Tony Cummings reports on the worship music flowing from one of Britain's fastest growing churches, HILLSONG LONDON.
The release of the Hillsong London live worship album 'Jesus Is' is the latest indicator that the ripple spreading outwards from a once obscure Australian church on the outskirts of Sydney are today having huge impact on the international worshipping Church. The worship songs and CDs flooding from Hillsong (originally the Hills Christian Life Centre) penned/recorded by such worship leaders as Darlene Zschech and Russell Fragar have circled the globe. And though commentators have criticised the Hillsong church for seemingly embracing prosperity gospel teachings no one can deny that its influence in worship music circles has been truly phenomenal. Now the daughter church Hillsong London has struck out in its own right with best selling worship albums.
The London church actually began in the mid '90s as London CLC. In 1998 a studio album 'London CLC' featuring largely R&B-orientated worship songs, arranged and produced by South African-born Giovanni Galanti was released, first independently and then picked up for UK retail distribution by Authentic Music. But it was the release in 2004 of 'Shout God's Fame' by Hillsong London which really put the fellowship and their growing team of worship musicians on the map. Recorded at London's Mermaid Theatre (the old venue for the fellowship) it featured rather nondescript covers of Delirious?' "History Maker" and Marty Sampson's song for Australian Hillsong "My God" but also four top rate worship songs "Shout Your Fame", "You Are My Rock", "Centre Of My Life" and "I Will Go" co-written by a singer about to be catapulted to pop stardom, Natasha Bedingfield, who was a member of the fellowship for six years. By 2005 the church was ensconced in its new home at London's Dominion Theatre and the live project 'Jesus Is' became a UK Christian bookshop best seller.
Sales were greatly helped when in May 2006 the worship team for Hillsong London undertook a five-city UK tour. Hillsong London's worship pastor and co-producer of the album is Peter Wilson. Peter told Cross Rhythms broadcaster Chris Mountford about how he came to get involved in Hillsong London. "I'm born and bred English, although I don't sound like it. My family emigrated to New Zealand when I was about 15 so I spent a few years out there and picked up the accent, but after getting married I moved back to England with my wife. We've both been Christians all our lives. We actually moved back to Milton Keynes and were basically looking for a church. We went down to London, we had a plan to check out a few churches and Hillsong was the first one we went to, and didn't look any further."
Peter spoke about the 'Jesus Is' album. "For the whole album, right from the beginning, we really set out with the aim of pretty much just proclaiming that Jesus is Lord. In our church there are half a dozen or so worship leaders. On the album I think there are three of four who led worship. Basically what we try and do in London is compliment whatever comes out of Hillsong in Sydney and I guess add a bit of a London flavour to it just because that's where we're based. If the sound that comes out of us has a youthy edge to it it's probably because most of the people in our congregations are between the ages of 18 and 30 so it's more driven by that than anything else. That is just where the church is at. It's probably fair to sat that 70 per cent of our congregation if not more are in that kind of age bracket."
Two of the outstanding songs on 'Jesus Is' are "Greatest Gift" co-written by Wilson with special guest Matt Redman, and "Hosanna", which Wilson penned with Delirious?'s Stu G. Peter felt honoured to work with Redman. "Matt's obviously an amazing songwriter. That particular song 'The Greatest Gift Of All' - we were sitting next to each other in church one Sunday and Brian Houston (the pastor at Hillsong Australia) was actually there preaching on the greatest gift which is our salvation and Matt just kind of nudged me and said, 'I've got an idea for a song, if you've got a guitar handy.' We raced out after the service and I think most of that song was written in 10 minutes."
Peter spoke to Mike Rimmer about how Hillsong London's worship ministry is rooted in prayer. "A lot of prayer has to go into an album project. Any other project as well! I remember the 'Shout God's Fame' album. A lot of the songs there were ones that really just meant a lot to us as a church. Almost as a bonus we found they meant a lot to others as well. We get emails from people still, saying, 'Man, that song is just blessing my life! I was going through this and I listened to that and it's really just helped me out of it, helped me lift my eyes above my situation.' And things like that. So that's really cool! And emails from churches saying, 'We're doing this and it's blessing our church.'"The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.