Pickin' Up the Pieces

Richie Furay found something unexpected on his way to country-rock stardom: salvation.

Doing so has been a struggle at times, and Furay's surprising approach to his faith hasn't always made things easier. Observers who know something about his slant on country rock would likely expect his church to be as laid-back as much of his music, and on the surface it appears to be: There are no flowing robes or burning incense pots in sight, and worshipers and celebrants eschew formal attire for jeans and other weekend wear. But Furay's spiritual philosophy is harder than the Rock of Ages. He's affiliated with Calvary Chapel, a theologically conservative non-denominational church whose roots stretch back to the early '70s, when Pastor Chuck Smith formed the first Chapel in Costa Mesa, California. As such, Furay views the Bible as the actual word of God and is critical of those who take some parts of it to heart while dismissing others as anachronistic or not meant to be taken literally. It's all or nothing for him, which helps explain his rigid opinions about hot-button issues such as homosexuality ("The lifestyle is an abomination unto God") and abortion ("In Psalm 139, David talks about how 'You knew me from my mother's womb,' which tells me that a child is a child from the moment of conception. What is that pill RU-486 doing? It's killing. It's RU-486ing those kids").

The Bible doesn't allow for compromises, Furay feels. "I believe Jesus said what He meant and He meant what He said. And if that's offensive to people, then that's offensive. But I can't do anything about it."

Selling this heavenly vision has been tough in Boulder, a community whose essential liberalism attracts purveyors of religions miles from the mainstream. Not that Furay's efforts have been a bust. Since starting his first Bible study group in 1983, his flock has grown steadily, now numbering just over a hundred adults and around eighty kids, and his status as a rock-biz luminary regularly draws curious visitors from far and wide. But he laments that after seventeen years, the church still can't afford a building of its own. (That's another challenge Boulder presents: sky-high real estate prices.) Funds are being collected for this purpose, but Furay's reticence to shake down his followers has prevented the campaign from gathering a great deal of momentum.

Furay leads the conservative Calvary at his Boulder church.
Furay leads the conservative Calvary at his Boulder church.
Furay leads the conservative Calvary at his Boulder church.
Furay leads the conservative Calvary at his Boulder church.


8 p.m. Friday, October 27
Grizzly Rose, 5450 North Valley Highway

"We don't believe in pounding people over the head for donations. We believe that where God guides, He provides, and we need to be thankful for what He's provided for us. It would be nice to have our own identity, but the rent at the school is pretty reasonable. And what's most important is that we have a place to offer praise in His name."

Applause is certainly warranted at the conclusion of "Where Could I Go but to the Lord," but none is forthcoming. Instead, the congregants -- a mainly middle-aged bunch, but with a sizable number of folks on either side of that range in attendance -- merely turn to each other and smile, as if checking to make sure that the people with them enjoyed the ditty as much as they did. Shortly thereafter, the worship team rolls into "I Just Want to Worship," a slightly stodgier slab of folk gospel that, thanks to the musicians, still manages to rouse.

The song's last notes are still bouncing around the rafters when Sellen, who's co-written compositions with Pastor Richie for years, speaks up. He greets the faithful, inviting them to stick around after the service "so we can fellowship with each other" before launching into an apparently extemporaneous prayer thanking the "Lord of Lords" for the opportunity to worship Him.

An "amen" later, the worship team is back at it, blazing through "From the Rising of the Sun," and for the first time, Pastor Richie's light, crystalline tenor floats freely over the other voices. It retains its prominent place in the mix for a fourth tune, "Glorify You," but Pastor Richie stays in the background, gladly granting the spotlight to his son-in-law Dave Aragon, who steps to the lectern after the song fades to read Psalm 115.

"Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, and because of Your truth," Aragon intones. "Why should the Gentiles say, 'Where now is their God?' But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold..."

Silver & Gold? Isn't that the name of Neil Young's latest album?

Shortly after Furay's birth in Dayton, Ohio, he moved across the state with his family to the tiny burg of Yellow Springs. There, his father, a pharmacist, opened a drugstore, where his mom also worked. That was followed by a small gift shop, which the clan's patriarch still owned when he died. Richie was thirteen when that happened.

Losing a father at such a tumultuous age has caused a good many youngsters to turn to God's son for succor, but not Furay. He was more interested in music than in anything else. From the first time he'd seen Ricky Nelson rocking on The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet, he'd been smitten, and his tastes broadened over time. He arrived at Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio, near Columbus, during a period when the Kingston Trio was sanitizing folk music for the masses, and he reacted by forming a folk band in its image. When an a cappella group he was also in headed to New York City for a performance, Furay and a buddy slipped away to Greenwich Village, ground zero for young folkies. That night, they convinced a couple of club owners to let them serenade crowds between shows, and the reception they received was just the push Furay needed. Goodbye, Columbus, and the rest of Ohio, too.

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