When singer-composer Andrae Crouch took over the pulpit a year ago of a congregation left pastor-less by the successive deaths of his father and brother, the Grammy-winning musician found his life changed in ways he had not anticipated:
* Members of Christ Memorial Church in Pacoima immediately began asking him questions about everything and expecting answers. The winner of seven Grammys for gospel records said his first reaction was: "Why you asking me that?" Then, he said, he had to remind himself, "Yes, I am the pastor and people will ask things . . . from the trite to the important."
* Crouch was suddenly required to officiate at funerals and say the right words to the bereaved, despite his previous dislike for even singing at funerals.
* A performer who favors flashy clothes on stage, Pastor Andrae Crouch found himself--to his own amazement--wearing suspenders, wing-tip shoes and black suits.
Although he might dress now like his father, Bishop Benjamin Crouch, who founded the church in 1951 and died in late 1993, Andrae Crouch said he has told some unhappy church members that he cannot be his father.
Christ Memorial Church of God in Christ has lost some longtime members even as the congregation has grown from 300 to an estimated 1,200 since he led his first service last year on April 30. He was officially installed as pastor Sept. 23.
"I would say 70% of the congregation are newcomers," Crouch said. "This was healthy for us because we had a lot of people who were following the ghost of my father. They wanted me to be my dad, and I am not my dad."
The Pentecostal congregation, which once had thousands on the rolls, had slipped in membership while the senior Crouch failed in health and Andrae's older brother, Benjamin Crouch Jr., succumbed to illness after a five-month pastorate.
The younger Crouch is in his mid-40s, but he declines to give his age in interviews in deference to his twin sister, Sandra, a performer in her own right who assists in church services.
The pastor pointed to new or revitalized ministries at the church in the last year: About 200 children from age 3 to 12 take part in a brief Children's Church service with hymn-singing and puppets for the youngest and Bible memory contests for the older. A men's program called Brothers Keepers took 40 men to the Promise Keepers gathering at the Los Angeles Coliseum last month. A food program on Thursdays may get a Spanish-speaking minister.
"We have interaction with gang members, sometimes starting from taking music into the neighborhood once a month," Crouch said.
"We call this the 'so-what' church," he said. The pastor said that when he says to the congregation that someone is an alcoholic, a drug addict or a former prisoner, they respond, "So what?" Then the chorus changes to: "Sew what you have left in God, and see what God can do."
The minister-musician, still a big money-earner in the music business, said he contributes to the church twice the money he gets in his pastor's salary. He has a house in Woodland Hills that he hasn't lived in for the last two years, preferring a smaller home in Pacoima not far from the church. "I feel like I'm in a village here," he said.
Partly to fill in the gaps when he travels for musical appearances, the church's ministerial and administrative staff has been increased by a half-dozen people in the last 12 months.
Recently, Crouch was at the Dove Awards in Nashville, during which the Gospel Music Assn. staged a musical tribute to him and evangelist Billy Graham. Crouch did not make an album in 1995 and thus had no chance to be nominated.
But three songs that Crouch wrote, including the most famous, "To God Be the Glory," were performed to close out the ceremony.
In the fall, Warner Alliance Records will release a CD of nearly a dozen songs composed by Crouch and performed by top Christian artists such as Michael W. Smith, the Winans, Take 6 and Bryan Duncan.
"It includes 'The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power,' which was the first song I wrote--when I was 14," he said.
Crouch's pastorate benefits from his fame in a number of ways. His doodlings--framed and autographed--have brought in more than $1,700 to buy video cameras and other equipment for the Children's Church at Christ Memorial.
Music companies have donated equipment to the church.
The church has attracted so much musical talent that a second and third choir were added, and Crouch plans to record a live album there this fall.
Yet Crouch--for all his celebrity--maintained that "90% of the church members have never heard of my records."