Tony Cummings investigates the impressive rise to US Christian radio popularity of MEREDITH ANDREWS
Meredith Andrews is a worship leader at Chicago's Harvest Bible Chapel and one of US Christian radio's hottest new talents where her tracks like "You're Not Alone" are getting major Christian radio play, earning her a Dove nomination and a place on A New Hallelujah Tour criss-crossing the US with Michael W Smith. Now Meredith's third album, produced by CCM hitmaker Jason Ingram, 'As Long As It Takes', is getting UK release through Kingsway on 20th September.
Meredith grew up in Wilson, North Carolina and was very much a "child of the church". She told Tracy Darlington, "I was very privileged to be raised in a Christian home. My dad is a very wise and godly man and my mom is a woman of prayer. We were at church every time the doors were open because both my parents served regularly. I say all this because I attribute my early knowledge of God to my mother's prayers for me and my father's instruction. When I was five, our pastor preached a message about salvation from God and how we are all sinners in need of a Saviour, and when he gave an invitation to surrender to Jesus, I went forward. I continued to go forward every Sunday for about the next four weeks until my mom explained to me that once I "asked Jesus into my heart" the first time, I was his forever. I guess I just wanted to make sure he heard me."
Meredith spoke about her early years. "It all began at the age of six when I sang 'I Love You, Lord' at my 80-something member Assembly of God church in Wilson, North Carolina. What started out as a 'cute special' actually stuck, and I began singing solo with my mom at various churches and events in our area. When I was 12 I joined our youth worship band by singing backup vocals and playing tambourine. That eventually morphed into leading worship and playing keys during high school, and the Lord began to cultivate this deep desire within me to worship him through music, whether I was alone with him or there were hundreds of people joining in."
It was at Meredith's junior year in college that she felt God calling her to pursue a career in music. "I specifically remember a particular Wednesday night communion service at Liberty University (in Virginia) where I was leading out on 'Sing To The King", and in that moment I just knew that worshiping God with my music and pointing others to him through that music was what I was created for. I was able to articulate for the first time that when I was in a crowd of people, singing to Jesus and encouraging those around me to give him due worship, it was then that I was most alive. Worshiping the Lord through music is the thing that made me feel closest to him. While it had been such a part of my life up until this point, this was the day that God sealed the deal in my mind and heart."
Meredith continued her story, "Once I graduated from Liberty, I was praying about where to go from there. That year I had visited a few orphanages in India through a ministry called Hopegivers, and seeing the faith and joy of about 2500 kids in India completely changed me. Meredith Andrews Ministries came about in hopes of raising support to go out on the road, give concerts, talk about these precious children, and send a percentage of that support to Hopegivers. Now that I am touring on a regular basis, I am able to be a voice for Hopegivers and make others aware of this incredible organization that is rescuing children from the streets of India, Africa and Haiti, meeting their physical needs, and giving them the hope found only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
While at college Meredith recorded the independent album 'Mesmerized'. On finishing her education the singer/pianist became worship leader at the Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago. It wasn't until 2008 that the Meredith eventually landed a record deal with Word Records. Her first album for Word was 'The Invitation'. She spoke about the project, "The title 'The Invitation' became so obvious to me during the recording process as I sat back and reflected on what God was saying through these songs. The underlying theme of this album is that God welcomes us into his presence, into a relationship with him, not based on what we've done or haven't done, but based solely on the sacrifice that Jesus gave out of his love for us. We are invited into the presence of a Holy God because he is also merciful and delights in his children. We find all we need when we are with him and we are changed just by being in his presence. To know Jesus and be known and loved by him. . .this is the ultimate invitation."
Meredith's favourite song on 'The Invitation' is "The River". She said, "This is the first song I wrote for 'The Invitation', although, at the time, a record deal wasn't even on my radar. I just remember playing my parents' piano at the end of a summer tour and having my eyes opened to the reality of brokenness and desperation not only in the world around me, but running through my own veins as well. It was as if God removed a veil from my eyes to see how in need of him we all are, and I was so struck by it that I began to weep as I played. 'The River' was complete within an hour, but I take no credit for it. This was a song written by the Holy Spirit. I only had the privilege of hearing it for the first time, writing it down, and being humbled by the truth of the Gospel and my own intrinsic need for a Saviour like I had never realised before."
