HOLIDAY — Pete Church first harnessed his love of music into something greater at age 14, when he wrote a love song for a girl. He said he soon went from "love of a girl to the love of God," and the music followed.
Now Church, 54, combines his passion for music with his devotion to God, reaching out to others who come to the upstairs studio of his Key Vista home to record their music.
The Upper Room Recording Studio caters mainly to local aspiring singers, instrumentalists and bands. Last year he helped make a record for a church praise band from Oregon, and he was recently contacted by a band in Malaysia that was going to be touring in the United States and needed a place to record.
"I'm helping people to realize their musical and expressive aspirations," said Church, a former hospital and hospice chaplain. "Music is a gift from God, and inspires us and comforts us in difficult times, and helps us celebrate during joyous occasions."
He'll produce anything from Christian music to heavy metal, but always in a "positive environment free of smoke and alcohol."
His studio includes framed prints of Dali paintings with religious undertones: one depicts the Last Supper, another shows the Crucifixion. Church has binders filled with songs he has written over the years, many of the handwritten pages yellowing from age. He said many of them are "love songs to God."
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Church calls himself a "military brat" who spent much of his young life on the move as his father was transferred among bases, then to the Pentagon, finally ending up at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Church became a military man himself, serving eight years in the Air Force, followed by stints in the Kentucky Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and the Army Reserve, where he served as a chaplain. He was ordained through the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisiana.
His own faith has been tested as he dealt with tragedies within his life and seeing the devastation experienced by others. But as the questions about God and faith grew, his faith became stronger.
"I have seen the best that life has to offer, and the worst that life has to offer," he said.
The worst was the death of his son, Spencer, who was hit by a car in 1983 at age 4. Spencer spent four months in a coma, then four years living with severe mental and physical impairments before dying in his sleep. Church and his wife later split.
That painful ordeal later helped Church in his roles as hospital and hospice chaplain, supporting patients and their families through life's transitions.
He served as a trauma chaplain at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg and as pastoral care manager at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital in Tarpon Springs. He later became chaplain at Gulfside Regional Hospice in Pasco and Suncoast Hospice in Pinellas, and was temporarily based out of Woodside Hospice when Terri Schiavo was a patient. He described sitting at her bedside as "extremely profound."
"I made her aware of my presence, even though I knew in my mind that she had no sense of awareness," he said. "In the unlikely event that she did, as a courtesy, you make them aware of your presence so as not to intrude."
Church said he was struck by "the profound sadness and sense of loss" in Schiavo's situation, and said he prayed with her "much like I would have done with my own son."
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Church remarried in 1997, and he and his wife, Debbie, have a teenage son who attends military school out of state. Church also has a grown daughter from his first marriage who is married and has her own children.
Through all of his ministering and chaplain work, his real passion has always been music. Pastoring helped him afford the equipment he needed and helped his music career grow. He has recorded a handful of Christian CDs and tapes over the years. He said many of his songs reflect "the tension between Christian faith and the realities of living in this world."
"I try to come up with ideas that are just a little off, to get people to think, to question," and to ultimately strengthen their faith, he said.
Andy Anderson, 58, a chaplain at Gulfside Regional Hospice, described Church as "very knowledgeable, very compassionate, (and) soft-spoken" when he worked at hospice. Anderson has also recorded music with Church.
"I was really impressed with his skills in the studio," said Anderson, who also writes music. "He kind of took me under his wing and taught me a lot of things."
Morrie Vozdecky, 38, lives in Church's neighborhood and plays heavy metal music, which Church helps him record.
"He was kind of like a mentor for me," Vozdecky said. "He inspired me."
Church has some minor health problems now — chronic stomach and intestinal problems that are still undiagnosed. But he continues to minister through his studio and through his music. He hosts occasional birthday parties where the kids can record their own music, and he performs at concerts in nursing homes and prisons.
He said one of his songs, called I Will Not Live My Life In Fear, sums up his own realizations later in life:
Even in these uncertain times, the light of love still shines.
"Faith in Motion" is a weekly feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.