Britain's GERALDINE LATTY has recorded a new album in Nashville. It's another string in her bow for the hard working minister of the Gospel. Helen McCabe and Tony Cummings report.
To the throngs who gather at Spring Harvest and FocusFest, Geraldine Latty is an anointed minister, leading people into worship. To the US record execs Geraldine Latty is another Brit who's flown in to Nashville to record an album. But to the children at a Catholic school in Bristol she's "Miss". Skilfully balancing the demands of a teaching job with a host of engagements including numerous worship workshops, the Bristol-based singer, worship leader and composer is now making a serious pitch at recording success with her new studio album 'Devoted' produced in Nashville by ex-pat John Hartley. Geraldine is excited about the album. She enthuses, "All the songs on the album are new and I'm really grateful to God for that. Steve Doherty, the label manager for Kingsway Music, has been asking me for two years to write a new album and it wasn't until back in May 2002 that I just started to write loads of songs. It was wonderful to be free to write - with no agenda. One of those days I wrote three songs - it was totally spontaneous. In fact, I had to check with a friend that it wasn't just one long song with 12 verses! That was a rich season of songwriting and God had timetabled it perfectly!
"The songs are quite different to the ones on my previous album 'Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace'. There are hymnal ones, gospel ones and ballad songs so there's quite a mixture. I have really enjoyed one or two of the songs where I've put new tunes to old hymns. The ballad songs are based around Isaiah, the holiness of God and bowing low to him. It's a holy God that gives us so much for the sake of his world not just for ourselves. He gives us his grace and presence that flows to this world."
Geraldine is best known for her ministry at Spring Harvest and FocusFest. In fact, it was the former event which opened the door to what has now become an international ministry. She remembers, "Nine years ago I came to Spring Harvest with my church. I can still remember Rob White was speaking the first evening and Dave Fellingham was up there with Stuart Townend leading worship. And I felt God said, 'I want you to go and offer your voice and be a servant there this week.' I thought, 'Oh, I don't even know these guys.' I don't know what Rob White spoke on, I just know my heart was beating fast the whole of the service. I went to the front of the stage at the end of the meeting, called Dave Fellingham over and said, 'Dave, you don't know me from Adam but I really feel that God has said I am to offer my services as a servant this week.' And he said, 'Come along for an audition tomorrow.' So I went for the audition and he said yes. So I worked with them - that was brilliant. It was the first time I'd worked with a team, seeing how they prayed together as well as leading worship. That was a very special time."
In many ways Geraldine's contribution to the 1991 Spring Harvest was part of her healing. Growing up in a Pentecostal home, the gifted singer had moved from the untutored freneticism of the gospel scene to being classically trained in music. But after completing a BA in Bath and taking a post-graduate teaching certificate, Geraldine encountered problems. "For me it was all a bit too intensive, too quickly; I just lost confidence and wrecked my voice. When I finished my degree in 1988 I couldn't actually sing for two years. I'd sing for half an hour then get so tense and uptight that I couldn't produce the notes. So when I got to Spring Harvest in '91 it was almost as if God was saying, 'Give me your voice back.'
Geraldine grew up in a family utterly surrounded by music. "I've got embarrassing photographs of when I was three, holding a tambourine with my mouth open as big as anything," laughs Geraldine. "I was always singing, singing with dad, he was a local preacher, singing at school and singing groups - jazz and all that - at my local college. I have memories of mum at the harmonium hammering at the pedals, playing away. Dad had a banjo. They're Pentecostals and were always singing the Redemption Hymnals, Sankey's Sacred Songs And Solos and all the gospel stuff as well. So I grew up hearing and joining in with close harmonies."
Geraldine's upbringing was an ideal one for developing musical skills. Spiritually, though, the intense atmosphere of Petecostalism led to a time of confusion for Geraldine. "We had an altar call every service. So every time I was naughty I thought that I must be backslidden. So I used to keep running forward to make a re-commitment! I made an initial commitment when I was seven. But there was a point when I was about 13 when it became 'two-way' - when it wasn't just me praying to God and saying, 'Lord, can you give me this,' 'Lord, help me find my homework,' and it became, 'Lord, what do you want me to do with my life?' and beginning to listen."
Geraldine was born into a close West Indian family living in Crewe. She has a BA Hons in music and a postgraduate course in teaching and has headed up an active music department in a Bristol school. Geraldine is increasingly involved in leading worship at national events, including Spring Harvest, Worship Together and FocusFest (the women's conference in Ireland). Yet Geraldine still finds time to lead worship at many smaller events. "Regardless of whether I lead worship at a church meeting or at a large event - the fundamental prayer in my heart is the same which is 'Father God, what are you wanting to breathe into this meeting?' It's about aligning ourselves with what God wants. By the grace of God we can learn to find out what he is wanting to say to us - for me that prayer is prayed whether I Iead at Spring Harvest or at a home group. We are on a journey together, it's about bringing people together to see what God wants for us and not assuming that all people are in the same place. It's also saying that there are no expert worshippers, it's just about God's people coming together to see and worship the King in an atmosphere where people feel free to be themselves, but also in an atmosphere where our God will challenge and encourage us.
Through the teaching aspect of her ministry, Geraldine is involved in introducing new songs to local churches. "Actually I'm quite reticent about introducing new songs that I have written! My friend Carey usually tells me off for not using my new songs. I have a lot of admiration for songwriters and worship leaders that can easily do this. I had a massive breakthrough at a conference in the summer when I was leading worship there. I hadn't used any of my own new songs and near the end of the conference in an evening meeting Roy Searle was preaching about the grace of God. He had given me his sermon headlines, but in fact as Roy was talking I realised that his emphasis fitted exactly to a song that I had written and that it would be good to finish on this song. However, there were two problems; firstly the band didn't know the song and secondly I had the only lead sheet!! During the sermon I went to the guys doing the power point, but they were only trainees and they didn't know how to use Power Point.
"Fortunately they worked out how to do one page, so they quickly typed in the words of the chorus. As I was on my way back I heard Roy say that the band will be leading everyone in the response. We quickly went back on the stage and I mentioned that we would be finishing on a new song 'Amazing Astounding Extravagant Grace' and that the band didn't even know it yet. I whispered the tune to my brother on bass and mentioned that it was in 'G'. John, the drummer clicked everyone in and it was amazing. It was near the end of the conference and we saw expressions on people's faces and movement that we hadn't seen during the week. The song just exploded! It brought release! It was a real breakthrough for me, I just saw how God took the song he had given and used it powerfully. We used it again and soon it became a song in it's own right. It was the song for the moment and it really worked.
"When some people go to a conference from my local church they come back and say to me, 'I didn't know that was your song,' and, 'Why don't we sing this one in church.' God has enabled me to use new songs like 'Amazing Astounding Extravagant Grace' which we have now used in my home church. My heart is to see other songwriters released, particularly in my home church. Part of my prayer is for songwriters to be part of a team to be trained and equipped to feed into the body for the Kingdom and for the world."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.