Tony Cummings quizzed the Lincolnshire-based singer, actress, dancer and speaker HANNAH FRANKLIN
The release this month of the 'You Are The Song' album by Hannah Franklin does much more than simply put another British artist into the CD racks. It is a significant step forward for a powerful, creative ministry that has already seen 23 year old Hannah flourish as a speaker, dancer, actress, singer, songwriter and worship leader. For the last three years she has appeared in the lead role of the Luv Esther musical, the retelling of the book of Esther conceived by Ray Goudie. She sang at the Grapevine event this year and she and her group The BLADE performed at Faith Camp (Kingdom Faith). Now her album debut on Integrity-Provident will further expand Hannah's ministry. After her hugely praised performance in Esther it's not altogether surprising that 'You Are The Song' is packed with biblical themes. The songs explore such topics as the mother of the Prodigal Son ("Come Home"), Hagar the prostitute ("Just One Look"), Mary's Magnificat ("I Am Blessed"), Hannah, the mother of Samuel ("You Lift My Head") and Ruth ("This Is Forever").
Hannah spoke about her first recording experience. "'You Are The Song' was recorded in the studios at NGM in Bristol. Dan Goudie and Tom Mills produced the album and Ray Goudie (the father of Dan, composer of 'Luv Esther' and co-founder of NGM) was the executive producer. I remember finding recording REALLY hard. Eventually, I fell into the rhythm of the schedule, but it's so diametrically opposed to live theatre or ministry that I literally felt like a fish out of water through a lot of the process! It's like the difference between being an actor on live stage and a film actor. The cut and retake of film is a different world to taking someone through the whole journey of a story in one fell swoop. The guys were really good at encouraging me, and there were some golden moments."
Hannah spoke about her favourite song on her album. "Number one has to be 'Alabaster Box' written by Janice Sjostran. That song is so dear to me and holds so many memories. The main thing about 'Alabaster Box', a song written from the story of Mary who poured oil from an alabaster box onto Jesus' feet, is it reminds me of the times that I have felt the forgiveness of God wash over me in a tangible way. It wasn't until I realised the weight of sin that I realised what a miracle Jesus has accomplished!"
Hannah was born in Lambeth, London in April 1986. Her parents moved to Locksley Hall, a beautiful, manor-like house in rural Lincolnshire and so began what Hannah laughingly describes as her "secret garden experience." She said, "Growing up at Locksley was incredible - huge house, huge gardens to run around in and let your imagination run wild. My parents became Christians not long after moving to Lincolnshire, my Mum first and my Dad later. So I was brought up in a Christian home, although it was far from average. There were lots of things that made our family environment unique. . .not least of which was that my Mum decided to home-educate us on the ACE programme a year or so after I started school, after I kept coming back a differently-behaved child at the end of the school day from the one she sent in the morning. When my parents felt God tell them to open the programme to the wider community, Locksley Christian School was born, and soon became the fastest growing ACE Christian School in the country.
"My first experiences of the arts (drama, too, is a huge passion of mine) were the ballet classes my Mum took my sister and I too when we moved to Lincolnshire and the school plays we would put on annually at Christmas time. I found I had an aptitude for learning lines and generally being a drama queen! The first time I sang was in one of these plays. I sang 'My Gift Is Me' - one of the solos in the play, and I've never looked back. Another aspect that massively affected our family environment was the birth of my sister, Naomi, in June 1995. She was born with brain damage - cerebral palsy - and was severely disabled. She soon became the hub around which our family revolved. She taught us how to lay down our lives for each other, that no one is insignificant, that treasure can be found in the hardest of trials."
Like many people, coming to a mature Christian faith was a process which took quite a few years. Hannah recalled, "I remember making my first commitment to Jesus as a three year old, just following my Mum's commitment and just prior to my Dad's. I remember feeling overwhelmed by a knowledge that I'd done lots of things wrong and I needed to say sorry! From there life was a journey in which I simply believed in Jesus, and as a child experienced him in amazing ways, but mostly as I grew into my teenage years I became very complacent. It wasn't until the summer of my 17th year that my world turned upside down. I heard someone speak from their relationship with God, the reality of which hit me so hard that I decided to do whatever it took to have that kind of relationship with him. I have pursued him passionately ever since!"
When Hannah finished school God clearly told the teenager not to go to university. But then the guidance seemed to dry up. She remembered, "When I asked what I SHOULD do, the heavens seemed brass. I told the Lord I would not go forward without direction from him. Although many people told me to do whatever I wanted and ask God to bless it, I was convinced that if I did what HE said then he would automatically bless it. I simply believed that God would tell me what he wanted me to do. I waited for two years before getting breakthrough. Because I had been passionately pursuing God since a year before I finished school, my relationship with him became the foundation on which everything else in my life stood, and I KNEW that, because I was hearing God so clearly on so many other things, then his silence must be for a reason. I remember getting particularly frustrated one night, especially because so many others were asking me the 'so, what are you doing now?' question, and I went out to the garden late at night to talk to God. I remember shouting to the skies, 'God! I said I'll be a mechanic if you want me to! I'll be anything you want, please just tell me!' I didn't hear anything, so I went back inside to bed."
