Louise Mandrell deservedly holds the title as country music's hardest working star. Six evenings a week from April Fool's Day until New Year's Eve, the Corpus Christi, Texas native hosts and headlines a two hour music and dance revue at her 1,400-seat theater in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
During the theater's off-season, the raven-haired singer, dancer, and instrumentalist stays busy both touring and planning the next season's show. In addition to her musical talents, she has raised over $1,000,000 for the Boy Scouts of America through celebrity skeet shoots and charity races.
But despite her hectic schedule, Louise answered God's call and offered her show business facility for non-denominational services on Sunday mornings from May through November. The former star of Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters felt visitors to her city needed a place of worship where they weren't required to wear "church" clothes and wouldn't be uncomfortable in strange surroundings.
"Barry Gibbs, a good friend from my home church (First Baptist Church - Pigeon Forge), approached me with the idea," the recording artist said. "I told him I didn't think I could handle with it with my commitments to the theater, charity, and Sunday School class, but I would pray about it."
The answer to Louise's prayers arrived through her daughter, Nicole. The teenager came to her Mom and informed her that God had laid this project on her heart.
To gauge the public's interest, the musician who plays 13 instruments agreed to host the worship services on a trial basis in October 2000. She immediately recognized the overwhelming need when over 700 people showed up for the opening service.
"It's not easy getting up at six on Sunday morning when you've gone to bed at 1:30," Louise said. "But Nicole gets dressed without complaining and is always ready to go. It surprises me how good I feel every Sunday, and I think it comes from seeing what a blessing so many people receive."
The prayer and praise sessions follow
a simple format. The theater doors open at 8 a.m., and introductory music begins at 8:15. At 8:30, the service starts, and it ends promptly at 9:15.
"I promised everyone I would keep the services brief so that people could get an early start on their way back home," the singer who began performing professionally at age 15 said. "Since Pigeon Forge is a tourist town, I'm very aware of people's travel schedules."
Louise has practiced her Christian faith since childhood. Irby, her law enforcement officer father, and Mary, her homemaker mother, not only instilled their daughters with broad musical training, they also attended to their spiritual needs by taking them to Sunday School and church. In addition to Biblical instruction, the Mandrells taught their offspring the value and need of giving.
"Giving was a big part of our family life," she recalled. "And it wasn't only the giving of money or presents. We were taught to give our talents back to the Lord." "For ever so long I thought that Christmas was not just the birthday of Christ, but also a day in which everybody went to military bases and sang for our soldiers," Louise added. "I honestly thought that this was part of the holiday because my parents, Barbara, and the family band made this a tradition. Every Christmas we gave our talents to others."
Most Sundays, the nighttime star leads the opening prayer and introduces her guests for the day. A number of gospel music greats including the Kingdom Heirs and the Blackwoods frequently assist by providing special music and testimony.
"I'm so grateful to my friends who help out especially the Blackwoods because there are so many of them," the dedicated Christian entertainer said. "They take over the entire worship service and allow me to take an occasional Sunday off."
Following the service, Louise stays and greets the many worshipers and fans in attendance. Their grateful expressions support and boost the hardworking singer and dancer to carry on her important ministry.
"I never knew these services would bless so many," she said. "Service is an obligation, but sometimes we don't listen to God because we're too busy or tired. But He will always find a way to let you know His plan just as He did for me through Nicole."