By Bob Allen
A North Carolina Baptist worship minster’s song is running a strong second in fan voting midway through a month-long contest leading to a top-prize billing alongside some of the biggest names on the contemporary Christian music scene.
By midday July 19, Giles Blankenship’s “You Are There” had garnered more than 17,000 Facebook “likes” in a song-search contest by We Are Worship, a website that carries 2,000 songs from established songwriters like Grammy Award winners Matt Redman and Israel Houghton, “In Christ Alone” author Stuart Townend and Graham Kendrick, a prolific British singer/songwriter whose discography includes the contemporary-worship standard “Shine, Jesus, Shine.”
The leader among more than 200 contest entries so far, “Wholly” by fellow North Carolinian Jeremy Fisher, has 20,000-plus likes. Combined the two songs have more votes than the rest of the top 10 entries combined.
After Facebook voting closes July 31, the five songs with most “likes” will go to a panel of judges from Integrity Music, a firm originally founded as a direct-to-consumer music club in 1987 sold to ministry company David C. Cook in 2011.
The winning song will receive an invitation to record in studio with Les Moir, an influential figure in Christian music for the last 20 years, and a publishing agreement with Integrity.
Blankenship, a Campbell University Divinity School graduate, in August celebrates his 10th anniversary as minister of worship at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated congregation is well-known in CBF life for starting Operation Inasmuch, a program which involves church members in community-wide mission projects for the needy.
Blankenship, who has recorded five albums, said because the contest’s focus is on songs that breathe life into worship services in the local church, he immediately narrowed the list of all the songs he has written to two. He conducted an informal poll of his friends on Facebook, and the overwhelming favorite was “You Are There.”
The story behind the song began about five years ago with Lars Gordon, at the time a high-school student involved in Snyder’s youth group interested in skateboards, art and music. Gordon was learning to play guitar and enjoyed meeting with Blankenship to show off his chops.
One day Gordon showed him a lick, and Blankenship picked up his guitar and began to fill in behind it with some chords. He began to “mumble” a tune, a way that his songs are sometimes born.
Blankenship had been meditating on Psalm 139, which begins: “O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest me when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar.”
He began to sing: “You are with me when I’m waking. I stand to face the day.” From there, words from the psalm began to flow into the lyrics.
Blankenship said the song almost didn’t make it onto his 2008 album, Planted Here. The record had been nearly a year in the making without a chance to lay the new track when his friend Kevin Perry brought a laptop and microphone over to Blankenship’s home.
“So there it was — laptop and microphone and living room and guitar — and we recorded it right there,” Blankenship said in a website video about the song. “Since then it’s been a song that has met me where I am, and I hope that it continues to meet the body of Christ where they are – reminding them of God’s presence, who he is and that he is always there.”
Of all the songs he has written, Blankenship says a few have risen to the top that the church has affirmed again and again. “You Are There” is one of those.
“Furthermore, I think ‘You Are There’ gains strength as it rises from the biblical text of Psalm 139 and does so in an honest way that brings the psalm to bear on the varying seasons we have in our journey of faith,” Blankenship said in an e-mail interview.
“Sometimes we do ‘rise to the highest heavens’ and sometimes — whether through a ‘hell’ of our own making or through no choice of our own whatsoever — we, nevertheless, find ourselves there, but we are reminded that God is with us in every circumstance,” he said.
Blankenship, who financed his recent CD, The Day is Dawning, by raising just over $10,000 for travel and studio time in Nashville solicited in a website video, said winning first prize in the We Are Worship contest would be a dream come true.
“I’ve [hoped] for quite some time that God might keep on using these songs in even broader and broader ways to speak to, to lift up, to help the church express their worship of God,” he said. “Integrity Music has been in the position for years of bringing songs to the community of faith around the world.”
Blankenship said he would be “humbled and honored” to share the song with them. “And who knows what future opportunities might arise from it?”
To listen to “You Are There,” go to http://www.weareworship.com/song-contest/entry/49/. While there you can vote for the song by Liking it and get more votes by sharing it with others.
— With reporting by Brian Miller, pastor of Richfield Baptist Church in Richfield, N.C.