In movies, it is the sound of music that draws people to church. It is the voices of the choir that rise up over the silence of a lonely heart or even above alien invasions. That musical call to service, while not surprising in film, can sometimes happen in real life.
Eli Locke had never been a “church person.” His grandparents had belonged to a church but his parents didn’t, and he really didn’t think much about religion or church when growing up.
Then he found himself at St. Luke’s of the Mountains Episcopal Church. Locke is a volunteer at the Fire House youth center located on the St. Luke’s property. The Fire House is a St. Luke’s project but has no religious affiliation.
The teens at the Fire House use the parking lot and the courtyard of the church. Adult volunteers walk the church grounds to check on the kids and it was during one of these walks that Locke heard music coming from the St. Luke’s sanctuary.
“I saw the door open and thought kids might be in there,” Locke said.
Instead of teens, though, he found the church’s band and really liked what he heard. A few weeks later, Holly Stauffer, church administrator, invited anyone from the Fire House to come to a service and asked them to sing. Locke attended, singing and playing guitar with the band.
“After that, Joey [Joseph Butler, St. Luke’s music director] invited me to come back and play,” Locke said. “They are old school gospel although we have done some Van Morrison and Cat Stevens.”
The band members and the music touched him and he has learned a great deal.
Locke sang all his life but never took music lessons. While attending Crescenta Valley High School, his focus was on football, not music. Then he was injured and found the guitar. Singing helped fill the time.
After high school, he began taking guitar lessons from Marty Buttwinick in Glendale. Locke had been writing lyrics and, with the help of Buttwinick, was able to write music as well.
Locke has his own band now but continuing to play with the church band has helped him in many ways – from learning how to play rhythm to enhancing his voice to following the lead guitarist, the musical education he has received has been invaluable.
He first joined the St. Luke’s band because of the music. He was not really thinking of religion, but only the music; however, somewhere along the way that changed.
“I had been to a few churches and never found one that ‘worked,’” he said.
Some services were over-the-top and other churches he found to be cold and unwelcoming, but not St. Luke’s.
“It felt right,” he said. “I finally found a church that I liked.”
The more often he attended, the more involved he got with the church life outside the music. He found a spirituality that he says now guides him and protects him. Then one day he decided to fully commit and asked Stauffer about being baptized.
“She was really excited and told me to talk to Bryan [Jones, vicar at St. Luke’s],” he said.
From there, he met several times with Jones.
“He gave me some [books] to read,” Locke said. “We met a few times and he would [answer any questions I had].”
Locke was baptized about a year ago.
“It’s hard to explain,” he said of being baptized. “I am really happy I did it.”
His two proud grandmas attended the baptism, one of who recently passed away.
“I was with her near her last day. She couldn’t remember my aunt or anyone’s name, but she did remember my baptism and how pretty the church was,” he said.
Locke sings and writes country music and intends on moving to Nashville at some point. He plans on continuing with his church life there. When he was in Nashville on a recent visit, he checked out an Episcopal church there and spoke to the vicar.
“The church and religion have become such a big part of me,” Locke said. “It has helped me when I am not having a good day.”
His belief continues to be guided by the music.
“When I am having a rough day, I listen to old gospel and it calms me down.”
You can follow Eli Locke on Facebook.