John Michael Talbot brings ministry to Sioux City
By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
One look at John Michael Talbot, his long hair and beard, and several cultural images come to mind.
“First thing I tell parishes when I visit is ‘I’m no Moses, I’m no ZZ Top, I’m no Gandolf from Lord of the Rings and I don’t star on Duck Dynasty,” he said with a laugh.
“Then, I do tell them, they might experience ‘Monk Dynasty’ or ‘ZZ Talbot’ if they listen to me,” Talbot added.
The contemporary Christian music legend, best-selling author and television personality will bring his music and message to Sioux City for a two-night parish ministry, Oct. 27-28 at St. Michael Church.
“Early monks never cut their hair or beard,” he explained. “It’s the Western world that has gone with the shorter, modernized custom of hair and beard. I believe we are more deeply-rooted as Catholic Christians, closer to the Eastern Church. Even John Paul II felt the church was often only breathing from the western ‘lung’ and not using the eastern ‘lung.’”
That’s also the look Talbot sported in the 1970s when he and his brother Terry were members of the folk rock band, Mason Proffit.
“Yes, people remember my early days, especially in places like Iowa,” he said. “Back then, record companies thought we were the next big group. The Eagles almost brought us into their band.”
“I did bring Terry out on tour with me not that long ago, but he’s doing secular music in Fresno, Calif.,” he said. “My ministry has morphed from strictly music to singing and preaching.”
Talbot’s music history is nowhere near as fascinating as his faith experience.
“I didn’t want to be a Catholic and I didn’t like them,” he said, matter-of-factly. “But what Jesus said to me years ago is still true today. We need revival and we need the Catholic Church and I think Catholics are ready to be excited about their faith again.”
While others might have been content to go through an RCIA program to embrace Catholicism, Talbot took his faith journey one step more and founded the Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage, in Berryville, Ark., in 1980, while continuing a prolific music ministry.
Last year, Talbot – the only Catholic presence on Trinity Broadcasting Network – began sharing his messages of hope and inspiration each week on “All Things are Possible,” which began its second season on Sept. 17.
“The program provides spiritual nourishment, companionship and encouragement and goes to millions of homes,” he said. “It is receiving better ratings than we ever expected at this point. This collaborative effort of Catholics and evangelicals tells us God is using this ministry.”
Even with that outreach, Talbot worried about the future of society.
“Here’s a news flash,” he said. “We have shifted from a Judeo-Christian heritage to a secular-humanist and that will destroy our country. We can either repent and prosper, or not, and perish.”
During his two-day event in Sioux City, Talbot will coordinate a presentation somewhat akin to a parish mission.
“I share my story. There’s prayer,” he said. “About 40 percent of the presentation is music, which I would call inspirational and upbeat.”
Sioux City connection
The invitation to visit Sioux City came to Talbot via Father David Hemann, pastor of St. Michael Church, who had spent time residing at the Little Portion Hermitage.
“I was first aware of John Michael Talbot in 1976 when I was a member of a Bible-sharing group,” Father Hemann said. “I was particularly impressed with his guitar playing and loved his message, even though he was not Catholic.”
Three years later, while studying at Loras College, someone shared a Talbot record with Father Hemann, who was stunned to discover the former fundamentalist was now Catholic.
“Then, some years later I was at a retreat in Steubenville when someone told me John Michael Talbot was looking for a priest for his hermitage,” Father Hemann said. “I asked Bishop Lawrence Soens about it and he agreed I could be released to live there from 1989-90, and then I returned to the diocese.”
Talbot and the diocesan priest have remained friends over the years and shared little known secrets about each other.
“I assigned Father Hemann to mow some of our 610 acres of land,” Talbot recalled. “We had just transplanted two pecan trees, which were gifts to the hermitage and he mowed them over. He found me, holding the small trees and asking, ‘Is this a weed or a tree?’ I laughed so hard and assured him he was not in trouble.”
“People think they know John for his music ministry, but few know professional baseball teams scouted him,” Father Hemann said.
At age 60, when most folks are thinking of retirement, Talbot does not see himself slowing down from traveling more than nine months out of the year, renewing the faith of Christians of all denominations.
“I see a greater hope for the future of the Catholic Church than in its past when Christians were marginalized and demonized and sometimes, criminalized,” he said. “I say when that happens, look up! The church grows when it’s most challenged.”
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