Jo Puleston: Under an Open Heaven

Friday 31st October 2003

London-based worship leader JO PULESTON was quizzed about her ministry by Trevor Kirk.

Jo Puleston
Jo Puleston

A couple of years back United Christian Broadcasters gave considerable airplay to an independent album released by Ichthus Christian Fellowship, Pimlico. Most of the best moments on that project were provided by singer and keyboard player, Jo Puleston. Now Kingsway Music have released Jo's 'Further' album further demonstrating that this gifted worship leader, record producer and medical doctor (she works at the famed Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, London) has all that it takes to make a dent on the national Christian music scene. I spoke to Jo shortly after the release of her album.

Trevor: How did you get involved in music?

Jo: "My interest for music started when I was about four or five years old. There was a band over from America that had a real heart for evangelism - I think that they were called Certain Sounds - they were on a UK tour. Some of them stayed with my parents and I loved having them there. They started teaching me the little ukulele and a little drum and we had a really good time. Something clicked in me even though I was quite young and I just thought, "I just love this and this is what I want to do." After years of pleading with my parents for piano and guitar lessons, I started having lessons when I was about nine years old. They were piano and flute lessons. I started writing music when I was about 12 years old. When I really started getting serious about God, when I was 15, I was thinking about giving my life to God. Even before I had given my life to him, once and for all, I was actually writing worship songs and music and actually leading worship in the Christian Union, which was interesting. Since then, I have spent a lot of time just improvising and writing songs. I had a really good time when I was about 18 where I would record hours and hours of piano music, just improvising and then over the top of that I would spend hours singing out psalms and spontaneous songs to God. That provided some really deep roots into seeking God in Spirit and in truth."

Trevor: Tell me a bit about the Ichthus church.

Jo: "Ichthus began many, many years ago by a group of people headed up by Roger and Faith Foster. Shortly after it started, Graham Kendrick came on board and has headed up the worship for many, many years. The heart of the church is seeking God in Spirit and in truth in worship and reaching out to the community in a very culturally relevant way and planting churches all across London. It's also got a strong emphasis on discipling and teaching the nations. We have a network of Ichthus-linked churches throughout the world, including several Muslim nations. There is a very, very strong leadership team that gives excellent support to this network. There are a number of training courses that run. There is a worship conference that happens once a year for anyone really with a heart for worship and that is really good and is led by Graham Kendrick. Ichthus, Pimlico is a church right in the heart of London. It's sandwiched between Victoria and the Houses of Parliament and the whole of Westminster. It's a really interesting area. It's very mixed. There are a lot of estates of very poor people and we have a very mixed bunch of people. There's a real sense of community atmosphere and there is a lot happening within Pimlico. Ichthus, Pimlico Church was planted about 12 years ago now from the City Gates Church and Ichthus has got a real heart for church planting and Ichthus, Pimlico was a church planted to reach the community. Initially we were working in a different area. Now our main focus is in a council estate on Churchill Gardens. We have a lot of mission planned over the coming six months."

Trevor: How did you get involved in the production end of music?

Jo: "I've always been interested in sound technology and sound layering and even when I was about 12, 13, I used to have loads of tape recorders and do all sorts of interesting things. It was a big dream of mine to have a little studio and when I came to London and became part of Ichthus, Pimlico Church, I was leading worship and writing songs and there were also a few others in the church who had written quite a few songs, in particular Colin Hardy, who has a massive heart for worship. It all just kind of made sense and I bought a little eight-track recorder, nothing fancy, and a little effects unit and a microphone and hooked up and just began recording. I'll never forget getting the manual for the first time and looking at it and thinking, 'Oh my goodness! Where do I start?' but, anyway, I started small and really loved it, really enjoyed it."

Trevor: Tell me a bit about the first Ichthus Christian Fellowship, Pimlico, album.

Jo: "The first album we did was 'The Heavens Are Open' and they're all home-grown songs from mainly myself and Colin Hardy. There's one from another girl in the church, Nancy Doyle. When you actually look through the songs, you'll see what God had been saying to us as a church over the period during which we recorded the songs. There are a lot of testimonies behind each of the songs, just to give you an example, 'I Exalt Your Name'. That was written before Phil Brandon preached one Sunday morning. Before he preached, he very unusually rang me up and said, 'Jo, I know you're leading worship and I just wanted to give you a quick run-down of the sermon.' He related to me roughly what he was going to say when suddenly this song came in to my head and my heart that completely encompassed what he was going to preach. I was so keen not to lose the song that I hung up on him without any explanation, ran to the keyboard, scrawled it all down and then used the song in church. There was a massive response in that service and loads and loads of people came forward and were saying, 'God, I want to leave the past behind and move in to your heart.' It was a really, really powerful time and that song has been really precious to me and the church ever since.

