Tony Cummings talks to JULIAN & MELISSA WIGGINS about their lives and ministry
Over the last few years a new word has slipped into the vocabulary of the worshipping church. "Soaking" music is music - often completely or partially improvised - which is an aid to meditative "soaking sessions" when gatherings or individuals focus on relaxing into the presence of the living God. This innovative approach to sustaining a communicative communion with the Godhead has recently brought forth a shoal of CD resources from the USA and the UK. Key figures in the soaking movement are a husband and wife team Julian and Melissa Wiggins, based in Eastbourne. In 2009 Integrity Media released no less than four albums by keyboards and woodwind player Julian and vocalist Melissa - 'Forever', 'Breathless', 'Face To Face' and 'Sound Of Heaven'. Cross Rhythms asked Melissa how the couple had developed their soaking approach to worship.
"We have led worship in many different contexts and flows over the years, but our personal journey has been one of seeking after a greater reality and intimacy in our relationship with God through worship. Through being released into spontaneous prophetic worship, songs that have facilitated the deepening of that experience have come and drawn us deeper. 'Soaking' was a label given to something we had been pursuing through In His Presence events with The Well where we'd spend five to six hours in continuous worship, pursuing the presence of God, sometimes with lyrics, sometimes with tongues, sometimes just with an instrumental underscore. The albums and the concept to just rest in him, listen and receive really came out of those times."
Melissa was born in 1978 in Bury St Edmonds. Her family were musically inclined, her father (in accounts and credit control) having once played in '60s bands The Ketas (later Nelson's Column). Melissa's musical gifting was recognised even at primary school. She recounted, "I was found gathering people to me, teaching the children my songs on the lawn in the playground. Teachers realised this should be channelled and put me forward for Suzuki violin school. My parents realised there was something missing from our family life when I was about five and started going to church. My parents formed a young families meeting on Sunday evening within the old church of waiting-to-die URC members. It grew and I became a Christian the day my Dad spoke about his best friend Jesus and I asked my Sunday school teacher, 'How come my Dad gets Jesus as a best friend?' I was seven."
Growing up Melissa was immersed in Christian music and was regularly singing in church. Melissa's parents got to know Dave Fitzgerald, the multi-talented woodwind player who was in the early '90s one of the founder members of Celtic fusion band Iona. At David's house they met another talented woodwind player, Julian Wiggins. The couple invited Julian to their church and there the young but already experienced musician met Melissa.
Cardiff-born Julian had grown up in Penarth in what he described as "a vibrant Christian home". He spoke about his conversion: "Mom and dad were really the spitting image of Jesus to me but were very quick to tell me that God has no grandchildren. We attended a fantastic Bible week in Exeter in 1977 and it was that summer I gave my heart to Jesus. Hugh Thompson was the evangelist, and as I chose Jesus is my Saviour (my brother Nigel and best friend Steve too) Hugh prayed for us with us and laid hands upon us and I was filled with the Holy Spirit. I think it was then that the Holy Spirit brought alive the gift of music inside of me. In fact I remember my father buying me two things at the Bible week. He bought me a Bible and a tambourine, much to the delight of the people standing next to me in the meetings!"
Music making was in Julian's blood and by the age of 12 he had started to learn the clarinet. He remembered, "I would play the clarinet in my local worship group even before I learned how to read music. The main part of my teenage years were spent at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Penarth. I had some great encouragement as a young musician, especially from Martyn Joseph who took every opportunity to get me involved in making music. It became clear to me that aged 18+ I couldn't really do without music and it was the thing that God had best gifted to me to do. I declined an offer from the Welsh National School Of Medicine to study rather in Leeds on the light music degree course. After living for the best part of a year in Woodhouse which I survived, I switched courses. I went back to Cardiff to complete a bachelor of music. I followed this with perhaps the best year of education in my life at the Guildhall School Of Music And Drama where I did a postgraduate in jazz and popular music."
At the age of 20 Julian began to get invitations to play on various Christian recording sessions. He said somewhat laconically, "Strangely enough they wanted to pay me. This is when I realised that by definition I was becoming a professional musician. My first ever session was on a Jones And Co album. I played with Mal Pope And The Jacks for a couple of years. It was a fantastic experience, playing with some of the finest musicians in the world. It was at this time from 1989 through to 1996 that I began to pick up more and more recording sessions. I seem to remember recording albums with Chris Bowater, Dave Bilbrough, Spring Harvest, Paul Field and COGIC. I worked as a music teacher from 1992 until 1996, becoming part time during the last year and spending time working as a musician in ministry for the rest of the time. I also had my own band All The Kings Men which was an instrumental project which, with hindsight, was a very special time. Our influences were America's wonderful Koinonia. I still believe that the Holy Spirit uses instrumental music to open up people's hearts to the Gospel."
