In our church, we try an experimental worship format once every quarter, during a month when there are 5 Sundays, to push the envelope of how we do worship; to add freshness; and to teach the church that worship should be embraced in all its expressions.
I love Gospel music. I love it because it is simple. In a worship landscape when lyric, metaphor and melody are becoming more complex, it is good to return to repetition and predictability. But beyond this, Gospel music is music that moves its listeners. It reverberates through the soul. It is heart-felt. It is impossible to sing Gospel and not put in all your emotions. You can’t listen to Gospel and not move to its groove.
Last Sunday, we invited Stephanie Truscott to lead Gospel worship at Faith Community Church.
It was the first time we had dedicated the worship service to the Gospel genre, and it was probably the first time that many of us on the band had actually played an entire set in the Gospel style.
Some years ago, I had the honour of singing with Stephanie in her ensemble, Stephanie Truscott and the Garments of Praise. (Stephanie had been a pioneer in the worship movement in Perth, having led worship at Church Together, March for Jesus and worship conferences, and also trained and inspired many worship leaders and singers in the city).
The group was made up of singers from different churches and backgrounds who loved to sing Gospel.
Over the two years I sang with Stephanie, we had the opportunity to sing at public events such as Telethon, Multicultural Week festivals, Gospel Festivals and church services. But we also had the opportunity to perform in more intimate settings such as hospitals, nursing homes and detention centres. I began to discover how Gospel music, specifically, was able to penetrate areas of society that the Church was otherwise unable to reach.
This fact was brought home to me when I went on a mission trip to Japan in 2007. Whilst there, I had discovered that there was a Gospel singing group that met weekly to sing together, even though many of those who belonged to the group were unchurched. Yet, they were quite unwittingly singing potent prayers such as “Holy Spirit, fall afresh on me.” And I wondered just when God would answer such a prayer.
So, a few months back, I proposed to my worship pastor that we should do a Gospel Sunday.
The challenge was that the simplicity of Gospel melody belied the level of skill required, both from the musicians and singers. Many of the chords used in Gospel songs, for example, had fallen into disuse in the modern worship era and therefore out of the repertoire of most contemporary church musicians. Doing Gospel worship was not just to expose our congregation to something different, but also to stretch the skills of our musicians.
We rehearsed four times with Stephanie to deliver a 30-minute set. I still remember our first rehearsal about a month ago when Sam, our lead keyboardist, curled up in the foetal position after trying to play the first song. To his credit, he went back home and worked it all out and before long, he was comfortably hitting all the black notes.
It also meant that our singers had to sing differently – with more power, tightness and blend.
In the end, as daunting as it was, I am glad to say that our team managed to pull it off, not before being significantly challenged (except for Dave who is just naturally talented and capable).
The result was a Sunday worship service brimming with energy. Our congregation sang with all their might, clapping and moving along with the praise songs, and singing with affection as we moved into the slower songs. And God showed up!
Many were touched, with one member of the congregation reporting that their mother was still in tears over lunch, having felt the strong sense of God’s presence during the service.
Here’s the setlist:
// I Go to the Rock (D)
// There’s Power in the Blood (D-E)
// Every Praise (D-E-F)
// Great is Thy Faithfulness (C)
// I Give Myself Away (C-D)
// How Great is Our God (G)
// How Great Thou Art (G)
// Victor’s Crown (C)
For those who missed it or who want to relive the moment, here is the recording from Sunday.
(Photo credits: Faith Community Church)