Visit the Canton Jesus People website
In The Beginning -
The Jesus Movement of the 1970's was a sovereign move of the Holy Spirit among the youth culture throughout all parts of western civilization, especially here in the United States. It wasn't simply a fad that somehow "caught on", with lots of young people just thinking it was a cool thing to do. It began completely independently in widely separated areas among people with no connection at all to each other. All over, these young people were having radical life-changing encounters with Jesus Christ, Himself. Some of them experienced this in the context of a local church or ministry. Others were brought into this experience by their recently-enlightened friends, or maybe even by the simple words of total strangers. In homes, churches, & coffeehouses they all began gathering together in groups with other young people who'd had similar experiences, to better understand just what had happened to them and to learn more about Jesus from the Bible.
Canton, Ohio -
A small group of these first Jesus People in Canton, Ohio were getting together with each other for fellowship and sharing their new-found faith with their friends. They had visited some churches, but weren't consistently attending any one of them. One day, in the spring of 1970, a couple of them walked past the place near downtown Canton where a large hole had been dug for the basement of a new addition to a church. The pastor, David Lombardi, and a couple of others from the church were down in the hole digging the footers for the new walls. Butch Davis, one of these new Jesus People, called down to the pastor and asked if he could talk to him. Pastor Lombardi, known to everyone as "Bro. Dave", reluctantly came up out of the hole to see what he wanted. Butch told him that they believed in Jesus and wanted to talk with him about The Lord. Bro. Dave says that he was somewhat rude to Butch at the time because he didn't have a good opinion of those he thought of as "hippies". He told Butch that if he was serious about The Lord and interested in this fellowship he could show up tomorrow and help them get these footers in. Butch accepted that challenge and, much to Bro. Dave's surprise, showed up the next morning with another of the "hippies" and started helping them with the footers. From that day on, a few of them showed up every day until not just the footers, but the whole building was completed.
A few weeks after that initial meeting, Bro. Dave got a phone call late one evening about midnight. It was those hippies, and they asked if he would come down to the house where they were gathered that night and answer some questions they had about the Bible. Bro. Dave really didn't want to go and felt relieved that he had a good excuse that evening - his wife was away with their only car so he couldn't come. But, that was not a problem for these Jesus Hippies. They said that they'd just come pick him up and then take him back home later. Bro. Dave started to decline their invitation, but then felt that God wanted him to go. Butch Davis and one of the others came and picked him up. Entering the dimly lit house, Bro. Dave was somewhat afraid of what he was getting himself into. Around the room were several of these hippie-types - some sitting cross-legged on the floor, some with beards, long hair, tie-dyed T-shirts, ragged pants - and all of them had their eyes glued on him. They began their questions: "Do you believe Jesus is coming soon?", "Do you believe in speaking in tongues?", "What about the Rapture?", and other very sincere and thoughtful questions that convinced him they were for real. Bro. Dave says, "That began the most interesting period of my life". From these encounters the Jesus Movement in Canton, Ohio became centered around this small "trans-denominational" church called Trinity Gospel Temple.
Trinity Gospel Temple -
Trinity Gospel Temple began in November, 1964 with 22 people attending the first service. Within 3 years, the average attendance was up to about 100. Their first church building was a former Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall near downtown Canton. At the time of Bro. Dave's initial contact with the Jesus People, work had begun on expanding the building for a new sanctuary. The Jesus People at Trinity Gospel Temple started small but soon grew into a significant part of the congregation. They were fully involved in the church - teaching Sunday School, working in the Day Care Center, singing in the choir, playing in the church band, attending every service (Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, & Weds. evenings), playing many of the parts in the annual Easter Play, and showing up for every function at the church camp.
The Jesus People -
Dozens of local Canton high school kids and college-age hippies had all fallen in love with Jesus. That's really the best way to describe it - they'd fallen in LOVE with Jesus! At this point in their young lives they wanted nothing more than to hang out with each other and talk about The Lord, sing songs about Jesus, read the Bible, and pray together. The Bibles they carried around with them every minute of every day were well worn and well read from cover to cover. If you looked through some of their Bibles, you'd find written notes and underlined verses on almost every page - Old and New Testaments. Along with their active involvement in Trinity Gospel Temple, their love for being with each other drew them together at most other times too. They had their own Bible Studies on Tuesday & Friday evenings, went witnessing together among the young people hanging out in the city parks & other places around town, and regularly visited the various Christian Coffeehouses around Canton, Akron, and Kent. A few times they went as a group to the Indian River Juvenile Correction Facility in Massillon to sing some songs for the inmates and give testimonies. They held their own baptisms for new Jesus People in the river at Gorge Park in nearby Akron. The primary leader & teacher who had emerged among the Jesus People during this time was an articulate young man named Mike Covert. Other leaders assisting him at various times included Ted Larson and Scott Holland. The Canton Jesus People also had frequent contact with the Jesus People in other areas, especially those in Akron. The Akron Jesus People were centered mostly around The Avalon, a former coffeehouse that became the central meeting place for the new young believers in Akron. The leader among the Akron Jesus People was Craig Yoe, an artist whose artistic and other talents created a wonderful Christian counterculture newspaper originally called "The Acorn", then simply called "Jesus Loves You".
