Lawrence Chewning has been writing and singing songs about his Christian faith for almost five decades. His music goes back to the early days of the Jesus Movement in the 1970's, when a brand new form of Christian music was being molded. It later became known as Contemporary Christian Music, but at the time it was simply called Jesus Music. Lawrence has worn a variety of hats over the years, including music group leader, evangelist, pastor, foster care worker, and adoption worker, but one of the constants in his adult life has been he has always written Christian songs.
Songwriting was not a natural gift. Although Lawrence had played the piano since childhood, as hard as he tried, he could not come up with an original song. When he was nineteen years old, as he was riding in his car on summer break from college, he
said a prayer that altered the course of his life. Lawrence prayed, “Lord, if you will give me the gift of writing songs, I promise you that every song I write for the rest of my life will be about You in some way.” There were no bells or whistles or goose
bumps. Just a simple prayer while driving down the road. Within one week, the first original song began to form. There have been approximately three hundred songs since then.
Lawrence grew up in rural South Carolina and was the son of a cotton farmer, ginner, and merchant. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior when he was eight years old at the little country church three miles up the road from his home. Lawrence felt a calling to preach when he was ten years old and preached his first sermon at the age of fourteen.
After graduation from high school, Lawrence moved to Anderson, Indiana, where he attended Anderson College (later renamed Anderson University). He eventually graduated in 1975 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work and Religion. During his junior year, his academic career was interrupted when a spontaneous religious revival broke out at the South Meridian Church of God, in Anderson, Indiana.
The revival was an offshoot of the famous Asbury Awakening, which had occurred three weeks earlier in Wilmore, Kentucky. The Asbury revival occurred on the campus of Asbury College on February 3,1970. Asbury is a Christian college with roots in Methodism. During the regular, mandatory chapel service on February 3 rd , the scheduled guest speaker was not able to keep the engagement, so the decision was made to open up the service for testimonies from the audience. Something electric was in the air during this meeting, and a deep sense of the Holy Spirit's presence was felt. All over the auditorium people began weeping and going forward to kneel at the wide altar at the front of the platform. People also began openly confessing their sins and making apologies to others for whom they had held grudges and bitterness. This service was extended to the next hour, and eventually
indefinitely. For the next one hundred eighty-one hours, around the clock, the service continued.
The local news media picked up on the story, and then the national media followed suit, spreading the the news of the revival spread far and wide.
On Sunday, February 22, 1970, a team of students from Asbury College came to Anderson, Indiana, and shared their testimonies of the revival at the South Meridian Church of God. A similar spontaneous awakening occurred at the end of the service with crowds of people flocking to the altar to pray. For the next fifty days, three services a day, the revival permeated the city. The local newspaper proclaimed in bold headlines one Monday, “2,500 GET RIGHT WITH GOD.” The Chicago Tribune eventually heard about the revival and wrote a full page article about the love in Anderson, Indiana. Various churches throughout the nation began requesting teams of people to come and share the news of the Anderson “Revival of Love”, as it began to be called. Lawrence began to regularly travel on weekends with teams of other students and adults to churches in other states. During the spring of 1970, he traveled in teams to New Jersey, Florida, Missouri, and South Carolina.
When the announcement was made that the regular revival services would be coming to an end, Lawrence and several other men began to feel a growing desire to continue to travel and share the good news. They decided to call themselves,"The Fishermen" and bought a worn-out 1956 Cadillac limousine with lots of mechanical problems and set out across the eastern United States with two hundred dollars and a very lean schedule, but with a determination to share the good news of Jesus wherever they could. The original Fishermen consisted of Lawrence Chewning, Ray Renner, Bud Sempsrott, and Greg Gimbut. Doors opened as they stepped out in faith.
The Fishermen eventually evolved into a three-person music group, which featured, Lawrence on piano and lead vocals, Bud Sempsrott on bass guitar and background vocals, and his brother, Karl Sempsrott, on drums and background vocals, and at
times acoustic guitar. Don Whitesel was the sound technician. Gary Rinker later became the drummer and Karl Sempsrott moved over to sound. The Fishermen performed at coffeehouses, churches, and Jesus Music festivals throughout the Midwest, as well as in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Mexico, and Texas. By this time, Lawrence had begun to write the bulk of the songs the Fishermen performed. They also recorded an album with the financial help and encouragement of Andrae Crouch, followed by a live concert album recorded at Anderson University.
