Attending Gloria and Bill Gaither’s songwriting workshop was an amazing experience. For those two icons of gospel music to be willing to offer their experience to others who share a similar calling is astouding in itself. Putting together a group of other Grammy and Dove award winning songwriters, who were equally enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge, made every minute of the four day event a blessing beyond anything I might have expected.
I have to tell you this story though.
I have often said that I think God sometimes says, “Hey, y’all come watch what we’re going to do with Chip. This is going to be hilarious.”
At Ragtown, I’m always smack in the middle of everything. I get a whole lot of attention for everything I do. I had made a conscious decision that when I got the the Gaither workshop, that I would sit quietly and try to soak up everything that was offered. The last thing I intended was to be the center of attention. I was there to learn.
Well, we had a delayed flight which made me late arriving at the conference. The first event was a dinner, and it was ending by the time I arrived.
I located a staff member who escorted me to the dining room, and as I walked in, Gloria Gaither, who was on the stage speaking, gestured toward me and said, “Well there he is now!” The room erupted in long and enthusiastic applause.
I muttered an awkward “thank you” and asked the closest table if I could join them.
Gloria said, “No, come on up here!” So, what else could I do? Gloria Gaither asked me to come join her on the stage. I went up and joined her on the stage.
I stammered some kind of apology for being late, and something about plane connections. Gloria assured me that it was okay, and they had been waiting for me to get started.
Then she posed a question about my music, and began to say glowing things about my influence on worship music around the world. It was just about the greatest experience a gospel songwriter could have…Gloria Gaither, who has been named “Songwriter of the Century” telling me how great my music is, and what a powerful impact it has had.
The only problem was…I knew she was not talking about me. It wasn’t until she said something about “Celtic influence” that it clicked.
What I didn’t know was that one of the featured songwriters, Robin Mark, the guy from Ireland who wrote the world reknowned worship song, “Days of Elijah” had experienced similar airport delays, and was also late for the dinner.
Then as Gloria continued talking (and I admit I have no idea what else she said) I was trying to think how I could tell Gloria Gaither that I was not who she thought I was. I hadn’t been there five minutes and I was going to have to embarrass the first lady of gospel music.
Suddenly she thrust the microphone into my hand, and I just looked at her and said, “That’s not who I am.”
The room erupted in laughter, and the next couple of minutes are a blur, but I think it was something like…
Chip: “That’s not who I am.”
Gloria: “Then who are you?”
Chip: “I’m Chip. From Texas.”
By then Gloria was laughing as well, and she said, “Well…Chip…since you’re up here, let me ask you about your expectations for the workshop. What are you hoping to get out this?”
She gave me back the microphone, and I could have said something nice, but instead, being Chip from Texas I said, “My money’s worth.”
A lot more laughter.
Before the thing was over, Bill Gaither got in on the joke as well, calling me Robin every time he saw me. When the real Robin Mark arrived the next day, I wore a “Batman” tee shirt so everyone could tell us apart.
So much for sitting unabtrusively and soaking up the inspiration that these amazing people offered in such abundance. I did indeed soak it up, but unabtrusively? Not so much.
There is one footnote. Our guests were invited to a couple of the evening events, and I took my wife, of course. When I introduced her to Gloria Gaither, it was sort of the perfect conclusion to the ongoing amusement.
“Gloria, I’d like for you to meet my wife…Robin.”