Tony Cummings quizzes Kensington Temple worship leaders IVO AND MALIN.
Worship albums continue to arrive at the good ship Cross Rhythms in a tidal wave and it's not just the CCM companies who are releasing them. Independent worship albums are also being released in abundance. The composers/worship leaders who release the latter are seldom as well known, though, as London-based Ivo and Malin. For this intriguing duo regularly lead worship at one of the largest churches in the UK, the famed Kensington Temple. With Ivo and Malin's EP 'Holy One' out now it seemed a good moment to quiz the worship leaders about their ministry.
Tony: Can you start by giving us some background about yourselves?
Ivo: I was born in 1977 in a small town in north-central Bulgaria. My dad was a drummer and my mum a nurse. Having spent countless nights at my mum's hospital or sat by the side of the stage in restaurants where my dad performed with his band my parents decided I wasn't going to be a doctor and signed me up for piano lessons at the age of six. I spent the next five years playing classical piano and learning music from Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Gershwin, Mozart and Tchaikovsky to name but a few. Nearing the teenage years I rebelled against classical music and to the horror of my parents I came home one day and announced that I was no longer going to play classical music. A few days later my dad returned home with a pile of "evergreens" (jazz standards) and said, 'Here. if you won't play classical music, you will play these instead,' and that's how I began my journey into blues, jazz and pop music. Today I'm so glad that my parents found a way to keep me interested in music and did not allow me to drop years of piano training just because I didn't fancy playing classical music anymore.
My encounter with God came at the age of 12. My parents at the time were no more than nominal orthodox Christians and decided to split up at that time which caused a lot of pain and hurt but nevertheless God had a plan and was able to use this unfortunate event for good and ultimately for the salvation of my whole family. Having been divorced my parents went separate ways and my dad re-married whilst my mum had to find work abroad in order to support us and my music studies which were in full swing by then. It was a Sunday morning and I was staying at my grandparents' house when my dad came and woke me up early and asked me if I was interested in coming along to this church where they had the latest Yamaha keyboard so I can have a play with it. Somewhat suspicious what that church is I was too curios about the keyboard to refuse the invitation. Little did I know that my dad had become a Christian through the daughter of his new wife and they were now attending the local Pentecostal church. So we went to church and I soon found myself in keyboard "heaven", playing the latest synthesizer in town. I began to spend time with my step-sister who also played the piano and undoubtedly yet again music had a profound impact on my life. Having "tortured" the pastor and my dad with questions like "Where does God come from?" and "How do you learn to speak in tongues?" I soon began to encounter God through worship and gave my life to him. Not long after that my mum, who was working in Yemen as a nurse, became friends with a small community of western missionaries who embraced her and helped her to discover God much more that she had ever done before as a somewhat superficial orthodox Christian. I can only thank God that he in his mercy and love used the hardship of a family divorce to turn our hearts to him.
My teenage years were both exciting and yet full of struggles. I was doing my music college studies (from the age of 13) in the capital Sofia having to rent accommodation and manage my time on my own as both of my parents lived hundreds and in some cases thousands of miles away. The local Pentecostal church became my second home and I quickly got involved in church life as part of the youth worship and later on the main services too. The country was going through painful political and economical changes having come out of the Eastern Block. In my teen years I recall times where I had to queue at 5am for bread and milk before rations ran out and then rush back home and onto school to do my music studies for the day. I think the sum of all those factors made me grow up a lot quicker than many kids my age. I began listening to Christian music from Integrity/Hosanna Music and I dreamed of travelling aboard to experience the kind of worship I heard on the recordings. At the time my step-sister Stella had gone to study at Christ For The Nations in Dallas, Texas and as much as I strived to go there and join her it never quite worked out.
Having completed my music college at the age of 18, I was drafted in the Bulgarian army for over a year to complete my compulsory army service. Fresh out of the army on 4th July 1998 I returned to my local church where a friend of mine told me of a vibrant church called Kensington Temple and how much she was enjoying studying at their Bible school. Having never thought of going to England I decided to give it a go and see how things turn out and so in the month of August 1998 I came to the UK. Having arrived in London I worked briefly as a waiter in Leicester Square and later on as a self-employed carpenter for a year and a half. I started attending Kensington Temple (KT) the day after I arrived in London and it was about a year later that I began to get involved in the worship life of the church as a volunteer playing keyboards for Wednesday and Sunday services. In October 1999 I was offered a part paid and part apprentice study position with the music department of the church under the leadership of music pastor Dave Wellington. Later on that became a full time position as the assistant music director of KT. As part of my worship leader apprentice programme at the church I was attending classes at the School of Creative Ministries which KT was running at the time and it was there that I met my beautiful wife Malin who was studying singing. After proposing on her graduation night we got married in the summer of 2000 and have since lived and served in London and KT where we often lead worship together with the other members of the KT worship team. We released our debut EP CD in January 2006 and hope to continue writing songs and serve the body of Christ.