"'The Heavens Are Open' cost about £200 to put together! Everything was done in my bedroom and I so loved it that at the end of it I just wanted to start all over again. Following that, I got some much better equipment; a mixing desk, a better mic and a hard disk recorder and used an old second-hand, battered Atari and started recording the songs that God had given us. We started with a different ethos, really. We started with an ethos of wanting to produce an album that would inspire people to go deeper with God and that was the heart, right form the outset. Our heart as a church and as a worship team is to see people move closer to God and to worship him in Spirit and truth. Also right from the outset, we were really keen on exploring using worship songs and worship music as an evangelistic tool to reach out to people. Certainly, before I was a Christian, when I saw and heard people worshiping, it had a big impact on me. I realised the integrity and the depth of their relationship with this God and, certainly when I've been singing or leading worship, I've seen the people's faces when the presence of God comes. I'll never forget one service within Ichthus: Graham Kendrick was leading worship and I was doing backing vocals. As we were singing this song, the presence of God came. There was the most amazing sense of God's presence there and we were really worshipping. At the end of the song we were just playing along in the background, and the leaders of the meeting came up and said, 'Right, if there's any one right now who wants to give their lives to God, come forward.' As he did, three or four people came forward and to see them come right up to the front with looks on their faces of 'I need to know God and I need to know now,' I'll never forget. I guess when the presence of God comes, then people want to know him. That's better than anything that we can say or do. I suppose that, through the music then, our heart is to reach out to non-Christian and Christians and say, 'God is good, move close to him, give him your lives afresh or for the first time. He's a God who is slow to anger and rich in love,' and to really inspire people to go further and deeper in to his heart."

Trevor: What about the new album?

Jo: "The album's been, for me, a massive success, mainly from the point of view that I've seen lots of people's lives changed. One encouragement I have from one lady was that she'd been depressed for many years and when she heard the album, something clicked in her and it was the first stage, the first step of recovery. It gave her hope and it gave her a real fresh direction to go in, towards God."

Trevor: Tell me about some of the songs on it.

Jo: "'Let The Morning' is a song based on Psalm 143. I wrote it a couple of years ago when I was working with a YWAM team to reach an un-reached people group right up in the Himalayas. It was really to reach a very, very remote area, to reach a people group who had never heard the Gospel at all, in fact had never really seen any Europeans. It was a real privilege to go there but we went in the monsoon season and it was hard going. We flew out to a little tiny village and from there trekked five days through quite hard terrain in the monsoon rain and it was a real time of hardship and illness but we just kept going. There was one particular time when it had been raining all day and we were all really tired and we got to this place to put up our tents. It was raining so hard that all our tents were flooded and it was a really hard time. Eventually I got to sleep, sleeping in this little river in my tent and just cried out to God in the hardship. I had a real sense of God with me and that night I dreamt about angels in the tent. We woke up in the morning and had a little prayer meeting just for us to pray for each other and cry out to God for strength and as we did so many villagers gathered around us. The meeting wasn't for their benefit at all, it was really just so that we could pray for each other and seek God again for the morning as we were so exhausted, yet 12 people gave their lives to Jesus in that little meeting. It was a real time of blessing and through the journey I wrote that song, 'Let The Morning' and it was straight from Scripture but it was also straight from a heart. The lyrics go, 'Let the morning bring me words of God's unfailing love/And let the evening bring a song/For I have put my hope in God/God show me Your way/And I hide myself in You, God.' That was really straight from my heart during this time. It was a wonderful, wonderful trip. We saw 75 people give their lives to Jesus and we did a lot of health care and community work while we were there.

"We recorded it in my little studio room in my flat and Raoul D'Olivera, who's a dear friend of mine, came over to lay some trumpet tracks down and it was really good fun! After he recorded that track, he was sitting on the sofa and we were chatting away and he said to me, 'Jo, do you ever think that there's a spirit of isolation in London?' and I said, 'Yes I do!' Very often I feel that people are shut away in their houses and they sometimes don't get to see neighbours for months on end. He said, 'In the name of Jesus, I break it,' and immediately the doorbell went. I opened the door and there was a neighbour who I had never met before, even though she had been in my block for a very long time. She came actually to apologise for something that I hadn't even noticed. There was supposed to be some problem with a water leak and I hadn't even known anything about it. So I said, 'Oh never mind about that, come in.' She came in and she started looking around my flat and just saying, 'What is it? What is it about this flat? What is it about you two? Tell me what it is. There's something here, there's a peace here I've never seen before,' and she started crying. I said, 'What you're feeling is the presence of God and God is here.' Raoul and I shared with her for about an hour and a half.

"'Come In To The Holy Place' is certainly one of my favourite songs from the album. It's combining two things really: firstly my desire to see all people move closer to God. I have a real vision for that, to see people move closer to God from wherever they are. The second thing is that in the charismatic movement , we've really got hold of the Father-heart of God, but sometimes in our emphasis of this, we have lost the sense of the reverent fear of God and we've a lot to learn from more traditional churches in that - the Greek Orthodox and all the rest of it. That's the story behind the song - my exploration of the concept of moving close to God but also coming in reverent fear and that sense of coming to God with a sense of awe, bringing everything that we have to God and having open hearts and open hands, coming in a sense of respect and reverence for God and giving him real worship." CR

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.
About Trevor Kirk
Trevor "The Captain" Kirk is broadcast music co-ordinator for United Christian Broadcasters.


Reader Comments

Posted by Anne James in Canterbury @ 09:05 on Apr 17 2009

I found this article really interesting and encouraging and I want to check out the album.

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