Monday, June 30, 2014

Larry Updike: From Pentecostal Minister to Shock-Rock Radio Jock to . . . (read his book to find out)

My friend Larry Updike released his new book last week. Titled My Word! The Larry Updike Story, the book chronicles his life from being a Pentecostal minister through the “debauchery” of shock-rock radio in the 1980s to being a talk show host in Winnipeg. Oh, and he picked up degrees in theology and philosophy along the way. I was able to interview Larry in 2009 about his journey to that point.

What do you get when you cross a young firebrand Pentecostal minister with a university philosophy major and rock radio DJ?

You get Larry Updike, the morning show host on CJOB.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” says Updike, 53, of his trip from wunderkind preacher to leaving the church to become one of Winnipeg’s most popular rock radio show hosts—and then back to the church again.

This morning Updike will “complete the circle” when he preaches at Central Baptist Church on Ellice Avenue.

“It will come as a surprise to many,” says Updike, adding that some people “will be shocked.”

From the age of nine, all Updike wanted to be was a preacher and evangelist. Growing up in southern Ontario, he remembers setting up a pulpit in the garage and preaching to his friends.

He preached his first real sermon at 16,  and was ordained at 21 after graduation from Bible college.

His first church was in Fort Francis, Ont., in 1976, where he did a pastoral internship. Looking for ways to earn a little extra income, he applied for a job at a local radio station.

“Back then, the turnover at small radio stations was enormous,” he says. Before long, he was doing the morning show and working in the church.

He moved Weyburn, Sask. in 1978, where he once again served as a pastor and worked at the local radio station. He moved to Winnipeg in 1979 so his wife could pursue nursing studies, assisted at a local church and got a job at CHMM, which later became KISS FM.

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

“We got married really young, and drifted apart,” he says. 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. “All I ever wanted to be was a pastor.”

Feeling abandoned and angry, he cut all ties with the church and threw himself into his life as a rock radio DJ on the Tom and Larry show with Tom McGouran.

Life as a DJ was very different from pastoring. “I lived the life a rock radio DJ to the hilt, he says. 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 complete interest in religion, 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, he recalls, an “odd mixture of rock radio and university,” but it helped him “keep my feet on the ground” and avoid becoming a “rock radio casualty.” 

Marriage to Mary-Ann, in 1991, also helped him stay grounded.

Through it all, he felt something pulling him back to faith.

“I was an observer from the outside for a long time, but 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 especially didn’t want to be seen as a trophy convert, a “victim of a pastor who wanted to rescue a celebrity.”

That changed just over a year ago, when he checked out the Facebook profile of Central Baptist pastor Greg Glatz.

Glatz’s interest in philosophy piqued Updike’s interest, and soon the two were communicating electronically about philosophy and religion.

What was most impressive, Updike says, is 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.”

He also saw Updike as someone God could use—just as he was.

“Everything that happened to him made him what he is,” Glatz says. “He doesn’t need to renounce it or repudiate it.”

Updike was won over by Glatz’s friendliness and honesty, and began attending his church. Also key was the way the church responded to his son, Gordon, who has autism.

“Gordon isn’t verbal, and he doesn’t take well to new places,” he 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.”

As for his sermon today, Updike will be preaching the very first sermon he ever gave 37 years ago, on how Jesus calmed the waters and the frightened disciples when they were caught in a storm.

It will be very different this time, though. “When I was young, I thought I knew it all and had it all figured out. 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.”

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