A few days later Hannah finally heard from God. "I was sitting at my desk writing something up for church when the Holy Spirit spoke to me so clearly, I got straight on my knees in my room. He said, 'Hannah, you've always been willing to be anything for me. . . except NOTHING. What if I called you to be a no one in the middle of nowhere doing nothing for the rest of your life? Would you do that for me?' I fell to my face and wept, repenting of the pride that I suddenly saw had filled my heart for so long and told God that whatever he called me to, I would follow that path with all of my heart. I had finished school convinced that I was indispensable to God; I was full of pride and full of myself, two qualities a surrendered life cannot possess. I realised it is all about him and not about me, that it is a privilege that he would use me, not his obligation because of how great I am. I had resolved that I would be happy and content in the place of 'nothing' and that only when he spoke would I move from there. As soon as I had made this decision and surrendered my heart to him again, the doors started to fling wide open! My parents heard about NGM (the Christian arts training organisation founded in Bristol by Ray and Nancy Goodie) while they were in Israel. They went on a God TV trip and on the evening of a celebration there, accidentally got VIP seats next to the directors for God TV in this country. My Mum asked if they knew anywhere that Christian young people could be trained in the arts and they mentioned NGM. When they arrived home I prayed, felt it was right and applied."
Hannah auditioned for NGM in 2006. She explained, "I heard about Luv Esther in the interview after my first audition. I originally auditioned for the year-out course, simply because I felt that hearing about NGM was of God, although I wasn't sure at this time whether or not I would definitely be able to come as I had started pastoring the young people at my church and hadn't received the go-ahead from the Lord to leave that position. At the interview after my audition I was told that while they would love to have me on their year-out course, they would like to offer me an audition to be in Luv Esther. At this point I asked what Luv Esther was," Hannah laughed.
Luv Esther had become one of the most popular musicals in post war UK church history. For two years it had toured Britain with Tanya and Neil Wilson playing the lead roles of Queen and King. But changes were afoot. Explained Hannah, "Tanya and Neil were looking to have a family and grow into other areas of ministry, but hadn't been free to do as much because there was no one to fill their roles. Because of what God had said to me about continuing to pastor my young people, I was going to live at home in Lincolnshire and continue to do that, while coming down to NGM for a week or so a month to get training for the role with a view to taking it on in September 2007. In December 2006, though, I began more intense training for the role as Tanya had fallen pregnant and therefore the Ireland tour in February 2007 would have me playing Esther."
So began Hannah's continuing Luv Esther adventure. Her time of touring with the musical has brought the fledgling actress/singer many vivid memories. She spoke of one of a Luv Esther performance in Doncaster in March 2007. "There is a song in the musical called 'For The Love Of Juliet' which now appears on the album 'You Are The Song'. For me, the song has deep connection to my sister Naomi. The show in Doncaster was two weeks after Naomi went to be with the Lord, and singing that song, which had always reminded me of her anyway, was both difficult and wonderful, much like her life had been for her. I cried all the way through it, but knew God's incredible grace to help me sing the words, and I sang it then as I have done every time since, as a gift to her. Ray, the producer of Luv Esther, also let me sing the song at Naomi's funeral, which was a massive blessing to me."
As well as acting and singing, dance remains another important part of Hannah's creative life. She laughed, "It's funny; when I first auditioned for NGM, I put singing down as my 'second' art form and dancing as my first! Amazing how much more singing has 'taken over' in that sense. I love to dance. I also love to act. I don't really think of importance of one art form in comparison to the other; I have seen all three used SO powerfully to communicate God's heart for people and their heart for him, in a mix or standing on their own. I don't have a preference which medium he uses; I just love to see people's lives brought that bit closer to Jesus. My dream is to see young people professionally trained in all areas of the arts with no compromising of the presence of God, and I personally enjoy using singing, dancing and acting singularly, in a mixture of two or all three to communicate a message he has given me."
Hannah actually has her own dance group who recently performed at Faith Camp (Kingdom Faith). She spoke about her dance team. "We call ourselves The BLADE, which stands for Boldly Living A Dangerous Extreme - the name God gave us when we started. Actually I don't remember an official birthing of The BLADE. It's a vision that has grown over so many years I don't remember the conception! I remember being on mission in South Africa when God gave me our logo and vision statement. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is our foundation Scripture, and a lot of the teaching we've been over at youth church has come out of revelation from this verse. We sing and act as well as dance, mainly mixing dancing in with acting. We take powerful music and create a picture with movement of the message that we hear God speaking through that piece of music. We're not only servants in that sense to the prophetic voicing of God's heart and to the people we minister to, but also to these amazing artists that write the music! So many people want to buy the tracks we minister with. The main artists we draw from are Misty Edwards, Jason Upton, Rick Pino, Bethel Worship (Redding) and Rita Springer. As a group our heart is for revival, particularly amongst the young people of our nation and to inspire people towards a more intimate relationship with God."
One of the most significant things God has taught this most talented of disciples in recent times is that it's God's love that covers and carries her. Recounted Hannah, "It's been a difficult year in many ways, particularly in ministry here in the Marshes, and I have known the grace and love and mercy of God in such tangible ways. I have felt physically, emotionally and spiritually drained at times, and yet I have been carried through. I know that it has been God's strength alone, because I've had none of my own to draw on! I had a vision a month or so ago that I was chasing after God's love as if it were like the sunset sky, this beautiful thing that was forever out of reach. The closer I got the further from me it seemed. Then in the vision my Father God spoke to me so clearly and immediately I understood the foolishness of trying to chase after his love. I wrote a short poem/writing from the revelation of that experience and from what he said to me which best expresses what God showed me from the vision, that his love is my inheritance as his child, not a reward for good behaviour."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.