Australian worship is a lot more than Hillsongs, as Mike Rimmer discovered when he met Chris Pringle of CHRISTIAN CITY CHURCH OXFORD FALLS.
If you think you already know all about Australian worship and that it begins and ends with Hillsongs then you're in for a bit of a surprise. In the last couple of years, new worship music has been emerging from Christian City Church Oxford Falls. The church is in Sydney and was planted in 1980 by Phill and Christine Pringle who are the senior ministers. Chris explains that the church itself is 4000 strong, "We can fit 2000 in per service... pack them in! We've got about 4000-4500 in our congregation. We've been building this house for 22 years. Not bad for a couple of Kiwis! We started with 12 people in 1980 and I'm telling you, if the Lord gives you a vision, stick with it! It might take a lot of years but if you hang in there long enough, you'll see it come to pass."
The live album 'Prophesy' was recorded at the church and released last year. Packed with powerful praise and accompanied by a dynamic video, it hasn't taken long for the album to reach the attention of serious worshippers. Chris Pringle explains, "What you hear is what you get on a Sunday and that's no exaggeration. In Australia the album was the top seller for 14 weeks, it was at number one for 14 weeks solid! Churches all around Australasia have picked up those songs and that's a really good pulse for whether the music's good. It might be listenable but can you sing it? Can you play it? So the whole idea has really been to get the music out there, to equip other music directors and worship leaders with really great worship material to build the house."
Hot on the heels of 'Prophesy' there is a brand new release called 'Higher'. Chris talks me through the process of recording it. "We've been worshipping at church with these songs for four or five months before we recorded. We recorded it on a Sunday in the morning and night and it was electric... unbelievable! There were 2000 people in the church, which is normal, 150 musicians and singers and just an incredible day of celebrating to record this album.
"The only thing we brought in was the recording unit, all the singers and musos are ones that serve in the house every week. When you hear 'Higher' or 'Prophecy' you're just hearing the heartbeat of what the Lord is saying through our music. There is amazing celebration. It's full, it's loud, it's brassy. It's just this whole variety of young kids, older guys going a bit bald!, altogether, worshipping together like a family."
The expression of that family isn't simply limited to the church's live recordings as other albums have been released from the church. When it comes to bald blokes making music, the serious musos of the church are the band Prayerworks who are also part of the wider worship team that played on the live albums. Left to their own devices though, they create adult, vibey, worshipful mainly instrumental music.
The band have released three albums -' Prayerworks', 'Breathe' and now their new one 'Flight'. Chris describes it as "music you can put on during a dinner party, or just around the house on a quiet evening. They started doing that music when we were out at conferences, with just background music." The Pringles would be ministering to people while the band were playing instrumental tunes. Soon Phill and Chris were encouraging them to record.
The music on the Prayerworks alums is gloriously melodic, creative and at times spontaneous. It's true worship in instrumental style. Chris shares, "It's a new song. The whole idea is this, King David tapped into a vein of worship in the Psalms and that was it. He said it and we've got to just get our ear to the ground and get alone like he did, as a shepherd boy out in the fields with his lute or whatever and he began to worship God. So out of that emerges new songs. There are songs that are just waiting to be pulled down, out of the heavenlies!"
At the other end of the scale Chris and her husband have passionately mentored the younger musicians coming through the church.
Here in the UK, the first time we were aware of what was happening was with the release of the 'Receiver' album from the church's youth band. The most recent release is 'Walk On Water' and Chris explains, "They've written these songs sitting on each other's beds, in their bedrooms, with their guitars and having a go! There's a level of mentoring that's going on. So the guys who played on 'Receiver' are now mentoring the younger ones. It's just been an amazing journey of releasing. Just letting these kids do it. We've built the house, we've built the recording studio and we've put in the TV studio. We've built them a theatre where they can rage 'til all hours! We've put in a gallery and a caf... for these kids to do their thing and now they are. It's absolutely incredible just to see it."
And that seems to be the secret. Christian City Church Oxford Falls is a place where there are wide spaces of creativity and every generation can express their worship to God. Out of such freedom comes special dynamic music.
When it comes to the loud music created by the youth in the church, Chris reflects, "That's their expression, they're reaching their generation with this music. It doesn't matter if we like it or not. For them, it's got to be loud, they've got to find their own door of worship... and they have. I think they've really found it."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.