A Personal Tribute to Chip StamHome » Blog » General
Posted by David L. Ward on May 12th, 2011
While there have been several fitting tributes to Chip Stam shared in the past week (Ware and Schreiner, Pierre, SBTS), I would like to share a more personal tribute and explain how Chip and I got to know each other and what he meant to me.
My first memories of "Chip" (Carl) Stam date back to the early 1990s when I was a high school student in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I became a Christian at the age of twelve and within a few years joined a church on my own called the Chapel Hill Bible Church. I was very involved in the youth group and worshiped there just about every Sunday. I remember pastor Jim Abrahamson preaching verse by verse through the book of Romans and Chip's ever-smiling face as he strummed his guitar and led the music on Sundays.
Chip had a flourishing music program which included both a choir and small ensemble with woodwind instruments and a rhythm section. The church used a variety of songs, the majority being the so-called "praise choruses" from that period including many songs by Graham Kendrick. This was the musical language of my young faith, having come to Christ though the ministry of a summer camp where we sang praise choruses around a campfire.
I didn't know Chip very well personally during my high school years since I was a single teenager (meaning without my family) in the church. However, one of his sons was in youth group with me (though a few years younger); we even went on a missions trip to Trinidad together. I even grew up in Chip's neighborhood in Chapel Hill.
In 1994 I moved on to attend college at Rutgers University in New Jersey and since my family had left Chapel Hill in 1993, I no longer had any ties there. Life rolled on, and I pursued a career in software after getting married during college. I continued to be involved with worship music in various roles during college and afterwards in my small local church, but Chip Stam was a name I hadn't heard in many years – a faded memory from my life in Chapel Hill. Chip's name was soon to come back into my life from some very unexpected sources.
During the early 2000s, I began to sense God leading me to pursue a career change – to devote myself full-time to worship music rather than serving full-time at the software company I founded and part-time as a volunteer at the church. Since I began writing new tunes for old hymn texts in 1999, I became friends with two pastors who were involved in doing the same thing – Bob Kauflin of Covenant Life Church in Maryland, and Kevin Twit of Reformed University Fellowship at Belmont University. If I remember correctly, some time around 2002 I had a phone conversation with Kevin and asked about studying music ministry, and he said that since I was a Baptist, there was once place he would strongly recommend – the Southern Seminary – largely because of professor Chip Stam. The name rang a bell with me and I began looking seriously into Southern.
Not long afterwards, I had become friends with Bob Kauflin and in 2002 he invited my family and me to visit Covenant Life Church over a weekend. We ended up having dinner with him and he had to cut the dinner short to attend an interview about worship with several pastors and professors – Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, and Chip Stam. There was the name Chip again – I sure was surprised to hear about the worship leader of my high school church again. It seemed clear to me that God was leading me not just to Southern Seminary, but to a particular person there who was a part of my past.
I reached out to Chip and we got re-acquainted over the phone and Internet, and the Lord blessed us with a wonderful sense of like-mindedness about worship and music. Many of the books he used in his classes were books I had read and taught through at my local church in New Jersey. Visiting Southern and sitting in on a class or two helped confirm that the school would be a wonderful fit for us. My wife had even lived in Louisville for a summer while in Campus Crusade for Christ in the mid 1990s.
In 2004, we moved to Louisville and joined Clifton Baptist Church. Chip is the closest thing I've had to a mentor in worship ministry. I served most Sundays with him in some capacity, whether it was singing in the choir, playing the guitar, piano, or saxophone, or just helping with arrangements or music. Since the Stams were so hospitable, our whole family came to know and love all of them as we stayed in their home numerous times and had them over to our home as well. In the summer of 2005 during the heat wave in the south, Chip and Doris took my pregnant wife and kids in for a few days when our air conditioner broke and I was out of town.
Chip and I were remarkably similar. Though he was old enough to be my Dad (though just barely!) we shared a relationship with many facets – friend, mentor, professor, and music minister. We were both most proficient on a wind instrument (Chip on trombone, me on saxophone) but also played guitar and piano. We were both songwriters, tennis players (both of us were ranked in the state of North Carolina as teenagers!), and loved old hymns and hymnals. That may be one reason that Chip was so enthusiastic about Reformed Praise and the updated hymns I had written.
After I left seminary we naturally didn't communicate as often, but I continued to help Chip with administering his Worship Quote and called or emailed him from time to time to touch base or for guidance about specific songs or entailments of music ministry. We visited Louisville several more times in the past few years and were able to visit with the Stams each time, depositing some fond memories of all of them that we cherish.
During the past few years as he has battled cancer, Chip remained enthusiastic and supportive of my efforts in songwriting and teaching about worship, even to the point that he was willing to give advice and consider sitting on the board of a new non-profit corporation that I'm in the process of founding. His support for others and the way he doted on their accomplishments, whether they be children, extended family, or friends like me, demonstrated his deep humility. My family and I already miss Chip deeply and look forward to seeing him again one day when we'll join him in singing Jesus' praises face to face. I am grateful for the chance to know and be shaped by him and pray for the legacy of his vision for gospel-centered worship music to live on.