In the late 1970’s, while working the DC performing arts scene, Christian Performing Artists’ Fellowship (CPAF) founders, Dr. Patrick and Barbara Kavanaugh and Dr. Jim and Mary Jeane Kraft, longed for something that would truly impact this dark culture. After Patrick was given a vision of thousands of performing artists following Christ, he and his wife along with Krafts began their journey to bring this vision to life.
Their start was slow and difficult, with many obstacles along the way. After several failed attempts to launch their vision, they put their efforts to rest with a decision to wait on the Lord for his timing and direction. For five years the couples prayed together over what would become known as the Christian Performing Artists’ Fellowship.
As they waited, the two couples continued their work in the arts and various ministries. Jim played trombone with the National Symphony Orchestra, Barbara and Mary Jeane played cello in the same pickup orchestra, and Patrick was hired as the Music Minister at Christian Assembly, a local church where he met dancers Bob and Robin Sturm. The three couples quickly formed a collaboration and performed Patrick’s opera The Last Supper at Washington’s Folgers Theatre in the spring of 1984. This performance was the first in a string of many such evangelistic concerts to come. The Kavanaughs, Krafts, and Sturms had formed the nucleus of CPAF.
Years of Evangelistic Performances
The first official CPAF performance took place on November 20, 1984 at Christian Assembly. Joined by opera singers and Julliard graduates, Steve and Linda Schnurman, the two dancers, four singers, and handful of musicians took the stage for their debut performance of the Bach Cantata No. 140. The performance brought a number of newly interested musicians and dancers and earned a review in a local Christian paper, written by Nick and Donna May Tavani, who would later join CPAF’s Board of Directors.
The evangelistic concerts began to flourish as the group, now dubbed the Asaph Ensemble, continued performing throughout the Washington DC area. Linda Schnurman served as the first secretary, while her husband, Steve, recruited director Dean Christman to lead the small but determined chorus. Jim Kraft spent countless hours cajoling friends to play in the group’s growing orchestra. And the Sturms choreographed to such works as Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s Magnificat and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. In 1987, the Asaph Ensemble audaciously rented the Kennedy Center and with a chorus of now 14 opera singers, performed movements from the Bach Mass in B Minor.
The Ministry Goes Full-Time
From 1984 to the spring of 1988, CPAF operated entirely as a volunteer ministry, the vision continually being clarified and honed. It had become clear that the performing arts world was a spiritually needy mission field that had been virtually ignored by churches and ministries. And in the summer of 1988, the Kavanaughs went into the CPAF ministry full-time.
God’s call upon CPAF was to find ways to take the Gospel into this very polarized portion of society. This presented many challenges. As the ministry became more publicly known, the performing arts community became less friendly. They were met with resistance by concert hall booking coordinators and the area newspapers. In order that the Gospel could be freely shared, all concerts were presented free of charge, which added a financial challenge. Such difficulties, however, were merely the tools God was using to grow their trust in Him and to grow an effective ministry. God was faithful in His provision for the ministry and through trial and error they learned about the makings of a small arts-ministry organization: how to handle “people problems,” how to program effective concerts, how to raise funds in a Biblical manner, how to present the Gospel message with credibility, how to attract crowds to concerts, how to balance artistic and ministry concerts.
CPAF Goes International
As the Asaph Ensemble continued performing, more guest soloist began to join them. Among the most prominent was Metropolitan Opera singer Jerome Hines, who sang in the CPAF produced and directed concert version of Boito’s Mefistofele at the Kennedy Center in 1992. The collaboration of artistry, plus Hines’ creative Gospel presentation made this one of Asaph’s finest performances.
The following year, upon Hines’ request, CPAF helped to mount the production of his opera I Am the Way at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. This was CPAF’s first undertaking outside of the country. After months of preparation, 191 people – including orchestra, chorus, dancers, soloists and a large tech and television crew – flew from Washington to Moscow for two weeks of rehearsals and performances. The concerts (July 3 and 5, 1993) were a great success, with almost one thousand Russians giving their lives to Christ. The opera was later shown on Russian national TV and Patrick was awarded a special medal by Yeltsen’s Minister of Culture.
In 1996, the Asaph Ensemble was invited by the Israeli government to perform on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. Though the government’s motive was primarily to garner tourist-dollars, it was clear to CPAF that this could be an incredible opportunity to present a Christian witness to thousands of Palestinian Muslims. CPAF succeeded in persuading the authorities to allow them to perform “whatever [they] desired.” The chosen piece was a work Bob Sturm had choreographed, which portrayed the entire life of Christ, from birth to resurrection. The ensemble gave a powerful presentation of Jesus’ life. Over twenty thousand Palestinians were present (including their leader, Yasser Arafat) and the presentation was shown around the world on CNN and other television networks.