Malin: I was born in Sweden. I lived with my family in the countryside just outside a small town called Tidaholm. I have two brothers, two sisters and two step-sisters. We have always had a lot of animals like dogs, cats, birds, rabbits and even hens and pigs. When I was eight I joined the local orienteering and ski club. I trained and competed in orienteering from spring to autumn and trained cross-country skiing in the winter until I was about 13. Although being very successful, there were other things that seemed more interesting like singing and horses. I joined the Church of Sweden's gospel choir and I was taking care of other people's horses till I eventually bought my own horse at 15. I joined the choir because I enjoyed singing and not because it was gospel. At that time I didn't know a lot about God as my immediate family is not Christian. I knew that my grandmother was praying for me and my mum's cousin (Krisola) used to try to talk to me about God and invite me to her Pentecostal church, but I was not very interested. I did start to get more interested when I heard there was singing involved. I eventually agreed to go with her and found that I really enjoyed it and also I saw that they had something I didn't have: Jesus. It did take some time before I opened up to Krisola. I found myself going to church more often and I was always invited to the church's social events. I gave my life to God when I was 15, but struggled with leading a Christian life as most of my friends were non-believers. I didn't decide to get baptised until just before I turned 20.
A few days after my baptism, I went to the UK to work and improve my English. For some reason I stayed on for longer than expected. I still didn't live fully for God, but a friend from my home church was in London at the same time as I was in the UK. She was doing the School of Creative Ministries course at KT's Bible school. The course focused on singing, dancing and acting. My friend said she thought this course would be great for me. So I went to KT to check it out. I applied to enroll in the autumn of 1999, went for an audition and to my surprise I was accepted. That year I got to know God on a more intimate and personal level. Not only did I get to know God, but I also got to know Ivo who had just started working for KT. On my SCM graduation he proposed to me and not long after that we got married.
After SCM I started my career in accounting. I am now a part-qualified Management Accountant hoping to qualify this year. I also joined the KT worship team as a backing vocalist and after about two years I started leading worship alongside Ivo. Two summers ago, God put on my heart to express my love for him in my own words. It took me a whole summer to finish the lyrics for "Holy One", but when I had finished it, I gave it to Ivo who put music to the words and it became the first track on our EP. I am also part of a cell group at KT, as well as leading my own group of five wonderful girls.
Tony: Are you active in the worship at Kensington Temple every week and what are your feelings about worship emanating from such a large congregation?
Ivo and Malin: It's a great privilege for both of us to be involved with such a dynamic and vibrant church such as KT. Particularly for me (Ivo) as I am part of the full time KT band. As part of my remit I am actively involved in all areas of KT worship life which includes co-ordinating all the volunteers (we have around 80), rehearsing and training bands and also help organise and run worship events like our Summer School of the Arts. Malin is also actively involved as a volunteer on the singing side. Together we worship lead at some of the main services and events at KT.
We have been doing it for some time now and so sometimes you forget that on a Sunday almost 5,000 people pass through the doors at KT and we are live on the web. In fact sometimes it's best to forget because thinking about those numbers can get in the way! It's funny because in a way we both feel that leading a large congregation is much easier than in a more intimate setting like a home group. In the big crowd there is already a certain kind of dynamic, there's a vibe and the congregation and the worship band are feeding off each other. On the other hand it is often a bit more rigid because you are trying to help get so many different types of people into the presence of God. Another thing about a large congregation is that everything is exaggerated. the sound has to be big and the choices you make often have to be definite. You can't afford to half try something because if it's a hit it's great, but if it's a miss you are going to know about it! We think that whilst there's great value in corporate worship and large celebrations some of the best worship experiences have been in the smaller more intimate settings, that's where the 'trade' is really learnt, there's no band, there's no hiding, it's warts and all so to speak and it's where you can really explore worship. We've always thought that if you can lead worship in a small group then leading worship in front of a big crowd is only a matter of experience, because leading worship in front of a big crowd doesn't always mean you can do it in front of five or 10.
That's why we love leading worship at KT, because during the course of a week you can get both. It might be on the stage in front of 1,000 on a Sunday and then on Tuesday Malin is leading worship in her cell in front of six people in a small backroom! The beauty of KT is that it's such a multi-cultural church which is a great testimony that we as a church are reaching people in such a multi ethnic city as London. Our recent census showed that we have an amazing number of 118 nationalities represented at Kensington Temple which for us at KT Worship means that the songs and music do not need to be in one particular style or "box". We might start the service with a rock style song, carry on into a calypso rhythm, then a revamped old gospel standard and finish it off with a good old hymn and the best things is that congregation are right there with you enjoying and engaging with every minute of it. It's funny then how the EP ended up as it is because it's more of a scaled down version of who we are stylistically as we feel that our musical influences are much broader than what you hear on first impressions. In a way the EP is a reflection of where we were at the time when the songs where written. Sometimes, songs write themselves but sometimes it takes weeks of perseverance and adjusting the lyrics and music until they both fall into harmony in order to serve their purpose.
Tony: You seem to have musical influences considerably broader than the usual Redman, Delirious? kind of thing. What are those influences?
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