Jonathan Bellamy spoke to Johnny Bird and Henry Milne of Brighton's worship collective BRIGHT CITY
One of the most popular and influential churches in the UK is St Peters in Brighton, planted by London's renowned Holy Trinity, Brompton. Their Bright City worship collective has developed into a significant source of new worship music, recently releasing the album 'Change'. I spoke to Johnny Bird and Henry Milne about the rise and rise of Bright City.
Jon: The church itself has grown in lots of ways and with that Bright City has really developed too.
Henry: Yes, that's right. When I started at St Peter's about eight years ago it was still a small worship and production team. And throughout the years we've expanded that to include other artists and dancers and it's grown not only in the number of musicians and producers as part of the team but also as our wider expression of worship through visual art and dance and other creativity, which has been amazing. That was around the time that we started to song write and write songs that were for our context, for Brighton. We really tried to dig out songs that were particularly for our congregation, the kind of sound for Brighton, as we started to write music about seven years ago. We got together some of the songwriters of the church and by accident ended up writing 13 songs that we then turned into a record and that was where Bright City was born from.
Jon: In the blurb that comes with the album release you talk about pursuing revival for your city and that's a key focus for you. Can you describe what that means and what does it mean to be pursuing revival for Brighton?
Johnny: Our church vision is revitalisation and restoration of cities across the UK. We think worship can feed into that. We always say worship is at the head of the army and it kind of comes first. What we're doing musically leads the way; the songs become anthems of the change that we want to see and God moving through the city.
Henry: We believe that revival is on its way; we believe that a change is coming. We feel that God's revealed that to us. We just have faith for what God is doing in Brighton and the music accompanies that revival, it's like a shout of praise before the walls come down or the shout of praise before we see revival.
Jon: Why did you call the new album 'Change'?
Johnny: We recorded the album at our 10th anniversary celebration night. It was a chance to look back and thank God for the last 10 years and how far he'd brought us and a prophetic statement for the next 10 years and what we wanted to see happen.
Henry: When we wrote 'Change' we saw a change coming but I don't think we realised it was going to be this, with Covid 19 and the lockdown. So there's been a lot of change that we didn't quite imagine and we're still figuring out what that is and how we do church in this time. We're trying to work out how we best worship - on line or socially distanced and all that kind of thing.
Jon: Let me ask you about coronavirus and this period of lockdown. As you say, that's a change that none of us was expecting. Churches have had to adjust and change and I guess no more so than how they do worship, and what does worship look like and how do you engage with your congregation in worship. What did worship look like for you guys during lockdown?
Johnny: Well, everybody separated, contacting on Zoom and Instagram. It took us a few weeks to figure out what we were doing. There was a lot of experimentation, a lot of iPhone worship. We're lucky that we've got lots of people in our church like videographers; I've got a studio at home so we were able to adapt. It was like we've got some stuff in our hands, how can we use that to enable worship? It's been a process. Each week we'll mix it up and try to do better than last week and connect more with people, trying out new songs as well, even trying to write in this period.
Jon: I was going to ask you about your songwriting. How often do your songs come out of personal spiritual experience and how much do they reflect the spiritual journey of the church?
Henry: The thing is, it's a bit of a mix. A lot of the songs do get birthed by individuals in the quiet place but we do have an amazing team of writers we're always bringing stuff to. That's one thing that has developed over the years; as a unit, as a community we have a better relationship and our songwriting has developed through the community. I think that always helps. Take something that is a personal experience or a personal song but then make it feel like it can be for the church or for a congregation, bringing in what God is saying to us as a group of people as well as the individual thing. But I think there is also a place for songs that are deeply intimate and born from an intimate place with God, like one to one.
Jon: Are there any songs for either of you on this album that you feel personally very connected to?
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