A bit of history from the Founders (as compiled by Tim and Harry)…
Tim Landis (Co-Founder) continues… My first experience with “Contemporary Christian Music,” then called “Jesus Music”, was in 1975 at Eastern Mennonite College. As a student representative on the school’s concert committee, I scheduled Petra to perform on campus. That concert had a real impact on my life. I caught the vision of how contemporary music could be used to communicate the Gospel in a new and exciting way. Many people who could not relate to a sermon were being won to the Lord through the simple testimonies of dedicated Christian musicians.
As a result, I dropped out of school, moved back home with Mom and Dad in Lancaster, and set up an office in my bedroom. Each evening I would pull a sleeping bag out of the closet and sleep on the floor in front of my desk. With the help of my family and some college friends, “Jesus Music Series” was born.
For over thirty years, we have held an average of eight to twelve concerts per year in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. The name Jesus Music Series has since been changed to “Creation Concerts” organized as a non-profit outreach under the direction of “Creative Ministries, Inc.”
Harry met his wife Margery at Houghton College where Harry sang in a gospel duo named “Harry and Terry”. After graduating from Houghton, he continued his studies at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary and obtained a Master’s of Divinity degree. Tony Campolo, one of Harry’s teachers at Eastern, was also serving as the interim pastor at a small N.J. church. He recommended Harry to replace him as pastor at Columbus Baptist Church. He was received his Master of Divinity degree and was ordained in 1970.
In 1971, Pastor Harry Thomas was riding was on his way home from JFK airport in New York City, when he felt let to pull over and pray. For only a moment he saw a vision of thousands of young people on a hillside. It was a life-changing moment. Harry was not quite sure what this meant but he knew he was to reach out to youth with the new music available out of the Jesus Movement. He went back to his church with zeal to reach youth and started a radio show featuring “Jesus Rock” music. He attended Explo’72 in Dallas, Texas and was deeply impacted by the new music. In 1973, Harry and Margery felt a very definite call from the Lord to establish a new youth outreach called “Come Alive Ministries, Inc” (now Come Alive International, Inc.).
By faith they moved to Medford, NJ and established The Come Alive Radio Show. The show eventually was syndicated on 50+ stations, including WCAU/FM in Philadelphia and WCBS/FM in New York City, and featured what was then called “Jesus Music” mixed with short teachings. Harry never asked for money on the air, yet every need was always met. Bill and Joan Fortin gave Margery and Harry tickets to Jesus ’73 (the first year of that festival held in Morgantown, Pennsylvania). Jesus ‘73 was a product of the Jesus Movement and was the first festival of its type. To the young couple struggling to establish Come Alive, Jesus ‘73 was a refreshing confirmation of the direction they had taken. It was at this event that Harry & Margery had a vision that one day they would be involved in a festival ministry.
Harry and I first met in the spring of 1978. It was at a Paul Clark concert Harry was sponsoring in Haddon Heights Methodist Church in New Jersey. After the concert, Harry invited me to stay overnight at his house. I was impressed with this warm, jovial man and we stayed up most of the night sharing what the Lord was doing in our lives. Harry was excited to hear that I had scheduled the musicians for Jesus ‘77 held the previous August. Jesus ‘77 was the first festival to be held at the just completed Agape Farm Campground. It had featured a remarkable collection of musicians including the first appearance of Keith Green on the east coast. Being only twenty years old at the time, I scheduled a heavy dose of rock and roll in the program. Needless to say, there were many angry letters after the festival questioning how we could call this music “Christian”. The director of the festival took me aside and told me that the following year the festival would get a bit more conservative in its music. Although he told me that he would not be able to use my services the next year, he generously mentioned in passing that maybe Jesus Music Series would like to sponsor a weekend of more contemporary music at the Agape Farm. I really didn’t think too much about this offer until I related this story to Harry.
Harry was excited! There was no doubt in his mind that this was a fulfillment of the vision that was planted as he drove through New York City and later confirmed at Jesus ‘73. After much prayer and wrestling with my insecurities, I too began to grasp the vision. It seems like only yesterday that Harry, Margery and I sat around the kitchen table discussion what to name this new festival. When Margery suggested “Creation”, we all knew that it captured the vision for this new festival.
