A conversation with men in the Perkins family turns on the occasional outburst of song.
The Longview News-Journal reports seven of them, and a teenager, from three generations were sitting around a table together, talking about their family's generational calling in music ministry when it happened -- a song, Chris Tomlin's "Jesus Messiah" to be exact. One moment, they were talking and ribbing each other in gentle good humor, and then, they were singing. It was unplanned, but they all joined in, someone singing bass, others harmonizing, a couple of them drumming a soft rhythm on the table, voices entering and exiting the song, naturally, without hesitation.
Does this happen often? Caden Perkins, the teenager, who attends Hallsville schools, said yes. As he describes it, family gatherings are affairs that never run on schedule, because songs happen.
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That's how it is in the Perkins family, led by patriarch Dale Perkins, the man who started what some might say is an East Texas music ministry dynasty, except that he probably wouldn't like that description.
"I'd rather be in the most obscure, obsolete place on the face of God's Earth and know that he had put me there than to stand on the pinnacle of what men call great and know that my ambition brought me here," Perkins said.
He served more than 40 years as music minister for Mobberly Baptist Church in Longview before retiring about 11 years ago. He now leads Perkins Partnership Ministries, which includes a ministry at Angola Prison in Louisiana and his family's worship group -- Classic Praise East Texas.
A number of his children and grandchildren are church music ministers around East Texas -- in Longview, Atlanta, Hughes Springs, Lufkin and Carthage. They and other family members frequently perform together as Classic Praise East Texas, but later this month, they've been asked to do something they've never done before: a reunion concert with the East Texas Baptist University Concert Choir as part of the college's homecoming festivities.
The free concert is set at 7 p.m. Oct. 26 in the Ornelas Spiritual Life Center in Marshall. Members of the churches where the men lead music also will join the group, said Scott Bryant, vice president for university advancement at ETBU.
"The Perkins family has had a great impact in leading worship throughout East Texas, and many of the family members are alumni of the institution," he said. "It's a great opportunity to allow them to lead us in a night of worship during our homecoming celebration."
More than 10 members of the Perkins family either graduated from ETBU or are students there, but not the father of the family's music mission.
"We grew up in a small country church," Perkins said. "It was so small the preacher didn't want to call the women `beloved' because they would take it personally. I started leading music when I was probably 8 or 9 years old in church. I didn't know a thing about it. I just did it, and everybody said I was going to be a preacher. That wasn't my goal. I wanted to play athletics or be a cowboy."
That's how the story frequently goes in the family.
"I think every one of us tried to do something else," said Dale Perkins II, music minister at First Baptist Church in Atlanta, of the men who became music ministers. They all discovered, though, that "joy didn't come" through those other things. Music ministry is where they found their satisfaction.
The older Dale Perkins said he comes from a poor family, with nine children.
"There was no such thing as music lessons or anything like that for me," he said, but he sees God's hand in his life.
God gave him athletic ability, he said, which made it possible for him to attend what is now Texas A&M University in Corpus Christi. He later earned a master's degree as well.
Perkins and his wife, Shirley, married when he was 19 and she was 17. They have five children, 17 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
"As we moved, everywhere we went, we never advertised what I did... and everywhere we went, a church looked us up. I don't know how they knew," Perkins said. "It had to be God's hand."
He never filled out a job application or sent a resume to a church, he said. In fact, he said he's never written a resume.
There was a time even he tried doing something else -- selling cars with his brother in Louisiana. He remembers that time and how well his family did financially. One day, though, he was in a pawn shop, shopping for a gun for a planned hunting trip, and thought he heard his brother's voice, quoting Luke 12:14: "Life comes not of the abundance of things a man possesses."
When he heard it a second time, that was it. Perkins quit his job, returned to school, and, ultimately spent the rest of his life's work in music ministry.
That's another thing that happens around the Perkins family: Scripture, a lot of it, for every moment in life. Family traditions include reciting Scripture at family gatherings, and, as the men described it, even some of the youngest members of the family quote Bible passages.
Perkins' sons Stacy and Clay talked about how their father taught them to follow Scripture in how they lead church worship service, drawing from Ephesians 5:19:, which says, "Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your hearts to the Lord."
Worship in that manner meets everyone's needs in church, said Clay Perkins, vice president of Perkins Partnership Ministry.
"When you do that, God honors it, always," the older Dale Perkins said.
The end result often is that the music complements the message the preacher presents, without any effort to coordinate the themes, he said.
And, Stacy Perkins said, worship conducted that way means each person who comes to worship service "can leave with a song that has touched them."
As the family considered the upcoming concert, they talked about the role East Texas Baptist University has had in their lives: each of the men in the room that day, other than their patriarch, attended ETBU for their undergraduate degrees. Dale Perkins said he had wanted his children to attend school there because of the "spiritual atmosphere" and the school's commitment to the authority of Scripture.
As the family members were finishing talking about their upcoming performance at the university, he asked each person at the table to share a relevant verse -- something he himself frequently does in conversation with other people.
Then, as they left, they stopped on the sidewalk of the building where they had gathered and formed in a tight circle to pray together -- another thing that happens with the Perkins family.
It's also how they had started their gathering that day, with Dale Perkins praying a sentiment the men frequently expressed as they talked: "We ask the seed that is produced today fall on good ground, so that it may produce much bountiful blessings for you and you alone."