New Spring Harvest worship leader LEIGH BARNARD has recently released his first album through ICC. Tony Cummings asked him some questions.
With the release by ICC of his 'Countless Are The Mercies' album, Christian bookshop browsers may be encountering the name Leigh Barnard for the first time. Yet this young worship leader is far from a newcomer to the scene, having led worship at Spring Harvest for the last two years. Leigh leads worship at Mutley Baptist Church, Plymouth. I asked the gifted young man about his past, present and future.
Can you give me a potted biography?
I was born in Yorkshire into a Christian home. My dad was a teacher and lay preacher and my mum had the harder job of looking after us three boys. I'm the middle one. I went to the local school in Otley until I was 16 when we moved to Wales. Also when I was 16 I picked up the guitar. I really fancied this older girl who played so I decided to learn but by the time I was any good we had moved house and she was married! I had an old nylon stringed guitar which I strung with really light steel strings. At the time I listened to a lot of Don Francisco and I loved his acoustic guitar work. It probably was a bit geeky but I would spend hours listening to his music on tape, wearing out the rewind button as I tried to work out the chords. Within a year I could play all of his acoustic guitar stuff, which I still enjoy playing now. I got involved in playing music in church round about that time. The church was a small independent house church and anyone could choose a song or just start singing so you had to be on your toes and that helped me develop musically.
At the time I would have said I was a Christian but looking back I'm not so sure. I didn't really know God. As soon as I went to University (Exeter) I stopped attending church and tried to forget about Christian things. I just wanted to have a good time. I studied the only thing that I was interested in at the time - physical education. It made sense to train as a teacher as there's not a lot else to do with a PE degree! I was a county athlete and county rugby player.
At the end of my third year I did a charity cycle ride from Land's End to John O Groats with some Christian guys who I knew from when I was younger. They were raising money to buy two Land Rovers which they were then going to drive down to Africa and donate to two different charities over there. That was when I started to get interested in God things again. These guys were brilliant fun to be with and yet they were still Christians. They were better at sport than me as well, which really annoyed me. I had such a laugh on the cycle ride it really challenged my beliefs about what it meant to be a Christian. I previously thought that being a Christian was quite boring. It didn't change my lifestyle however but I think that God had planted a seed.
The following summer I decided to travel around Europe on my own (to find myself.) so I started hitching. I'd got to the motorway when another car stopped and wound the window down. It was one of the guys that I had gone cycling with the previous year. He had seen me while going the opposite way up the motorway and he had turned round and come back to say hello! He managed to persuade me to travel with him and a load of other Christians down to France instead of hitching round Europe. It was the first stage of their trip to Africa in the Land Rovers so I agreed to go with them. Ultimately the actions of that guy bothering to turn around to talk to me changed my life forever. Every morning during the road trip the group would pray and have a short time of worship, which I was invited to but never went. What I did decide to do was start reading the Bible from the beginning. Somehow I had this real hunger for the Bible.someone must have been praying! Probably my mum.
Again, I was really amazed how much fun these people were and it didn't seem to involve much alcohol! They seemed to have something that I didn't and I wanted what they had. Anyway, I got to the passage in Genesis about Noah and it says that Noah 'walked with God.' Being a literal sort of guy I decided I would try and do the same so I went for a walk and just started talking to God as I walked. I remember praying, 'God if you're really there, I need to know.' and at that moment I knew. It's difficult to explain but I felt this huge weight leave my shoulders and it was as if I'd opened my eyes for the first time. I knew that God was real and that he was there. I committed my life to him and began to 'walk' with God. I was 21.
Through all this time I continued to play my guitar and write songs. I wrote a song the day I 'walked with God' and I found it the other day.it's very bad! When I moved to Plymouth I started going to Mutley Baptist Church and I got involved with the music there.
How and when did you get involved in worship ministry?
It had never crossed my mind that I would be involved in a worship role. I loved to worship and I played in the worship group but I never thought about leading worship. We were on a church weekend away and I agreed to play the guitar and lead a little group of musicians. Ian Coffey was our minister and the speaker for the weekend. At the end of the weekend he asked me if I had ever led worship. I never had so he asked if I would be prepared to do it in church which I agreed to.
The first time I led worship was a nightmare. The thing is, Mutley Baptist is not a small church by any stretch of the imagination so leading your first service there was an interesting experience. I remember not eating or sleeping for days beforehand and then losing my music during the service and sweating a lot. However, they must have seen something there because they asked me to do it again, once each term to begin with. Then later, when I stopped sweating so much, they asked me to do it regularly and that's when I got involved with Spring Harvest.
Was it the Ian Coffey connection which led to you leading worship at Spring Harvest?
Early in 2003 I mentioned to Ian Coffey that I felt that God was calling me deeper into worship ministry and I asked if I could go and watch what went on at Spring Harvest (I hadn't been for 10 years or so). He pointed me in the right direction and I got a job as a stage manager's assistant for one week in Minehead. In the evening Ian Coffey and Dave Pope had a chat show called Coffey With The Pope and they asked me if I would be the resident musician for the week. I had a handful of songs that were just about half decent so I agreed. On the first evening I had just finished stage managing and I was getting a bit nervous about performing at Coffey With The Pope when one of the leadership team approached me and asked if I would lead worship for the morning sessions in the Big Top. I nearly died. I didn't have a band with me so that was my first year leading worship at Spring Harvest, just me, a guitar and 4,000 people. Unbelievably, they have invited me back each year since then and I am looking forward to returning in 2006. I've heard Skegness is very cold!
Anything stand out in your memory about leading worship at Spring Harvest?
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