage that in Christian essentials we should have unity. In nonessentials there's room for diversity."

Of necessity

Just what does Dr. Jutsum believe are the essentials of Christianity?

"I'm not a theologian," he responded. "I've read the Bible numerous times and I study and am learning, but it's an ongoing process. I'm no expert in anything, although I work with music, worship and praise."

The essentials, he said, are that "God so loved the world, John 3:16, and whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.

"Now, exactly how one approaches beliefs and how you support that particular scripture with other verses from the Bible: We could talk about that till the cows come home."

The essentials, he said, focus on the concept that "God is not some distant, out-of-touch, grumpy guy in the outer parts of the universe waiting to zap us.

"He showed this clearly, when He sent Jesus, that He wants to have a personal relationship with us."

One of Dr. Jutsum's favorite Bible passages is John 15, which mentions an essential aspect of Christianity: that Christians abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in them.

Formal membership

Dr. Jutsum touched on his formal church membership, which is still with the Worldwide Church of God, or, as it is also recently correct to call it, Grace Communion International.

"Although I don't attend a local WCG congregation on a regular basis, I'm in WCG congregations almost every other week" while traveling the State of the Heart circuit.

The changes

The Journal asked Dr. Jutsum how he dealt with the doctrinal changes in the mid-1990s. He must have accepted them, since he is still a WCG/GCI member. How did he come to embrace them?

"Well, let me go back to an experience I had with Mr. Armstrong that I haven't talked too much about," he began.

"I spent a lot of time with him because he loved the Young Ambassadors, and, frankly, in his last few years he was kind of lonely, and, frankly, I don't know that he could trust a lot of people.

"I didn't especially try to spend a lot of time with him, but he liked the music. We had that in common. And I'll never forget one day in the early '80s, probably 1981 or '82, he said to me: 'Ross, do you know a man by the name of Harvey Christen?'

"I said, 'Yes, I do, sir.'"

Harvey Christen was never a member of the Worldwide Church of God, Dr. Jutsum explained, but he lived in Pasadena, and Mr. Armstrong got to know him.

Mr. Christen "was known around town as Mr. Lockheed," Dr. Jutsum said, "because he had been an executive with Lockheed Aircraft, head of their skunk works in Burbank."

When Mr. Christen retired, he and Mrs. Christen would attend concerts in the Ambassador Auditorium, and they began to make friends with many of the AC students, inviting them to their home, especially students who hailed from foreign lands.

"Then Mr. Armstrong said something that I'll never forget. He said, 'I believe that Harvey Christen is a true-Christian man.'

"Now, needless to say, Mr. Christen was never part of our church, never a part of any of the Churches of God. In fact, I'm not sure that he and his wife even went to church anywhere that often.

"But I had to agree with Mr. Armstrong because I felt that the love that [Mr. Christen] showed, the patience, the joy that he and his wife radiated, that they shared with other people, didn't come naturally. It was not necessarily the human kind."

Dr. Jutsum thinks Mr. Armstrong believed and indeed acknowledged, while speaking of Mr. Christen, that a Christian isn't one who is necessarily a member of a group that happens to go by the name Church of God and not even necessarily a keeper of the seventh-day Sabbath.

"I'm not putting down keeping a day of rest," he continued, "because I think that can have its place."

But the metamorphosis of the WCG, he said, inspired him to focus particularly on a verse attributed to the apostle Peter:

"You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

"The priesthood now is the priesthood of believers," Dr. Jutsum said. "There's no official temple. So if that's the case I would propose that we are all priests; we are all servants of the Lord. We are living sanctuaries.

"So, yes, the worship happens in the Father's house, but, just as important, it should happen in this house [he pointed to himself when he said 'house'] in our daily lives.

"So, rather than sit around and argue about this or that particular doctrine, I don't think the day of worship is an essential."

Guess what

Dr. Jutsum said he could guess what The Journal's next question might be: Why does he minimize or even disregard the Fourth Commandment but regard, at least in the spirit of the law, the other nine?

"I have total respect for those who hold the Sabbath in high esteem," he said. "However, I would say that one of the essentials is that Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath. He is the Lord of everything, and I think, if we ever get to the place where we are putting a day above Jesus, that's when we're missing an important part of the Gospel."

He concluded this part of the interview: "I never intended to go there. That got heavy."

Weighty matters

When The Journal mentioned that the WCG's 1993 blue (some copies were maroon) hymnal was also heavy, speculating that it may have tipped the scale at as much as six pounds, Dr. Jutsum said he feels honored that the book includes 48 of his songs.