During one of the Fishermen concerts at a Christian coffeehouse called Jacob's Well, in Hartford City, Indiana, a teenager named Ray Boltz accepted Christ. Ray later became a Dove award-winning recording artist. In 1977, the Fishermen disbanded. By this time they had all gotten married and felt the Lord's leading individually in different directions. Lawrence formed another band later in the year called Lawrence Chewning & Eastland Band. At the same time, Lawrence was feeling drawn to relocate to the New England states, where The Fishermen had toured extensively, and the band's name reflected this new emphasis.
Grammy winner, Gary S. Paxton, showed interest in the new band and produced and financed an album in 1978 called simply, “Lawrence Chewning & Eastland Band.” This band consisted of Lawrence on piano and lead vocals, Duane (Dewey) Ellsworth on bass guitar and background vocals, Ron Scott on lead guitar, John Yates on drums, and Brenda Seibert on background vocals. Brenda's husband, Billy, was sound man. The band stayed together for the next two years and sang throughout New England.
Beginning in 1979, Lawrence co-pastored a non-denominational church in Massachusetts for sixteen years before relocating in his native South Carolina where he became a foster care worker and adoption worker. Lawrence continued to perform solo concerts of his original music and to preach on weekends and did an occasional out-of-state tour as the doors opened. He continued to write new songs.
Lawrence's most well-known composition is “The Anchor Holds”, which was made popular by Ray Boltz, and then sung by a host of singers, including the Gaither Homecoming Friends, Karen Peck and New River, and Jimmy Swaggart. It has become one of America's favorite gospel songs and has brought comfort to many people going through their own personal storms. “The Anchor Holds” was written in 1992 and 1993 during a year that Lawrence and his wife call their year of sorrows.
During this time, Lawrence went through the death of his father, burnout as a pastor, and division in his church, culminating in the grief he and his wife experienced with her third miscarriage. As Lawrence held the fourteen week-old fetus in his hand, he looked upward in prayer and confessed to the Lord, “I love you. I have loved you since I was a little boy, but I don't understand.” Lawrence and his wife, Trish, sank into a deep time of sadness and discouragement over the next several months.
Lawrence took a six month Sabbatical from pastoring, during which time he spent hours alone at his keyboard in his basement. He would sing the old hymns as well as songs he had written in the past, but would also play freestyle in worship to the Lord. Over a period of time a distinct tune kept coming to his mind, and as he would play it over and over again, he found himself singing, “The anchor holds, though the ship's been battered. . . . . The anchor holds in spite of the storm.” As he would sing those words, hope and comfort began to slowly build in his spirit. It took a period of several months for the the long, original version of “The Anchor Holds” to be written. It had five verses, sung in a row, and what is now he chorus was a coda at the end of the song.
In May of 1993, Lawrence and his brother-in-law, Dan Stark, drove from Massachusetts, where he was living and where he had recently resigned from pastoral ministry, to Bangor, Maine, in order to see Ray Boltz in concert. Lawrence and Ray had been friends for a number of years, ever since the night in 1972 Ray attended a concert by the Fishermen, and said a prayer to receive Christ. During a meal with Ray in Bangor, Lawrence mentioned the difficult year he had gone through and told him the Lord had inspired him to write a song called “The Anchor Holds.” Lawrence then recited a few of the lyrics of the song. About a month later, Lawrence received a telephone from Ray in which he expressed interest in possibly recording “The Anchor Holds” even though he had never heard the song. Lawrence told him he would send him the song “in the rough” and warned him the song was very long and if he wanted to tweak it and shorten it, he had his permission. Ray Boltz took the long version, shortened it to two verses, adding a new musical bridge in the middle of the song, but kept the vast majority of the original tune and lyrics intact. The decision was also made to highlight what had been a coda at the end, and instead use it as a chorus which would be repeated three times. In 1994, Ray Boltz included it on his “Allegiance” project, which later won a Dove award for Inspirational Album of the Year. The record company initially passed on releasing “The Anchor Holds” as a radio single, deeming it too long and too sad. However, the decision was later reversed and “The Anchor Holds” was released as a radio single in late 1994.
On January 23, 1995, “The Anchor Holds” became the # 1 song on the national Inspirational charts, where it stayed for three weeks. Since that time, the song has made its way into the heart of America and beyond. Another song Lawrence wrote, “At the Foot of the Cross” was a Top 5 hit on the Inspirational charts and is sung frequently during the Easter season.
Lawrence continues to present concerts throughout the nation and to preach. He is also an experienced storyteller and has held numerous revival services throughout his long career. He has recorded nine albums of his original songs as well as a “live”
concert DVD. He retired from his job as an adoption worker in 2018, and lives in Florence, South Carolina, with his wife of forty-four years, Trish. They are the parents of two adult daughters and one adult son and are also proud grandparents.
For booking inquiries, Lawrence Chewning can be contacted via email,
firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 843-260-0556.