Tony Cummings spoke to worship pastor, Dave Thomas, of Hereford's long-established FREEDOM CHURCH
It has to be said that the modern worship movement has spawned hundreds, if not thousands, of local church albums. The majority of such albums will stay within the limited availability of the independent release and only a small number of church worship team-sourced albums will ever get wide distribution. However, in the case of Freedom Church, the thriving fellowship based in Hereford, the worship team there are seeing their latest album 'Thunder. Reign.' marketed by Dream Records, one of America's biggest Christian record labels who also released Freedom Church's previous album 'Uncharted'. I spoke to Dave Thomas, the worship pastor at the church, about the intriguing history of this modern worship phenomenon.
Tony: Before we talk about Freedom Church's worship ministry, can you tell me a bit about the Church?
Dave: The church is turning 30 this year in May. It was planted by our seed pastors Gary and Heather Snowzell. They originally planted into a small market town in Herefordshire and was originally called New Life Church. But about 15 years ago God led our seed pastors to cross the church over into a new phase and a new season. And so the church moved into Hereford and became Freedom. We kind of took on this fresh identity as the church and that's where we started to get our new vision for church planting. In 2011 after a number of years of growth, change and development we started planting our church and our first one was in Cardiff. Since then we've now grown to 17 churches around the world, the majority of which are in the UK but we've four across Africa, three across central and eastern Asia, a couple on the continent and a few partnerships in America as well. So it's been quite a crazy past few years, especially the past four years as we've planted 10 churches and that's been quite a wild ride.
Tony: Are you affiliated to any particular denomination or stream?
Dave: No, not really. We're a free evangelical church if you want a label, but no, not really. We're part of the EA; the Evangelical Alliance.
Tony: Would that be a church which could broadly be described as a charismatic church?
Tony: Tell me about the Freedom Church's musical history. Were you involved with the church's 'Courage & Fire' EP in 2009?
Dave: Yes, I've been involved in all of our projects. That was our first one. It was a five-track EP and you know, it was one of those things where you look back now and we laugh at some of the stuff we did. But, it was a great beginning where we were just trying to kind of step out and start to write songs for our church and was what God was doing in us and through us at the time. We were just trying to develop a sound really. We went on from there and in 2012 released our first live album 'Everything Changes'. Then in 2015, we went into the studio and released 'Uncharted'. Obviously now we have 'Thunder. Reign.' which came out in January this year.
Tony: How on earth did Freedom Church secure a deal with a big American record label?
Dave: Well, in the last few years we've had a close relationship with a church in the States called New Spring Church and the worship pastor there's Lee McDermott. He's now one of the canvass pastors but he was heading worship for the past sort of 10, 15 years. He's a good friend of mine and they had been sort of in conversations with Dream. He'd just passed the mark of first five albums. And then Dave Hanley got in touch and we met when he was on a kind of journey through. He was stopping in London en route to South Africa and I went down to the airport and met him. We got talking and I just loved their heart and approach to the whole process of releasing and recording records. They really do have a strong kind of ethos and wanting to really empower you as an artist. To write the music that you want to write and to release it in the way you want to and at the time you want to. It was something where we really connected. They've been amazing to us and really, really helpful. It was quite an interesting one because we did an EP and a live album and one of the things that we really always felt was to not necessarily go chasing anything or pushing too many doors. We just felt like if we kept doing what we were doing then at the right time God would open up an opportunity and that's what happened. So obviously 'Uncharted' was the third project we did under the label and now obviously 'Thunder. Reign.' and we've got plans to continue that relationship going forward as well.
Tony: Do Freedom Church do concerts or events away from the church itself?
Dave: Up to now we haven't done a huge amount of that. Certainly off the back of this record it's something that we're looking into. We've had some conversations with a few different organisations, a few different events and are just looking to strike up a bit of a relationship first. We have an annual conference as a church. It's more of an in-house conference if you will called The Cave - that's always the first weekend in May, the UK bank holiday weekend. We tend to play most of our stuff there. Hopefully over the course of the next 12 months we're going to start to do a little bit more, but at the moment we haven't done a huge amount of that.
Tony: Who is actually in the Freedom Church worship team?
Dave: I have the privilege of overseeing our worship ministry and our music ministry. But I work with a whole bunch of amazing volunteers and a number of people on our staff. We've an amazingly talented guy called George Downs. He's one of the principle songwriters and producers on the record. George and I work a lot together; but then we draw in across our different worship teams and our churches. We invite people to submit their songs but we also work with a principle band which is a mix of musicians across a lot of our locations. Many of them probably started here in Hereford but have gone out with some of our church plants and are now living around the world. They're an amazing bunch of incredibly talented and incredibly passionate guys. One of the things we tried to do with this record was that we opened up our worship experiences to a lot more spontaneity, creating room. A ton of the moments, the lyrics, some of the bridges and choruses came out of those kinds of worship in our Sundays or unique events. That was one of the things that really helped us craft this live album.
Tony: Tell me about some of the songs on the album.
Dave: In today's music world, people don't often sit down and listen to an album top to bottom. But we still wanted to take people on a journey. So the first and last tracks are kind of an introduction and an outro to the theme. And the whole theme of the record is based around this idea of God wanting to pour out his power and his presence in a deeper and fuller way. The first track "Love Rain Down" is this idea of Heaven and Earth colliding and you know, when we collide with God in worship and his presence. I mean that in our everyday life just as much as our corporate events our lives are transformed. The lyrics of the verse take you on this journey of the dark becoming light when Heaven and Earth collide, the dead become live. And then it kind of finishes and crescendos, it changes time signature at the end and it just starts talking about God pouring himself out. The rains coming down, the river running.
We go on this journey through the record and the last song is called "Streams And The Wasteland". That's kind of the bookend to the introduction of that first track where it's talking about God making streams in our wasteland. What was once a desert coming alive again. Both tracks are in a way, I guess, a prophetic statement to our church of what we're believing for and what we're seeing God do. The rest of the journey is a whole variety of songs, songs that are anthems to our vision. "Anyone, Anywhere" directly links to our vision statement which is connecting anyone, anywhere to a life change in relation to Jesus. "My Victory" is a song of defiance and celebration. But I think probably the other song I'd pick out would be "Because Of The Cross". That song was real, personally, because I was involved in writing that.
I really needed a song that I could sing, where I needed to remember what he'd done for me and to stand in the confidence and the boldness of that. It was really interesting, we'd got the verse and the pre-chorus and in a click of the fingers it just came together. But the chorus itself was a wrestle and we were kind of in pre-production and trying to finish up the writing process with it. We probably went through four or five versions of the chorus then we hit on it and as soon as we played it the very first time we just knew it was going to be one of those anthems that just connected with people and with our church. The first time we played it we literally took it to the church as just an acoustic version and I mean the roof kind of about blew off. And every time we sing it, it's just such simple truth that I think everyone, no matter your walk with God you can connect with the truth of what the cross is and what God's done for us. So that quickly became a real anthem for us. And from some of our friends outside of Freedom it seems to be one of the songs that's really connecting as well.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.