Jesus People Center -
After initially having their meetings in the basement of Trinity Gospel Temple, The Jesus People eventually rented a house just a couple blocks from the church and started having their meetings there. They had a large sign installed on the front of the house that said, "Jesus People Center". On "off nights", when there were no meetings, they still gathered at "The Center" to hang out, fellowship, and study the Bible. It wouldn't be unusual to walk through the house and listen a theological discussion in one room, hear Praise & Worship songs from another room, see one or two people quietly reading their Bibles in another room, and watch a few of them gathered in a small prayer circle in yet another room. Eventually, the name of the Jesus People Center was changed to "The Shepherd's Inn" and a new sign was installed on the house. Not too long after this name change, the house was to be torn down so the Shepherd's Inn was moved to another house on the same block where the church was. Over the years, the number of Jesus People coming to the Shepherd's Inn began to thin out as they got busy with other things in their lives. There became less and less of a need to keep a central meeting place like this. Many of the remaining Jesus People had been studying about Christian Communities and communal living, so some of the members of the group decided to try living together communally. Two houses were bought by individual members and each had several people living in them. The Shepherd's Inn ceased to exist at that point and the meetings were moved to one of these communal houses.
Music was a very important part of the cultural environment of the Canton Jesus People. There were several guitar players among them, so there was never a lack of guitars strumming along to the music in their meetings. Most of the Praise & Worship songs sung during the early Jesus People meetings were simple campmeeting-style choruses. Initially, there was precious little of the new "Jesus Music" available. As the Jesus Music artists began releasing albums and touring, the Jesus People brought many of them to Trinity Gospel Temple for concerts under the name of "Rainbow Community Productions". Among the more famous ones who came were Larry Norman, Honeytree, Phil Keaggy, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Barry McGuire, & Randy Matthews. In the spring of 1976, with the help of other Jesus People groups in NE Ohio, they brought Love Song to an Akron theater during their reunion tour. There were several singer/songwriters that arose from among the Canton Jesus People - Jeff Layton, Ron Brahler, Jeff Poulos, Mike Kellogg, Pat Larson, David Grubbs, Rick Kimble, etc. They wrote their own songs and sang them during the meetings and at the Christian Coffeehouses that were springing up in the area. At first they sang individually, then sometimes together in various combinations. Eventually a couple bands formed, The Driving Sideways Folk Band and The Mike Kellogg Band. Since they usually played at the same places on the same nights, these two bands eventually merged into one band called Whirlwind. The name of the band was taken from the Bible story about God speaking to Job from out of the whirlwind. Whirlwind played all around Ohio and beyond during the heyday of the Christian Coffeehouses.
It's been quite a few years since the days of The Jesus Movement in Canton. By the end of the 70's they ceased being an identifiable group as little by little they went their seperate ways. Some went away to college. Some moved away to live in other cities and other states. Many of them eventually married and started families of their own. A couple of them went into the ministry. Some fell out of love with Jesus, and others wandered through a spiritual wilderness for a time before returning to their "first love". A remnant is still part of the congregation at Trinity Gospel Temple today.
Trinity Gospel Temple is still a thriving church in Canton, Ohio, and in 2004 celebrated their 40th anniversary. Bro. Dave Lombardi is still the pastor and still refers to the Jesus People era as a positive time in the history of the church. As the congregation got larger, they outgrew the church building that they had enlarged in 1970. In 1976 the church moved a little farther west of downtown Canton into a large vacant department store building. Their ministry extends beyond Canton through radio, TV, and internet ministries. You can check out their website at www.trinitybrotherdave.org for current information about the church.
This history was written by Dan Richards, who was one of the Canton Jesus People through most of the events recorded here. He was one of their many guitarists, and played in the band at Trinity Gospel Temple and in the Jesus People music groups, The Mike Kellogg Band and Whirlwind. After living in one of their communal houses for a time, he moved to Boulder, Colorado in 1979. Returning to Canton in 1983, he's been back at Trinity Gospel Temple and back playing guitar in the church band there ever since. His fascination, since the early Jesus People days, with the study of Israel in Bible Prophecy has resulted in several trips to Israel and in the creation of a website - www.BiblicalZionist.com - which has been online since the summer of 2004.