In 1995 Julian went to Italy to work with Italy For Christ. Then on a trip to Rome he met Evan Schoombie, who invited Julian over to South Africa to work on an album. While in SA God began to open doors for Julian and he felt a call to relocate there. Meanwhile, back in Britain, Melissa was finishing her A Levels. As she put it, "In '96 I felt Julian was the man and South Africa was the place. I went out there after finishing my exams and we got married shortly afterwards."
The couple ministered together in South Africa first at Living Word then at New Covenant Church, Bryanston, which is part of the NCMI (New Covenant Ministries International) network. With years of worship ministry experience under their collective belts the couple returned to Britain in 2005. Explained Melissa, "We reconnected with Peter and Caroline Anderson of The Well/Restoring The Foundations and did house church with a number of other families. It was a great time where our children really developed spiritually and had the limitations lifted off them."
In 2008 Julian and Melissa began organising soaking sessions, giving believers an opportunity to find intimacy with God. Said Melissa, "We were doing these events for probably nine months before Jonathan at Integrity heard what we were doing and asked us to record an album to facilitate soaking, which then became four albums because we couldn't stop! The albums were recorded over a period of a few months and were mixed, mastered and released at the same time. They are all different, with different characteristics and keys as to what God was speaking to us about and releasing through us at that time. One of them is purely instrumental, another was recorded live from start to finish in one session, and the other two were structured around some prophetic songs that had come out of the In His Presence days, and just building from those as a starting block really."
Alongside the soaking sessions Julian has continued to minister in a wide variety of ways and places. He said, "I have just returned from a groundbreaking time in Sierra Leone. I ran a three day introductory music school for IRIS Ministries Sierra Leone led by Andrew Sesay. The Lord has opened some remarkable doors within the country and one of the things we are exploring is a partnership between the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation and IRIS Ministries. The SLBC is appointing me as their international media consultant. My roles include overseeing in-house audio and visual training, finding and developing programming and content for the various channels that will be part of the digital network and finally securing appropriate funding and partnership across the African continent."
In March Julian produced a Cantonese and a Mandarin version of the 'Hear The Sound' album by Bonnie Whaley (the English language version of which was released in 2010 by Integrity Music). Said Julian, "The Lord is opening amazing doors for City Church International Hong Kong into mainland China. This is in partnership with local government and music and worship play an important part in that."
Just released by Integrity is the 'Sound Of Glory' album by American prophetic musician Jeff Jansen on which Julian and Melissa contributed. Said Melissa, "Basically it's us spontaneously/prophetically musically underscoring what Jeff was declaring through word. It was a special project and one we definitely felt the presence of God on us whilst ministering onto tape, so to speak!"
Added Julian, "Working with Jeff was an absolute privilege. Jeff is hungry for the manifest presence and the glory of God to invade his life and his family and the lives of all those around him and he is seeing this fulfilled in these days. So with this album 'Sound Of Glory' we really trust the Lord to invade our collaboration and for the Holy Spirit to orchestrate the interplay between the spoken prophetic word and the musical expression to the various instruments."
In the summer of 2010 Melissa began working in the offices of Integrity Media in Eastbourne. She laughed, "My business card says Marketing Director, but my remit isn't really confined to that! It's great to see all of my past experiences and loves come together and fulfil a prophetic word I was given when I was 16."
Melissa's husband is equally busy. He said, "This coming summer I begin work on the score for the followup to Faith Like Potatoes with the working title A New Heart. I have the privilege of writing the principal themes upfront as the movie is being filmed. This allows for a whole lot of creativity and interaction between myself and the editor and the director producer. Also, towards the end of June I'm heading off to partner with Tony and Linda Johnson in New Delhi, India to hold a songwriters conference. We will be workshopping songs, writing and recording the results with the aim of producing an album. The majority of the songs will be in local dialects as well as English and the musical styles although predominantly Indian will also crossover into western styles."
Yet despite all their individual activities it is clear that the music Julian and Melissa make together remains firmly embedded in their musical and spiritual DNA. Said Julian, "I do still thoroughly enjoy helping bring success to other people's recording projects. It's been a big part of my life over the past 10 to 15 years and something which God spoke to me clearly about. But I believe that I have entered a new season in which the Lord is calling myself and Melissa to sing our own song. The four soaking albums that Melissa and I have completed are the tip of the iceberg really. It's our passion and desire to express the prophetic in worship in as many styles as possible. We recently embarked on an adventure with Terl Bryant and Mark Edwards with the possibility of adding other musicians later. We set no limit on what style of music we may use. Music always paints a picture of what God is saying in the prophetic. The style of music may be jazz, rock, pop, classical, atmospheric, whatever. It's been my dream to make music with musicians who can play in any style and are not inhibited or restricted by their respective abilities on the instruments. The working title of this new project is 'Songs Of Ascent'."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.