A New Direction For the Ministry
Back in America, the evangelistic concerts continued to increase. For the first time, CPAF was being written about in national magazines and their notoriety in the Washington area continued to grow. Robin Sturm exquisitely choreographed the “Christmas portion” of Handel’s Messiah, which was performed every Christmas season for fourteen consecutive years. It became so popular that the, roughly, five thousand free tickets were usually claimed in only a few days. God repeatedly confirmed his blessing upon CPAF’s mission. Yet the CPAF leadership felt an undercurrent to pass their vision on to the next generation of Christian performing artists. Gradually, the concept of a summer festival was formed; one which would train young performers both artistically and spiritually for one month, then send them back into their secular schools to make an impact for Christ.
The MasterWorks Festival
With nothing but a vision and a skeletal curriculum, CPAF proposed the festival to various facilities. Houghton College in New York agreed to host the event. The first MasterWorks Festival took place in Houghton, New York on June 21, 1997, with just 55 students in attendance. Though small, those in attendance will never forget the presence of God throughout the four weeks.
Because of the years of evangelistic concerts in DC, many of the excellent soloists who had joined the Asaph Ensemble also helped at MasterWorks. The first summer saw performances by such notable artists as guitarist Christopher Parkening, Anne Martindale Williams (principal cellist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra), and Phil Smith (principal trumpeter of the New York Philharmonic).
In successive years, more key people were added into CPAF’s ministry. Dick and Sherrill Lambert came in through the Bolshoi project and Walter and Bonnie Ringleb from the Israel performances. John and Roslyn Langlois from Tasmania, Australia also join the staff full-time. New faculty were also added to the festival each year: John and Paula Kasica, Chip and Karen Hill, Mary Irwin, Stephen Clapp and many others.
The festival the following year almost doubled in students, and a few years would double it again. After five consecutive summers in New York, MasterWorks had established itself as a significant ministry, drawing students and faculty from around the world. A Bible Study and prayer group leadership program were included in the curriculum to enabled students and faculty to start up such groups in their conservatories and performing arts departments. In 2000, Michael and Jennifer Frantz, former MasterWorks students, began working full-time in this vital aspect of CPAF’s ministry.
MasterWorks Finds a New Home
In the Spring of 2001, an article published about MasterWorks in Power of Living made its way to a man from Winona Lake, Indiana, named Brent Wilcoxson. Winona Lake has a remarkable Christian heritage, having once been the home of evangelist Billy Sunday and the place of encouragement to many great ministries – such as Young Life and Billy Graham’s crusades. Wilcoxson had taken on a project to restore this small town to its former glory. In the first half of the 20th century, it annually hosted the largest Bible conferences in the world. But in the sixties and seventies, the town declined dramatically. With the help of a few key businessmen, Wilcoxson had already restored many of its beautiful buildings and built the well-known Village-at-Winona. And in 2002, he invited the MasterWorks Festival to take place in on the local college campus of Grace.
In 2004, after two successful summers in Indiana, the MasterWorks Festival and its CPAF headquarters relocated to Winona Lake, Indiana. The Village-at-Winona and Grace College provided both offices and living space for the CPAF staff. The move enabled CPAF’s vision of an “Artistic Colony” to develop and flourish, as more performing artists come together year-round, spurring one another on to the highest degrees of Biblical excellence.
Then, in 2016, MasterWorks packed its bags once more and moved to the much larger campus of Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio. There we connected with a new community of Christian believers with a love for the arts. Again, students from all over the world came to celebrate our 20th anniversary with expanded facilities and a whopping 20% rise in new students.
The Christian Performing Artists’ Fellowship is now in a position to have a major influence in the arts world for Christ. God has lead CPAF through over 20 years of fruitful ministry, but only the surface of the mission has been scratched. Most of the performing arts world is still without an effective Gospel witness. CPAF has started Bible study and prayer groups in many collegiate and professional settings, but there are hundreds more which have not been reached. We are now calling these groups MasterWorks Movements. Many movements are started by MasterWorks Festival alumni and faculty. Through these movements, we see the Master moving and working in the performing arts world. They are an integral part of the CPAF mission.
To meet these needs, CPAF is expanding rapidly. For several years, talented, but financially needy students from Europe have contacted us, desiring to be trained at our MasterWorks Festival. Yet most of them cannot afford the cost of flying to the United States. Like the man from Macedonia in Paul’s vision (Acts 16:9), we have many needy students imploring us: “Come over here.” Since they cannot come to us, CPAF has decided to go to them.
“MasterWorks Europe” began in the summer of 2004, taking place in London, England, in addition to the annual MasterWorks Festival that continues in Winona Lake. There are plans underway for a number of MasterWorks Festivals around the globe. In the coming years, as the Lord opens the doors and brings the needed faculty and finances, annual Festivals will be held in Australia, Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America – as well as in the Western and Southern United States.
As more performers move into the artistic colony being established, we pray that MasterWorks will become known world-wide as a center of Christian artistry. As with any long-term project, this will take time. But the fruit from such a dedicated colony will be extraordinary. We have a mandate from the Lord to hold a high standard for others to follow, a standard for excellence in the arts and a standard to walk a sincere Christian path, living a life worthy of the Gospel.
Please join us in prayer that this vision will be realized, and in such a way that gives God the greatest glory. Without the prayers of the saints and the blessing of the Lord, we labor in vain. Yet we believe that God has called this ministry into being, and that he “will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6b)