Bright City: Exciting worship initiative in the heart of Brighton

Sunday 23rd August 2015

Tony Cummings spoke to worship pastor Paul Nelson about the 60-strong worship team of St Peter's, BRIGHT CITY

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Paul: About five years in to the church plant, I began to have conversation with Archie and with Martin Smith. I said, "St Peter's has all these worship leaders, songwriters and producers. It would be great to be a bit more intentional." We'd teetered with writing songs for the church and used different bits and bobs, but we'd never really gone for it. I felt, as the worship pastor, it's something we should be doing - not for a purpose, but to be creative together, write songs and see what would come out of our people. When we set out to do it, we never had any idea that we would release anything: that wasn't the intention. We began the whole process by saying, "Let's get together and write, be more intentional about writing songs - see what might come out of our crowd." So we started with a little songwriting session, and that built to a three-day writing retreat, which we did at Martin Smith's house. "Let's write the songs we love. Let's not be concerned it has to be anything particular. Don't even feel you have to write Sunday morning songs: let's just go for it, let's just see what comes out." That's how the whole process started for us. We have producers involved, so we recorded a bit as we went along: we felt that was an important part of the process for us - broader than just acoustic.

We came out of that time with quite a few demos. As we sat with it, we thought, "We've got a good bank of songs here. Maybe we should release an album." We built those demos up to what you hear on the 'Bright City' record, then started to use the songs in church, and that's been a really fun process as well. We certainly would use lots of other songs - helping us to engage with God. We're naturally part of the HTB network - that connection with Worship Central. It's been great using some of our own things; you can definitely sense when the congregation owns stuff and it's come out of our team.

Tony: It's hard to imagine there's a whole congregation singing "Force Field" with its lyric "Your love is a force field around me."

Paul: That particular song has been brilliant for us. We've just been away at our church family holiday - the HTB Network holiday called Focus - and that song was used through the family worship times in the morning. It went down really well.

Martin Smith and Paul Nelson
Martin Smith and Paul Nelson

Tony: It's very danceable.

Paul: We were producing the songs as we went along, in the writing process; as soon as we had the idea, it was into the studio, working on a dance beat - it all came at the same time, really fun and exciting. Like you, I think there were certain songs that I heard the demo and thought, "I'm not sure. This isn't the regular thing." But we tried to think about it the other way around: rather than thinking, "These songs aren't going to work," we tried to think, "Maybe they might - maybe that will push us forward creatively." Something like "Force Field" has been amazing, because it's one of the songs on the record that has worked best congregationally. It particularly connected with young people - young people going into school who are maybe struggling with being bullied, singing that song. That's been an unexpected but really lovely thing for us involved in writing it. I think, "Wow, if young people struggling in school are singing, 'Your love is a force field around me', that's an amazing thing." With the actions and things, it's been quite fun.

Tony: What other songs on 'Bright City' are connecting with people?

Paul: "Forever Yours" is one we've seen [bring about] some great celebration moments. We used that at the HTB Focus week away and it went down really well. "I Will Rest", particularly that bridge section at the end - "I will fix my eyes, stand my ground/There's nothing that can shake me now" - that's been amazing. The more anthemic ones like "We Believe" have been great as well; we've tried to use a wide spread. "Keep Me Close", that's quite a congregational one. We've tried to use some of the less obvious ones as well, like "Colour".

Tony: In fact it's "Colour" with a tremendous lead vocal from Sarah Bird which is about to go on the Cross Rhythms playlist. Now that you've released 'Bright City' are there any thoughts yet about another album?

Paul: We're definitely planning to keep doing it but we don't exactly know what that will look like. Certainly we plan to keep writing together and producing music. We're going to do some worship nights starting in September. No doubt some spontaneous moments will come out of them and we'll write songs prompted by those moments. The heart of all that is just to try and keep being ourselves, being authentic in bringing our worship to God, being as creative as we can. Also, because we're beginning to see that maybe God might be blessing the whole dance music thing, we're really wanting to just go for it and see lots released. Those nights will include lots of that stuff, which is exciting.

Tony: No doubt Martin Smith has talked to you about the Cutting Edge events in Littlehampton and what grew out of them.

Paul: Absolutely. Martin and Anna are going to be involved in the Bright City Worship Nights, heading up those nights. We're not wanting to imitate anything, but at the same time, it's excellent to have that heritage behind us. We hopefully will see God do a new thing. CR

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.
About Tony Cummings
Tony CummingsTony Cummings is the music editor for Cross Rhythms website and attends Grace Church in Stoke-on-Trent.

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