In the eyes of Robert Bowers, it is no accident that a white, middle-class certified public accountant from Ellicott City has gone into the business of producing gospel concerts.
"Things happen in funny ways," said the 42-year-old father of four who does most of his work out of his kitchen in the neighborhood behind St. John's Lane Elementary School.
Last spring he listened to two visiting gospel singers in church and was surprised to see most of the congregation rise in response totheir "altar call" to proclaim their dedication to Christ.
A few months later he recalled that performance when he received a phone call asking for help funding a gospel concert.
He became acquainted with the caller, who later would introduce Bowers to his future business partner, Saturday gospel disc jockey Lisa Brown of WWIN radio in Baltimore.
At about the same time, he happened to meet a convention planner who was able to detail the ins and outs of concert booking for him.
"I don't think any of this was a coincidence. I think allof this was preordained," said Bowers.
Last month, Gospel Music Productions put on its two first concerts, the Rev. James Moore and Minister Keith Pringle at Washington's Scripture Cathedral on Jan. 24, and at Baltimore First Apostolic Church, Jan. 25.
And negotiationsare in the works for a gospel choir performance in coming months.
As with most new businesses, the company has yet to make a profit. Half of the $10,000 cost of each performance was covered by a church foundation grant that Bowers secured as insurance against a loss.
"It's a funny business, because I would view my product as saved lives," he said of the $10-a-seat concerts. "I didn't want ticket prices so high that they'd be a barrier to attendance."
Bowers has lived in his home behind St. John's Elementary for 14 years with his wife, Marie, and four children, two of whom are in college.
The product of a "good church upbringing," Bowers attends two churches every Sunday.
One, the local First Lutheran, "is not the sort of church wherepeople get all excited about gospel music," he said. The other is anapostolic church near Annapolis.
"I don't mind telling you I strayed for some years, and recently I've come back to God, and that's part of why I'm doing this."
The other part is a mixture of good business sense and a belief that while it might not survive a cost-benefit analysis, his new venture has a powerful backer.
"I have a pastor friend of mine who says God pays his bills -- some of it in strange ways."
In addition to running his 17-year-old accounting business in Baltimore County, M. Robert Bowers and Associates, Bowers has been involved with a variety of business ventures, including raising money for businesses and charities. He said he hopes to use his expertise applying for grants to help city churches sponsor gospel concerts.
"I want to bring more than a dollar motive to a business activityand bring some business acumen to a religious activity." That can include carefully balancing ticket prices against the capacity of a church, and lowering costs by scheduling multiple performances, he says.
His venture is not always well-received, however.
"Some pastors say, 'this is a ticketed event and a profit-making activity.' I looked at one and said, 'Your church pays you a salary, doesn't it?' He said, 'Oh, that's different.' "
The concerts can cost $7,500 to $10,000 to produce, he says.
"That probably pales compared to a Guns'n' Roses concert. Most are held in churches, and very few churches hold 100,000 people."
Bowers does not like large venues, however, because they lack the spiritual ambience of a church.
It's not easy to make a profit with those restrictions, especially since few halls in Baltimore seat more than 3,000 people.
Besides, Bowers prefers to deal with churches, because he believes people in need are more likely to reap the benefits.
Bowers believes the business will start making a profit when the company can book concerts every other weekend, possibly within several months.
When that happens, he says he plans to set aside a fund to provide free concert tickets to the needy.
Brown, the producer for Gospel Music Productions, has the knowledge of the industry to balance Bowers' business knowledge.
Bowers said Brown taught him that unlike popular artists, who often develop a national following, gospel performers often play to a more localized audience.
"A gospel singer can be extremely popular in Baltimore and leave people lukewarm or cold in Washington," said Bowers.