We then called the director of the Jesus Festival and reserved June 21, 22 and 23 for Creation ‘79. Then the work began. Both organizations, Come Alive Ministries and Creative Ministries pooled their financial resources, and came up with all of six thousand dollars. Obviously, this grand sum of money did not provide the luxury of hiring any office help, so Harry and I along with a few volunteers did everything. After we had scheduled the musicians and speakers and cleared it with the director of the Jesus Festivals, we rushed to get a promotional newspaper together. We printed 100,000 copies and mailed almost half of them to the Jesus Festival mailing list. We also put them in bookstores, sent them to churches, and handed them out at concerts. It was an amazing amount of work, fourteen to sixteen hours per day. Those days included answering the phone, the mail, scheduling the program, designing and distributing the promotional material, developing a festival staff, arranging for all the production, lighting and sound, plus much more.
But then a crisis happened that stopped us cold. Due to a misunderstanding, it seemed that the Jesus Festival director had never cleared our event with the Jesus Festival Board of Directors. Imagine their surprise when they received a copy of the Creation ‘79 newspaper in the mail! It was decided that Creation ‘79 would have to find another site.
What a devastating blow! At first we were extremely upset and starting to doubt our calling to do the Creation Festival. Harry and I were at a retreat in Lindale, Texas when we received the phone call. In the flesh, it seemed impossible to be able to find a new location in just several months and then get notices to those people who had already received the wrong information.
Finally, we had to fall on our faces before the Lord and totally lay everything on the altar. We had to die to our own desires for the Creation Festival. If the Lord wanted to raise the festival back up to life, He would have to provide a new location. That night Winkie Pratney taught on dying to your ministry to see God raise it up by His power. Harry remembers, Barry McGuire laying hands on him and praying for God to do a miracle.
Next came the miracle! Several weeks later, I decided to visit Jim Nafziger, a friend of mine who lived in southern Lancaster County. I had been to Jim’s place dozens of times but had never noticed a small sign along the road marking the entrance to a place called Muddy Run Park. That day it caught my eye and I decided to investigate. The park is hidden from the road by trees so when I entered the park I was shocked to find a beautiful public park featuring hundreds of wooded acres, paved roads, picnic areas, and a stocked lake for fishing and boating. In short, this was the perfect place for Creation.
Perhaps a bit naive, I immediately drove up to the park’s office and asked to speak to the head honcho. Dave Ellenberg greeted me and took me into his office. As I was only 21 years old, Dave had every right to laugh at me as I told him of our big plans for Creation ‘79. Instead, after listening intently, he told me he had a spot of undeveloped ground at the park that might be perfect for Creation ‘79. He explained that the park was built as a public service by the Philadelphia Electric Company when they built the nuclear power plant next door. Dave had been looking for an excuse to run water and electric to this part of the park for future expansion but in the past his request had been turned down as being unnecessary. Although doubtful, he said he would present my request to the Philadelphia Electric Companies board of directors at their next meeting.
After meeting with Dave, I excitedly telephoned Harry Thomas to tell him of this new development. Harry’s response floored me! It seemed that not only had Harry once worked for the Philadelphia Electric Company, but beyond that, his father’s best friend, and like an Uncle to him, was a vice-president at the Philadelphia Electric Company. Not only did we get permission to use the site, but also the electric company installed at no cost to us, all the electric and water lines we would ever need according to our specification. Actually we should have specified a bigger capacity electrical service, but that is another story.
As you probably know, we eventually outgrew Muddy Run Park and came full circle back to Agape Farm Campground. Harry had been speaking at single’s retreats at Agape Farm and when we out grew Muddy Run he asked his friend, John Musser (then President of JM and Director of Agape Farm) if the board would rent the farm to us in June. God opened the door for us to return and that has been our home ever since (with a few exceptions!).
Each year Creation seems like a family reunion, a chance to put aside our theological differences and to worship the Lord as one Body. A chance to recharge those spiritual batteries so that when we return home, we will be able to shine the light of Jesus in our church, work and home. We have grown through the years and even had to postpone or move the event. But God has always been gracious and used the festival to transform lives for His glory.