by Manuel Luz, Creative Arts Pastor
Everyone has a story. You do, I do, we all do. In a very real sense, a church can be defined as a collection of shared stories brought together by their common faith in Jesus. God, the Author of Days, writes His Story and brings us together through it.
The story of Oak Hills Church contains thousands of stories. And as we approach our 30 Year Anniversary, we thought it would be appropriate to share our stories with one another. I invite you to hit this LINK for more information on how you can share your personal story with the rest of our community. But for now, I’d like to share one of my stories. And it goes way, way back—almost to the beginning of the church.
I first began attending Oak Hills in the fall of 1985. I was an extremely young aerospace engineer by day who played in bands and recording studios by night. And I was brand new to the faith. Truth be told, I had gone to another church in the area for a short while, but was getting distracted by all the pretty girls in the singles group. So a friend invited me to Oak Hills, explaining, “You should come. We don’t have any pretty girls.” (He meant unmarried ones.)
My first impression was a good one. Although the church was small and less than a year old, the people were friendly, the preaching was sound, and the snacks were good. I could sink myself into my Bible without distraction. It felt like a place I could be at for a long time. So it took about a month before I came forward and offered myself to the volunteer Worship Leader, Dave Harbert. Dave, not knowing anything about me, informed me that I had to audition for the worship team.
Being a new church, Oak Hills didn’t have much in the way of a worship band. Dave played acoustic guitar and sang, Christie sang alto harmonies, and Steve was a teenager on the upright piano. I still remember pulling up to the Harbert house and unloading my equipment, which included a small PA, multi-tiered keyboards, drum machine, mic and stand, and a host of foot pedals and other paraphernalia. Dave must have thought he hit the mother lode.
The actual audition consisted of Dave and Steve poking at different buttons on my keyboard setup. I hadn’t played a note and I felt like I already had the gig. Now, I performed at a lot of clubs back in the day, and I could play keyboard on my right hand, bass with my left, trigger drums with my left foot, and sing harmony vocals. So single-handedly that night, I pretty much became the Oak Hills band.
That was 29 years ago. Since that time Dave and Teresa and I have been through a lot. The birth of their three boys. My marriage to Debbie, and our four children. Starting a project recording studio together. Coming on staff as the worship pastor, essentially becoming Dave’s “boss.” Moving to the high school, then the Presbyterian church, and finally to our present location. Designing and building (literally) the building together. Beginning and leading a host of different ministries with Dave and Teresa, from a symphonic band to a publishing ministry to the Art and Soul Gallery. Co-leading hundreds of people through thousands of services and decades of ministry. A thousand challenges and a million laughs and a billion memories.
Looking back now, I realize that night auditioning for Dave and the worship team changed my life. So much of who I am and what I’ve done and what I believe can be traced to the moment my story and Dave’s converged. Thank you God that you brought me and my wife to Oak Hills, to be a part of a community that has loved us and cared for us and grown with us and believed in us. Thank You for 30 years of faithfulness to the ministries of the church. Thank You for writing my story into the story of Oak Hills.
[Photos: Top, the original Oak Hills Baptist Church storefront location, next to the laundrymat and the Kentucky Fried Chicken on East Bidwell in Folsom; Bottom, a very young Dave Harbert leading worship (pre-Manuel). Any resemblance to Napoleon Dynamite is completely coincidental.]