Meredith explained how her new album 'As Long As it Takes' differs from 'The Invitation'. She told jesusfreakhideout.com, "The Invitation was a lot more piano-heavy, musically speaking, and kind of like pop/worship if you will - if you can use worship to describe a genre of music. But this one is a little bit more guitar-heavy and maybe some Euro. . .synth. . .whatever. I'm not the greatest to ask about music. That would be my husband (laughs). So I lay that down and then I'm like, 'Okay, let's move on and write the lyrics.'"
The quality production on 'As Long As It Takes' is from one of modern CCM's most consistent hitmakers, Jason Ingram. Meredith spoke of how she met the studio maestro, "It was like the Lord just plopped that relationship right in my lap. When I had just moved to Chicago to be a worship leader at Harvest, Jason had some ties at Harvest, and he had heard my independent record that I released in college, and so he knew of me, and of course I knew who he was. I met him at a Watermark concert. He was opening up for Watermark in Chicago, and I went up to him and said, 'Hey Jason, my name is Meredith. I know that you have my independent record and I just wanted to introduce myself and say that I admire you and I wanted to meet you.' We had a really great conversation that day, and he ended up asking me if I wanted to come to Nashville and start writing with him. He just kinda took me under his wing and helped develop me as an artist and started writing with me and gave me some great advice.
"He has such a great heart. He's so passionate about seeing the Church worship the Lord, and he's the easiest person that I found to write with, for me. We just go in and we write a song, and it's just like, gold! Not because it's us. . . it's just like there's some kind of connection the Lord has established between us. It's really cool when two perspectives come together and you're able to create this song that actually says something. But Jason's been very influential in all of this. He's my producer, he co-wrote most of the songs on the new record. I'm just so thankful to have him in my life."
Meredith's favourite song on her new album is the title track. She recounted, "'As Long As It Takes' was one of the first songs Jason and I wrote for the record, and when I came to him talking about writing for this thing it was a very daunting task. I felt like, I don't know how I'm ever gonna write enough songs to fill this record and how in the world they're gonna be actually good songs that matter. I was kinda pouring my heart out to him one day and felt like, man, I just feel all this pressure, and I think it's needless pressure that I'm putting on myself, and I feel like I had nothing to say and just come scraping the bottom of the barrel.
"I'm saying all this and I'm really emotional about it because I don't know where to start, and he just sits down and starts typing these lyrics on the screen. I look at them, I read them through - it's like the first verse of the song - and I just start crying because it was so true to where I was and he's basically typing what I'm saying. But it started out, 'I'm tired. Do I have to keep proving myself? I'm weary, drawing from an empty well. I need you more than I ever have. So Jesus, come and shatter my darkness, right now, somehow.'
"It's like in the chorus, it's just saying to the Lord, 'I'm not gonna speak until you speak.' And that's just how I felt. I'm like, 'Lord, I'm tired of trying to figure this out on my own. I'm just gonna sit here and wait on you until you speak, until you move me, until you sing over me and you show me what it is you want me to say.' And so I think that song is the most personal to me, and it also encompasses the record as a whole."
Among the collaborators on her new album are acclaimed worship leader Paul Baloche, whose credits include such anthems as "Open The Eyes Of My Heart" and "Above All". For her new album, Andrews, her husband, Jacob, and Baloche collaborated on "How Great Is The Love". "I'm just honoured that we got to do that with him because I've learned so much from him," said Andrews. "He poured into us and fed us. I loved to hang out with him and his wife. It was the neatest experience and songwriting came really natural. We were in his living room and started praying and it just came out of that prayer. It was a really sweet day and a sweet moment."
Another of the album's highlights is "Only To Be Yours", inspired by Psalm 86. "You've heard that quote 'the problem with living with sacrifices is they crawl off the altar,'" Andrews said. "That's what I was thinking when I started the song because I can be so scattered sometimes. I wanted to say, 'Lord, just take everything that I am, everything,' and the next day I have to do it all over again because I'm trying to live independent of the Lord. I'm trying to do it in my own strength. In reality I need God's grace. I need to allow the Lord to guide me and I want to stay on the altar. I want to be broken. I want to stay broken in that place where I don't get so busy and I don't get so distracted that everything crowds out the voice of the Lord. I want to hear his voice more clearly."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.