Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

From 'rock jock' to pulpit

CJOB's Larry Updike returns to his Christian roots

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Larry Updike isn't sure who will be more surprised when he gets up to preach this morning at Central Baptist Church -- his CJOB listeners, his colleagues, those who remember him from his "rock jock" days as part of the Tom and Larry show on KISS FM, or even himself.

"I'm astonished at this," says Updike, host of CJOB's popular morning show. "I'd more or less resigned myself to being an outsider when it came to church."

 

Updike, 53, wasn't always a religious outsider. Growing up in an evangelical home in southern Ontario and, later, in Saskatchewan, all he ever wanted to be was a preacher.

"I used to set up a pulpit in the garage and preach to my friends," he recalls. He preached his first real sermon at 16, and was ordained at 21 after graduation from a Pentecostal Bible college.

His first church was in 1976 in Fort Francis, Ont., where he served as an intern. Looking for ways to earn a little extra income, he applied for a job at a local radio station and quickly landed a job as host of the morning show.

"Back then, the turnover at small radio stations was enormous," he says about the ease in getting hired.

He moved to Weyburn, Sask., in 1978, once again serving as a pastor and working at a local radio station. In 1979, he moved to Winnipeg so his wife could pursue nursing studies. He got a job at a local church and at CHMM, then a country music station, which later became KISS FM (now Power 97).

In 1980, his marriage ended -- and so did his ministry.

"We got married really young, and drifted apart," he says of the divorce. The split was amicable, but his work with the church was over. Back then, divorced pastors were automatically disqualified from leading most evangelical churches.

"Everything I was going to be was gone," he says. "From the age of nine, all I had ever wanted to be was a pastor."

Feeling abandoned and angry, he cut all ties with the church and threw himself into his life in radio.

"I lived the life a radio rock jock to the hilt," he says of his time with Tom McGouran on the Tom and Larry show from 1982-89 at KISS-FM/97 FM and from 1990-94 on 92 CITI FM.

"It was a polar opposite of the way I had been living. I went from preaching against the wages of sin to collecting them -- big time."

He didn't lose interest in religion, however, completing a degree in theology at the University of Winnipeg in 1984. In 1995, he graduated with a degree in philosophy, winning the university's highest award in that subject.

It was an "odd mixture of rock radio and university," he says, but it helped him "keep my feet on the ground" and avoid becoming a "rock radio casualty." His marriage to Mary-Ann, in 1991, also helped him avoid many of the excesses associated with the rock radio lifestyle.

Through it all, though, he felt something pulling towards faith. But he never went back to church.

"I didn't know how to go back -- I didn't feel worthy," he says. "I didn't know if I'd be accepted."

He also worried that he might be seen as a trophy convert, a "victim of a pastor who wanted to rescue a celebrity."

But things changed just over a year ago, when he checked out the Facebook profile of Central Baptist pastor Greg Glatz, whom Updike had heard on CJOB's GodTalk program.

Glatz's interest in philosophy piqued Updike's interest. The two were soon communicating electronically about mutual interests in philosophy and religion, and later meeting to talk and play guitar.

Updike enjoyed the conversations. But what really impressed him was that Glatz didn't try to convert him.

"Greg did not try to solicit my attendance at his church or proselytize me," he says. "He just wanted to be my friend."

For Glatz, getting to know Updike wasn't about getting him saved. "I wasn't interested in his celebrity or his conversion," he says. "I figured he was already converted. I was interested in his journey."

Won over by Glatz's friendliness and honesty, Updike decided to start attending his church in January. But there was still one big hurdle: How would the church respond to his son, Gordon, who has autism?

"Gordon isn't verbal, and he doesn't take well to new places," Updike says. "We wondered if he would be accepted. But he has found a place there, a chance to be involved. He's fit in very well -- he loves the music and helps with the offering. The church has been very accepting."

When he gets up to speak this morning, Updike will preach on how Jesus calmed the waters and the frightened disciples when they were caught in a storm -- the theme of the very first real sermon he preached 37 years ago.

It will be very different this time, though.

"When I was young, I thought I knew it all and had it all figured out. Back then, I spoke about how Christians shouldn't be affected by storms. But I'm approaching life and faith now as a more mature person, with some life experience. Now my focus is trusting God, in spite of storms. Christians don't get a pass. Storms happen to us, too."

Looking back, Updike has some regrets, especially about the people he hurt. But he sees his journey as "part of the plan -- there's no way I could be at the place I am now without the experiences I've had.

"I can see now that it made me who I am today."

 

jdl562000@yahoo.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2009 ??65532

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