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Tiny church hosting superstar Christian singer Carman

One of Western New York's smallest churches will play host to one of the nation's biggest contemporary Christian music superstars in concert on Sept. 11.

The 42-member congregation of Wheatfield Community Church will present "Carman in Concert," an energetic music ministry by Billboard magazine's first Contemporary Christian Artist of the Year in 1990, who has produced 15 gold and platinum albums and videos and has sold more than 10 million records.

Carman, whose full name is Carman Domenic Licciardello, holds attendance records for the largest solo Christian concerts in history with 80,000 people outdoors in Charlotte, N.C., 71,132 at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas and 50,000 in Johannesburg, South Africa.

He set the record for longest time at number one on Billboard's contemporary Christian music sales chart at 33 weeks, and his "Champion" record remained on the Billboard overall sales charts for a record 168 weeks.

Carman, 55, has been described as part evangelist and part Las Vegas showman. His concerts are more like a rock 'n' roll Billy Graham Crusade than a Christian music event, according to his promoters. The performer, who says he would be a minister if he were not an entertainer, has played to appreciative audiences in Buffalo and has been a headliner at Kingdom Bound, the annual Christian festival at Darien Lake.

His Sept. 11 performance will be his second appearance under the auspices of the tiny Wheatfield Community Church.

Because of his popularity, the Rev. Linda Badame, pastor of Wheatfield Community Church, has had to look around for bigger venues. She arranged for his "For Real -- For Now" concert Sept. 6, 2009, in the First Assembly of God Church in Niagara Falls. This year's Sept. 11 performance will be held at 6 p.m. in Victory Christian Church, 6886 S. Transit Road, Town of Lockport.

Carman's agent and road manager, Ron Blackwood, told The Buffalo News last week that the Las Vegas performer was recovering from minor surgery on his foot, "but he will present a very energetic performance. He is very strong-willed and determined. He's a health fanatic and takes care of himself."

Blackwood said Carman would bring "a very strong, positive message of hope: Don't give up. We're in this life together; he will bring people together, and we'll stay together because we're free in America to worship God."

Badame, a Buffalo native and Niagara Falls resident who is the founding pastor of the sponsoring church in Wheatfield, said she has been "connected with Carman's ministry for some time" and they are friends. She first became involved with his ministry when she served as a volunteer prayer counselor at one of his appearances in Buffalo.

She recalls that he performed a Christmas program based on Handel's "Messiah" in Memorial Auditorium in the early 1990s.

Badame is a nondenominational minister ordained by the Open Bible Faith Fellowship in Canada. She opened the church Sept. 15, 2002, in the banquet room of the Summit Inn on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Niagara Falls and soon moved into a storefront in the former Summit Park Mall on Williams Road in Wheatfield.

A fierce windstorm blew the roof off a section of the church area of the mall while she was preaching her sermon Dec. 28, 2008. Badame said she couldn't remember the topic of that sermon, but she does remember that none of the 35 people at that service was injured in the winter storm.

Wheatfield Community Church moved to its present location at 3571 Niagara Falls Blvd., in Wheatfield's Meadowbrook Square Plaza, on June 7, 2009.

Despite its tiny size, the church maintains an ambitious schedule of programs:

Sunday worship services are from 10 a.m. to noon, with a separate children's ministry for those in grades 1-6.

A 12-step program for those addicted to alcohol, drugs, food, relationships, materialism, perfectionism, sex, television or anything that leaves a void in their lives meets at 7:15 p.m. every Tuesday.

A prayer and Bible study group meets at 7:15 p.m. on Wednesdays.

A healing service is held at 7 p.m. on the third Friday of every month when the church says people are healed physically, emotionally and spiritually.

The church sponsors Christ the King Preparatory Academy, a private Christian school for prekindergarten through 12th grade limited to 12 students per room, near the sanctuary in another part of the plaza.

Looking for a larger venue for the Carman concert, Badame found Victory Christian Church and its pastor, the Rev. Ron Friedersdorf, in the Town of Lockport. "Pastor Ron," as he likes to be called, quickly agreed to let Wheatfield Community Church use his congregation's storefront church building.

Neither church views the concert as a fundraiser. Money from the advance sale of $5 passes for guaranteed seating goes to pay expenses of the Wheatfield church. Money from a free-will "love offering" goes to Carman, who otherwise performs for free.

Friedersdorf said his Victory Christian Church plans to break ground in October for a new church building with a 500-seat auditorium on a 120-acre site about a mile and a half north of the present site on South Transit Road.

Because seating is limited and an overflow crowd is expected, the promoters suggest that anyone who wants to get a seat should buy a $5 guaranteed seating pass in advance. The passes can be purchased by calling Wheatfield Community Church at 553-3794. Passes also will be sold at the church from 6:30 to 7:15 p.m. and from 9 to 9:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, and from 12:30 to 2 p.m. on Sundays while supplies last.

Carman will present a live concert in Toronto on Sept. 10, the night before he is to appear in Victory Christian Church.