By Jeff Brumley
All Souls Charlottesville is a Baptist church in Virginia where ancient church practices are embraced, from focusing on hospitality and following the liturgical calendar to embracing creeds and celebrating the Eucharist.
But spiritual formation took on a decidedly modern dimension for the congregation recently with the release of “All Souls Songwriters Album, Vol. 1,” on the digital music store CD Baby, with releases on iTunes and other outlets to follow.
The eight songs written and performed by church members weren’t recorded as a church fundraiser but as an opportunity for congregational growth and community outreach, All Souls ministers say.
“We are trying to call people to use their gifts and to understand that the things they love and the things they create are given to them by God,” said Winn Collier, pastor at All Souls and also an elder at the church planted more than five years ago by the Baptist General Association of Virginia.
“That absolutely has an impact on people when they realize these things are not separate from faith, but are spiritual formation practices,” Collier said.
When production began in the summer of 2013, the album was conceived as a way to capture the creativity of the musicians who performed it, said Brendan Jamieson, pastor of arts and community formation at All Souls.
Jamieson, who produced the collection, said some of the songs had been performed during a period in worship when members of the community share a song, a poem or other work they had created.
“We wanted to honor the stuff that people had been creating,” said Jamieson, who has three songs on the new album.
Because none of those who performed for the album earn their living as musicians, none of them had high-quality recordings of their performances, Jamieson said.
Subtly spiritual lyrics
“This is kind of giving them a gift and giving our community a gift,” he said.
The gift is an eclectic one. Its songs range from sea-shanty and jazz music to tunes that are near country and near rock. Jamieson said some can also be classified as singer-songwriter.
What they are not, he added, is overtly religious songs. Lyrics generally are spiritual but not heavy handed in sharing the faith.
“They do point people in that direction,” Jamieson said, adding it isn’t music one would associate with corporate worship.
“All of it does point you to the gospel if you listen to it carefully.”
But it’s the subtleness of that message that may make it effective as a tool for outreach, Jamieson said.
“This is something that our community can share with people outside the community,” he said.
That dawned on Jamieson recently when he encountered a neighbor who is a musician but not a church member. Jamieson said he gave the man a CD of the album, confident that its soft-touch, faith-based content wouldn’t be a turn off to him.
Now it’s something All Souls members may be asked to do eventually.
“Giving it to neighbors or co-workers would be a way of building relationships,” he said.
More albums likely
All Souls members are likely to have plenty to share in the coming months and years. Jamieson said five or six additional songs have been identified for a second album of singer-songwriter material.
And that’s not all.
“We actually write corporate worship music and we have an album we could do with that material,” he said. “We also might do a Christmas album.”
That may be a lot of original music for some congregations but not for All Souls, where devotion to the arts — visual and performance — attracts many who are interested in its intersection with faith.
“We’ve always had people like that,” Jamieson said. “I think it’s partly because … we commission artwork every year around the seasons of the church and we have galleries and we encourage sharing beauty, truth and goodness” during worship.
Art as missional expression
All of that — and the album — are expressions of All Souls’ sense of calling, Collier said.
“This is actually reflective of how we are to be in the world.”
Encouraging artistic and other talents within the community remind participants that these, like other abilities, are God-given and useable in church, worship and the outside world.
“This comes from the conviction that the more we live out who we truly are, the more we express the fullness of the Kingdom of God,” Collier said.