"I'm pleased and honored that at least some of my songs are still sung," he said.

His first hymn came along in 1974, "It Won't Be Long Now," page 298 in the 1993 songbook.

"Well, there may have been a song or two before 1974, but 'It Won't Be Long Now' is the first one I actually admit to having written. I wrote that the day they announced the closing of Bricket Wood."

On that momentous day 35 years ago he was sitting in Memorial Hall on the British campus and gazing at the church-college seal on the door, with its bas-relief of the lion, lamb and little child. Ross Jutsum composed the song, sung in many COG congregations down through the decades, in 20 minutes flat.

"Since then, in total, I've probably written a couple of hundred songs."

Incredible opportunities

Dr. Jutsum talked more about his relationship with old friends, including Herbert Armstrong.

"I certainly considered him to be a spiritual father in the faith," he said. "I am indebted to him for so many incredible opportunities, not just through the Young Ambassadors. I even played for Beverly Sills at Robert Kuhn's home after a concert. It was a song requested by Gen. Omar Bradley, who was sitting there in his wheelchair."

On the road again

Dr. Jutsum enjoyed a friendship as well with Garner Ted Armstrong.

"Of course, he loved music too. How many people have the chance to go on the road with Buck Owens? That was one opportunity that came about as a result of my friendship with GTA.

"Of course, I also cowrote some songs with GTA, including 'The Country I Love' and 'A Song With All the Country In.'"

The younger Mr. Armstrong was all set to officiate at the Jutsums' wedding in 1978.

"Garner Ted was supposed to marry us," he said. "But he got his walking papers a week before our wedding. That was May 14, Mother's Day, in 1978. Greg Albrecht stood in at the last minute."

Loyal and dependable

Dr. Jutsum also knew Joseph Tkach Sr., Mr. Armstrong's successor in 1986.

"When I was scheduling music and when I scheduled Joseph Tkach [to lead hymns], I knew that I could depend on him. I will say that was one of his hallmarks. I felt he was very loyal and dependable. He was one of the 22 bosses I had in my church and college career."

Reclosing Big Sandy

After the crisis at the close of the 1970s, which ushered in several significant events, including Garner Ted's exit in 1978 and the shuttering of the Big Sandy campus only days before it almost reopened, "I really had to start wondering," Dr. Jutsum said.

"I don't remember if it was before Mr. Armstrong died, but I think certainly in the mid-'80s Tammy and I had come to the conclusion that there were a lot of things that needed to be changed, not just doctrinally, but just the way we as a church treated people.

"I can't go into detail here, but, frankly, in some personal discussions with Mr. Armstrong I learned he felt the same way."

By the time of Dr. Jutsum's work on the 1996 big blue hymnal, "we were singing from the New Testament hardly at all, except for maybe 'God Speaks to Us' and a few other exceptions to the rule.

"I felt strongly, as we worked on the hymnal project, that we ought to sing some songs from the New Testament, and I certainly wanted--but wasn't allowed--to include 'Amazing Grace.'"

An unforgettable moment in the history of the hymnal for Dr. Jutsum came and went when his daughter Heidi took a copy of the new book to her middle-school class in Gladewater, near Big Sandy, and a classmate immediately opened the index to look for "Amazing Grace" and couldn't find it.

1995 rumor

Back in about 1995 a rumor traveled around East Texas and elsewhere that Ross Jutsum had referred to the old WCG and the brethren who were sticking with the former doctrines, including the traditional WCG version of law and grace and the Sabbath, as a "cult."

Would Dr. Jutsum care to comment on that story?

"That's a good question," Dr. Jutsum began. "I had been playing the organ at a [Baptist] church in Gladewater, moonlighting, for a couple of years. When the things [new WCG doctrines and policies] started to coalesce, the pastor of the church asked me if I could come and share a little bit about what was going on with the church on a Sunday evening.

"Apparently a few [Ambassador] students got wind of this and decided to come and take notes.

"And it was in their notes that I reportedly used the cult word.

"But I hardly ever used that word."

Dr. Jutsum was "pretty sure" he had not used the "C word," he said. "I don't like that word.

"So I went back to the secretary at the Baptist church the next day and I said, 'You didn't happen to record the service last night, did you?' She said, 'I always record the service.'"

So Dr. Jutsum took a cassette-taped recording of his comments to the Baptists back to his secretary on campus and had her transcribe it.

"It's my recollection that I did not use the word, and we posted the entire transcript. I don't have it anymore, but that's my recollection."

