Walter and Elizabeth Ward had nine children as they scratched a
living from the black earth of North Dakota in the '40s and '50s.
Though poor, the Wards were rich in love, fun, and music, and Annie
Ward and her older sisters began singing publicly when she was five
years old. They
performed at school openings, country church picnics, and farm co-op
meetings, but it was the Catholic Church that made the biggest impact
on Annie's musical development. "I loved the church," says Annie.
"I loved to sing in the choir and to sing those Latin masses. It
filled me with a tremendous sense of awe."
But something was wrong with Elizabeth. Dizziness, slurred speech,
and the occasional seizure signaled trouble ahead. After being misdiagnosed
for more than a decade, their mother, Elizabeth, died from a brain
tumor in 1968. Her death had a particularly significant effect on
Annie, who was investigating the religions of the world, trying
to find the reason for her own existence, when the transitory fact
of life was brought squarely home by her mother's passing.
A few months later, Annie's boyfriend, Buck Herring, became
born again and shared the truth of salvation with her, telling her
that Jesus offered her forgiveness through His blood, and new birth
through His resurrection. He also gave her a copy of the modern
English New Testament, Good News For Modern Man. The truth
took hold in Annie's life a few weeks later and she quit the
musical group she was singing in, surrendering her life to the Lordship
of Jesus Christ. "All I know is that I love Jesus, and Jesus loves
me," was Annie's first public testimony. Simple words of a brand
Buck and Annie were married in early 1969 and the Lord began to
teach them much about serving Him. An old upright piano became a
schoolroom for Annie as the Lord began to teach her to play and
receive songs from Him, while Buck was learning to be a recording
studio engineer. The next major event leading to the birth of The
2nd Chapter of Acts was the death of Annie's father, Walter,
from leukemia in the late summer of 1970, just two years after Elizabeth's
their father's funeral, it was decided that Nelly, 14, and Matthew,
12, now orphaned, would go to live with Buck and Annie. The Herrings
had been married for less than a year and a half when the teens
moved into their home. The trauma of losing both of their parents
and becoming part of a new and different family situation took its
toll on the two younger siblings. Nelly quickly credits "the grace
of God and the lubricating oil of the Holy Spirit" as the secret
to surviving the frequent family frictions. The love of the Lord
became more and more real in the midst of the new relationships,
eventually bringing Nelly and Matthew to their own commitment to
Annie continued to receive songs at her piano, but now Nelly and
Matthew would join her after school in spontaneous musical expression
that began to solidify them musically and spiritually. Their voices
blended together in smooth harmonies, so tightly, and naturally.
"We were just singing to the Lord," says Matthew, "and it was a
way of releasing our pain. We had gone through something tragic,
but we knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel."
who heard them sing began to tell their friends and soon there were
requests to sing at churches, Christian coffeehouses, and such.
But that was the limit. "The last thing we wanted to do was to sing
in front of people," " We were just so nervous" explains
Annie. "The good part was that it forced us to rely on the Lord."
The first recording was not intended to be a "group"
record, but a song written by a friend of Buck's who wanted to record
it. Instead, Matthew was selected to be the singer and belted out
the vocal to a song called "Jesus
Is" on his 13th birthday with his sisters
and some friends singing the background parts. The song caught the
ear of Pat Boone who arranged a contract with MGM records, and The
2nd Chapter of Acts was born.
Several concerts into their first tour, someone approached Annie
and said, "We're really sorry we didn't applaud, but we've never
heard music like that before!" As Nelly reflects: "One of the reasons
people didn't applaud was because we weren't singing songs about
Jesus, we were singing to Him. When people recognized that,
they sensed His Spirit. They could see Jesus, and they fell in love
Besides the spiritual power of their music, other factors catapulted
"Acts" into the public spotlight. First, touring with New
Christy Minstrel', Barry McGuire exposed them to a built-in
audience each concert. Second, "Easter Song" was getting
airplay on secular radio stations as well as the few contemporary
Christian programs that existed.
the bells ringing
singing that we can
This short two-minute twenty-second song caught on almost immediately
as the "Hallelujah Chorus" of a generation who found in
Jesus the answer to their search for peace and love.
to the world!
1973, they had entered the music ministry full-time. These early
experiences established the group's identity with the body
of Christ who eagerly welcomed their fresh Jesus music'
expression of faith. This laid a solid foundation for what has become
a hallmark musical ministry and established The 2nd Chapter of
Acts as one of contemporary Christian music's pioneers.
Prayer was an important key to the success of "Acts." Each morning,
in one of their hotel rooms, the group would gather to read a brief
passage from the Bible, to share from their hearts, and to pray
together. "One of the reasons we did this in the morning," says
Annie, "was because by the time we got to the concert hall, there
was so much to do and too many distractions. Then right before the
concert, we'd have one more short time of prayer¾
a 'flare prayer' we called it. "Because of their emphasis upon worship
and exalting the name of Jesus, "Acts" often found themselves thrust
into spiritual warfare, even before the concert began. But God had
been powerfully evident through each concert, each crisis, and each
confrontation with the enemy. Each concert was marked by a real
sense of joy and each of these gatherings seemed to become a rallying
point where young believers could celebrate their newfound faith
The group recorded over 16 albums. Annie was the primary songwriter
of their original songs, but Matthew and Nelly both contributed
from time to time. Their songs were unique; the voices and harmonies
angelic, and their message distinct and clear. As part of this recording
effort, they captured three live concert' recordings, one
notably with guitar virtuoso Phil Keaggy called How
The West Was One, which was part of an 18-city concert tour,
which introduced Phil's considerable talents to a West Coast audience.
Another significant recorded effort by the group was The
Roar Of Love, an album which captured the C.S. Lewis allegory
The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. This simple childlike
story captured the imagination of Annie who began an eight-year
process of writing songs for the project. It remains to this day
one of the group's most loved efforts. Also, the group recorded
a very popular series of Hymn albums capturing the power of tradition
and bringing it to a new generation.
After 16 years of touring and over 1000 concerts later The 2nd
Chapter of Acts prayerfully retired as a group in 1988, but
not before doing a "farewell" tour. In every city, they sang to
packed auditoriums and the Spirit of God moved mightily in each
concert. As Matthew remembers it, "We finished our final concert
in Houston, Texas, and the 7500 people attending rose to their feet
and clapped and clapped. Nelly and Annie were crying and I was losing
it. I think it had finally dawned on us: This is our last concert.
This is it! We weren't tired of ministering to people or anything.
It was just God's time for something new." The 2nd Chapter of
Acts was one of the very few Jesus-music groups whose music
was unique; it did not have a parallel in pop music, but their message
and ministry still speak loud and clear today.