His sophomore album, Songs of Common Prayer, featuring artists Sara Groves, Sarah Masen, and Taylor Leonhardt, was recently released, and I caught up with him to ask a few questions about it and to share some samples.
The lyrics for this album are either taken directly from or inspired by the Book of Common Prayer. Some readers won’t know what that is. Can you explain?
The Book of Common Prayer, written and compiled in the 16th century by Thomas Cranmer, was a centerpiece in the decades following the English Reformation and is still used widely across many denominations all around the world.
It offers a structure for corporate worship services as well as daily devotion and structured Bible reading.
Its prayers are affecting and beautiful. Here’s an example:
Is there a tradition within Anglicanism of taking the liturgy and turning it into song?
I think so. The church has always set her prayers and confessions to music. In creating Songs of Common Prayer, I wanted to join the cloud of witnesses who have contributed art to the Church for the purpose of bringing people together in worship.
I have a bunch of Eagles and Steely Dan songs that I just know. I didn’t try to learn them, I just did. They come on the radio and I sing along . . . somehow. I wrote this album with that formational intention in mind, pairing the Book of Common Prayer’s time-honored poetry (which is often taken from the lavish language of Scripture) with melodies that can be embodied, lived into, and passed on to future generations.
You are currently serving as the director of arts and liturgy in a Baptist church plant. In what ways do you see Baptists increasingly open to the beauty and power of the liturgical tradition?
A friend was just telling me about a Baptist church where, during the Scripture reading, the reader of the Gospel processes down from the stage and walks into the middle of the sanctuary where the people turn and reorient themselves to hear the words. This liturgical act mirrors Jesus’s incarnation: emptying himself and coming to dwell among his people. After growing up in a Baptist church, this sort of intention and symbolism makes a meaningful impact on me.
At Grace Story Church we incorporate many of these liturgical practices into our weekly gatherings. We often sing the Lord’s Prayer, and every week we recite the Apostles’ Creed and confess our sin corporately following the sermon. These communal actions remind us that we are not alone in our faith. We as individuals are not alone, and we as a small church plant are not alone.
One of the primary issues with liturgy is that it can become rote and uninhabited, and it is important to remain vigilant around that danger. But there is also a great benefit to constancy and declaring things to be true even when they don’t seem like they are or we don’t feel like it. Liturgy allows us to bring our honest emotions, true desires, and ordinary offerings to God while enjoying the freedom of its inherent boundaries. It can bring us closer to authenticity in worship; and that’s what I find people to be open to—real, authentic, intimate relationship with God.
What was the the most meaningful song on the album to write?
I wrote a song called “We Cry Mercy” that features Sara Groves. It’s a simple lyric with a call and response treatment.
“Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. O Lord, have mercy on us. We cry mercy.”
I wrote this song for the person who shows up at church in frustration, confusion, or pain; who feels like all they can genuinely offer God is lip service. I sing this song as someone who has exhausted his capabilities to manage life and is desperately hoping that God is real and that what the Bible says about his love is true.
I wept as I performed this song, considering my suffering and asking God to take it easy on me—to give me a break. With the psalmists before me, I want to create safe spaces for those who might feel similarly; places where honesty and vulnerability will invite communion and healing; the ground where relationship deepens.
As you have dreamed and labored on this album, and now that it is available, in what ways do you pray and envision churches and individual Christians using and benefiting from this beautiful album?
I pray these songs will be a reminder that what unites us is greater than what divides us; that every denominational difference is not an insurmountable division. I hope that, even as we hold steadfastly to right doctrine, perfect love would drive out fear, and we would enjoy greater unity in the church.
I pray that Songs of Common Prayer would cause us to slow down and open our hands to receive and accept reality; open our hearts to trust and worship God; and open our eyes to our brothers and sisters beside, behind, and before us.
Last, I want to inspire the Church toward rich, intimate relationship with God.
For readers who want to sample and purchase the songs, where can they go?
They can click here to listen.