Further, he said, "I don't know that in my 12 years of ministry" since leaving the employ of the church "I've ever said anything negative about Mr. Armstrong. I don't see the point. What's important for me is my relationship with God and, by extrapolation, with my fellowman.

"And what's important for Mr. Armstrong or you or anyone else is the same thing."

Personal beliefs

Dr. Jutsum talked about the changes in his personal beliefs that may have been influenced by the changes in the church's approach to doctrines and other matters.

"I would say it's clear that our [State of the Heart] ministry is interdenominational, transdenominational and nondenominational. It's totally independent. I don't answer to a church. I answer to God.

"I envision the Church of God as I hope it will be one day, because right now it's a pretty big mess. I believe the Church of God is the Body of Christ on the earth, and it's imperfect, just as the human race is imperfect.

"Christ, I believe, created all things. He was the Word, and He created human beings, and He created us as the pinnacle of His creation, and we are all made in the image of God, and yet we're all unique and different."

Dr. Jutsum's changing views have embraced an inclusive take on the appropriateness of diverse genres of music and the ways to implement them in Christian worship.

"God created us with different musical tastes," he said. "Some people like strawberry, vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and some like it all mixed together.

"But there are guidelines in the Bible that say we should rejoice, we should pray always, we should sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, even play the tambourine and dance in church.

"So it's not surprising to me that, because the human family is so diverse, the Body of Christ is likewise diverse in its styles of worship and in its doctrine to a certain extent.

"One essential I did not intend to omit in our earlier discussion [about the necessary elements of Christianity] is that I believe we are saved by grace, that we can do nothing to earn God's love. He loves us unconditionally in spite of ourselves.

"I get a little weary of people who get so carried way with prophecy that they forget about the weighty matters.

"They get so carried away with pre- or amillennial twigs that we forget that God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and forget about Jesus and the beauty and majesty God is offering to us for all of eternity."

A church with no ordinances

One of the churches Dr. Jutsum has served and has found fascinating is the Salvation Army.

"I've been a guest in a couple of their groups," he said. "I have great respect for the Salvation Army, and they don't have any ordinances in their church.

"They don't do baptism, and they don't do the Lord's Supper. That is, they don't do it literally.

"Their thinking is when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior we are immersed in His life, and the actual physical act, then, becomes optional. They don't insist on it being done.

"Frankly, the more I experience the differences in the Body, the more I ask can we really be as cut and dried as we want to be. God is not boxable."

Not sure

Dr. Jutsum mentioned he had not been at all sure he wanted to participate in this interview.

"I don't think it's my place to have this kind of discussion," he said. "That's not my ministry.

"I'm not a theological consultant. I'm not really a great student of the Bible. I've never taken any advanced classes in theology.

"I think it's counterproductive to try to say, well, this is wrong about this group and that's wrong about this other group. We could spend a lot of time doing that."

'The Shack'

Dr. Jutsum wound down the conversation by asking his interviewers if they had read The Shack, a best-selling self-published book by former hotel night clerk William P. Young that came out in 2007.

"I read it, like, almost two years ago," Dr. Jutsum said. "I couldn't put it down."

So The Journal invited Dr. Jutsum to summarize The Shack in one brief sentence:

"Oh, this is heavy, but here goes. God the Father and Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit have existed for all eternity, and They have had a relationship that is so incredible that human minds can't even begin to grasp a scintillionth of it, but They want us to participate in that relationship for all eternity, and, even though The Shack is fiction, I think it makes the point, and it shatters a lot of preconceptions as to what God is like."

In his next breath Dr. Jutsum declined to provide Journal readers with a spoiler.

"I won't give the ending away," he said, "but, when you see the person in the fictional story who plays the role of God the Father, you will be surprised."

Hint: It's not George Burns.

Requests to play

Dr. Jutsum accepts requests to play his music on stage for any congregation, and frequently in other venues such as nursing homes, and has never turned down an invitation, except for scheduling conflicts.

Family and contacting

Dr. Jutsum lives in Southern California with his wife, Tammy. They have two daughters, Lisa, 21, a senior at Wheaton College in Chicago, Ill., and Heidi, 24, who, along with her husband, Ryan, lives in New Haven, Conn., where he is pursuing his graduate work at Yale Divinity School.

To invite Dr. Jutsum to present a musical event in your building or other location, write him at State of the Heart Ministries, P.O. Box 56, Sierra Madre, Calif. 91025, U.S.A., or rossjutsum@stateoftheheart.org.



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