Earlier in October, thousands of people-and many churches-across the nation participated in the Harvest America crusade simulcast, which broadcast the evangelistic service of Pastor Greg Laurie live from Dallas, Texas. Leading worship and providing the special music in Dallas were MercyMe and Phil Wickham. It was a great message, with many coming forward to find new life in Christ.
But it was in one state to the west-New Mexico-that the music really shined. Pastor Skip Heitzig and Calvary Albuquerque hosted a live simulcast of the Harvest event, with many people attending and responding to Laurie’s message. But instead of broadcasting the music portion of the crusade, Calvary Albuquerque invited Northern Ireland band Rend Collective, along with touring mates Urban Rescue and Moriah Peters, to showcase their incredible musical gifts.
To say the least, the music was well received.
Watch their music video “Lighthouse”:
Rend Collective is from Bangor, Northern Ireland, a seaside town in County Down-a place rich with Christian history (St. Patrick is said to have visited the area, having a vision from God upon its shores). It’s a fitting location for the band that describes its music as experimental folk-rock worship.
With four albums released to its name, Rend Collective is one of Christian music’s most unique voices, with a sound that combines Americana instrumentation with British-Isle tonalities and melodic lines. In Rend Collective’s music, one can hear banjo, accordion, mandolin, brass, and a host of other non-mainstream rock instrumentation.
Rend Collective’s newest release, The Art of Celebration, went to #1 on the US Christian charts. The first single, “My Lighthouse,” has an accompanying video with the band on a boat, singing, “You are the peace in my troubled sea. My Lighthouse.”
Prior to the concert at Calvary Albuquerque, Pastor Skip had a chance to sit down with band members Gareth Gilkeson and Chris Llewellyn to discuss their music and ministry. The other members of the band are Ali Gilkeson, Patrick Thompson, and Steve Mitchell.
PS: Tell us about the start of Rend Collective and the Old English meaning of the word rend.
GG: It’s from the King James Version, and it means to tear; we started a church called Rend based on two verses: Isaiah 64:1 [‘Oh that thou wouldest rend the heavens, that thou wouldest come down, that the mountains might flow down at thy presence’] and Joel 2:13 [‘Rend your heart, and not your garments, and turn unto the LORD your God’].
We wanted it to be about being real and authentic, not religious. We wanted to meet with twenty- and thirty-year-olds who had either grown up in the church and moved away from it or had never been to church. The Collective part, the band, came out of a decision to go out and worship with people rather than plant a church somewhere.
PS: How is the church worship culture in Northern Ireland different from what you are experiencing in the States? You have said there is no Christian music industry in Ireland and the home folks were suspicious that success might spoil you. Tell us about that.
GG: There’s no CCM in Ireland; there’s not an industry nor a market for a Christian subculture; being Irish is enough of a common subculture. Worship music there is a bit more old-fashioned, more liturgical. People enjoy gathering to sing, and there’s a thriving worship culture in Northern Ireland.
PS: The title of your project The Art of Celebration explains a lot about your philosophy. Can you expand on your phrase, ‘Homemade worship for homemade people’?
GG: To be honest, part of it is that there’s not the same level of production in church, so we keep it simple. Our music has been recorded mostly in my home because it’s what we can afford. But we also want to worship with and not at people. We want them to know they have a voice in worship; they’re important.
Another part of the name Collective is that, after twenty-five years of fighting in Northern Ireland, we’re looking for unity in the body of Christ. People have said that the fighting was about Catholics versus Protestants, but really it was mostly political. We want to people to know: Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal-we all belong to Christ.
PS: You have some wild instruments in your band. What are some of them?
GG: The jingling Johnny and the Irish bouzouki (flat where the Greek bouzouki is bulbous) are the most unusual.
CL: Give me an instrument that looks fun to play and I’ll try it!
PS: You recorded a live album around a campfire and shot your ‘Lighthouse’ video on an operational fishing boat in the Irish Sea. That must have been a challenge! How wet did you get?
GG: Both were purely impractical! You have to deal with the weather, and the sound. For Campfire, the heart of it was being able to hear people singing; we were all on the same level, no rock stars, all worshiping God. In the video, the idea was that we’re just going to go for it and see what happens-there are storms in life, but God calls us safe to shore.
PS: Your style is fun, but worship can also touch on deep life issues. You told a German interviewer the story of a couple who suffered loss but were affected by your music; tell us about that.
CL: We remember that couple, but there are so many stories. We have a Celebration Wall with us on this tour, and people just write their stories on it. We collect the stories of people who celebrate in the midst of hard times. It’s what makes it all worthwhile!
GG: There’s a commitment to celebration that can bring joy in the midst of the darkest of times. Worship isn’t just one color, but this wide expanse that covers all of our experiences.
Watch the “Build Your Kingdom Here” music video:
PS: You have been nominated for Best Live Show. What is a Rend Collective show like?
GG: Completely bonkers. Live, we go through the complete breadth of emotions; it’s all part of our experience with God. We switch instruments and shoot confetti.
CL: You know that movie Titanic? It’s definitely bottom deck, not upper deck!
GG: But we always end with a song called ‘Simplicity,’ just to finish with that simple truth: ‘I come in simplicity, longing for purity, to worship You in Spirit and truth, only You.’
PS: What is a highlight of your US/Canadian tour so far?
GG: This isn’t going to sound very spiritual, but the other night, we took the ‘joy orbs,’ these huge inflatable beach balls, and just threw them out into the crowd. People’s eyes just lit up. Or when we shoot confetti out into the crowd, to see that sparkle in people’s eyes, giving them permission to have fun-that’s fantastic.
PS: You have said that seriousness is not always a spiritual gift. Have you seen your music transform and pick up the audience during a live performance?
GG: Seriousness is not a fruit of the Spirit, but joy is. Only some of worship is a lament; most of it is joy. For us, it’s hard; we’re not natural optimists. The art of celebration is something we chase after, but it’s worth it to let people know that they don’t need to be overwhelmed by fear, shame, or guilt; we have a good reason to party.
PS: What’s the next project for Rend Collective?
GG: Even though we said we’d never do it again, we’re doing a Christmas campfire album. Christmas is just such a wonderful time of year, so magical, and singing these songs in a group like that is a real bridge for young people to connect with Christmas.
It just so happened that Rend Collective arrived in New Mexico during Albuquerque’s International Balloon Fiesta, a weeklong event where thousands of people take to the sky in hot air balloons.
Though Rend Collective didn’t get the opportunity to ride in a balloon, they are riding high-both in God’s grace and musical success. And like the wind that takes balloonists across the open sky here in the desert southwest, Rend Collective is waiting on the Spirit of God to take them where He may lead to proclaim the good news of God’s gracious love. It’s a grand adventure worth taking for this band from Northern Ireland-one full of song and, as their album states, the art of celebration.
Check out the band and follow their music at Rend Collective Online
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Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, minister, and family man.