Tony Cummings reports on the radical worship collective MICHAEL KETTERER & UNITED PURSUIT
There was something very heartening about the appearance in Britain's Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart of 'The Wild Inside' album by Michael Ketterer & United Pursuit in March this year. Here was an excellent modern worship project from a collective based in Knoxville, Tennessee selling well in the international marketplace without any assistance from multi-national music companies or mega-churches. The phenomenal rise of United Pursuit shows that with God, anything is possible. A central theme running through 'The Wild Inside' is Father God adopting his children and it's a theme which singer/songwriter Ketterer has very much lived out as he and his wife have found themselves the adopted parents of three meth-addicted little children.
The genesis of United Pursuit goes back to 2006 when musicians and recent high school graduates Nathan Fray, Jake LeBoeuf and Will Reagan worked in Mozambique as missionaries for the summer, where they met fellow musician Brock Human and began to write worship songs together. The summer ended, but the songs stuck and back home in Knoxville, the four young men decided to buy a house together, move in, build a studio to record music and open the doors to see what God did with the space. And so the Banks House, named after the street it's located on, came to be. What happened with the space was bigger than they could have possibly imagined. Explained Reagan, "The Banks House. . .was a place where we experienced life. It was our family. It described a bunch of guys doing life together and pursuing the Lord."
A handful of people started showing up every week to worship in the living room of the Banks House. Explained Fray, "We lived in a community centered on worship. We really couldn't help but write songs." Read a collective statement, "United Pursuit is simply a name we gave our music five years ago when we set up our Myspace profile. There were just a few of us then. Now there's many more. We were and still are friends first, musicians and songwriters second. So in short, United Pursuit is the collective name of our worshipping community, loosely based out of Knoxville, but with members scattered across the US."
In 2008 the worshipping collective released their first project, the EP 'Radiance', under the name United Pursuit Band. ("It seemed at the time that we were a band.) The following year the full length 'In The Night Season' credited Will Reagan & The United Pursuit Band was released. Read the explanation, "This time around, Will had a bunch of songs he wanted to record, and we all gathered around him in the studio to help make it happen. It didn't feel right to call it a UPB album because it was all his songs. But Will didn't want to call it solely a Will Reagan album, because we all played on it. Thus, Will Reagan & the UPB was born."
More of Reagan's songs were featured on the 2010 album 'Live At The Banks House: Endless Years'. Read the tongue-in-cheek statement, "This one is a subtle shift. Noticed how we took off the word 'band'? Well, turns out 'band' didn't quite do our story justice. To us, 'band' represented a fixed number of members. Either you're in or out. That's not us. We felt that we couldn't be limited to a fixed group, as our numbers kept growing. It felt more appropriate to describe UP as a collective. So we dropped it."
By 2011 as United Pursuit's numbers grew, so did the amount of songs being written and recorded. The collective decided to pool their resources and help each other record and release individual albums. United Pursuit acted as the indie record label in the release of Michael Ketterer's 'Love/War/Solar System', Andrea Marie's Here Begin' and Brock Human's 'Color Of Red'. Also in 2011, the worship project 'Found' credited to United Pursuit and Iris Ministries was released. The album, masterminded by Brock Human, helped to raise money for the orphanage/church planting Iris Ministries in Mozambique.
The weekly worship sessions outgrew the Banks House and United Pursuit now meet in a converted warehouse called the Fifth Ave House. As the collective explained, "Last year, we felt the Lord calling us to plant deeper roots in our city. We've been dreaming for years for a common space for the church of Knoxville to gather in unity and simply worship Jesus together. And because Knoxville is really central to lots of people on the East Coast, we thought it would be cool to have a place where you could easily join us too. We'd run out of room in our homes to host any more people, so the Fifth Ave House is our bigger living room so to speak. At 119 W. Fifth Ave, you will find us there every Tuesday night. And no matter where you live in the world, you'll can join us via live streaming every Tuesday night. Thank you internet. We're pretty excited about it."
In March 2014 'The Wild Inside by Michael Ketterer & United Pursuit was released. Completely unlike Ketterer's previous dance/pop project, this, in the words of the collective, is "scream your guts out 'anthemic' worship." Michael Ketterer spoke to New Release Tuesday about 'The Wild Inside'. "The last album that I did was kind of more my own, basically my own songs and things that I'd written whereas when we talk about United Pursuit, we're a community of artists, musicians, all kinds of people. Every week we do a thing called LoveWar where we all gather and we worship for a few hours. We've been doing this now for seven years every Tuesday. So you can only play other people's songs for so long, especially when you're gathering for two-hour times of worship. The reason why it's two hours is just because we love it. We're in God's presence. We start singing. It started out with about 12 college students. Now we're running every Tuesday anywhere from maybe 400 to 500 people of all ages.
"In the midst of those times of worship, just spontaneously songs are being written. Most of the songs that are on this album have come from those spontaneous times of worship. It's kind of funny because that's why a lot of United Pursuit songs don't necessarily fit like a mould of like first chorus, first bridge, chorus. We just took moments. We took the moments out of two hours of worship and put them together. When it says 'with United Pursuit', it really means that not only were the songs written in the midst of the community, but also the community is what gets behind to see the album through. You'll be able to see that especially if you got a copy of my CD. You'll see the amount of people that were involved in making that music. It's just crazy. There were so many people who were involved in the process."
Ketterer continued, "Really in the midst of 'Love/War/Solar Systems' and this one, and during our worship times, there's been so much revelation God's given me about his heart as a Father and all that comes with adoption. We've really been immersed in that for the past three years working with children."
Michael and Ivey have been married fifteen years. On the website www.christiancampus.com Ketterer explained how he and his wife came to adopt three young boys. He said, "Six years ago, at the age of seven, my daughter Sofia began having dreams of us adopting. Her dreams were remarkably vivid. Each dream detailed the same story line. There were always three little boys. The youngest around one year old, was always in danger. It was Sofia's responsibility to save him. She would wake up from her dream crying to either Ivey or myself demanding we adopt these little boys. Now, I'd like to say Ivey and I had always been open to adoption, but it simply wasn't true. Even after Sofia's dramatic birth and my wife's inability to conceive thereafter, we still never thought of it. And even if we did, how could we possibly afford it! We were growing quite comfortable with our little family, free to roam the earth at a whim! Little did we know that our comfortable life was about to be shaken.
"It only took Sofia and the Holy Spirit about two and a half years to persuade us into adoption. But even after our hearts warmed to the idea there was still the clouding question; how do we rummage up the finances? International adoptions average somewhere between twenty to thirty thousand dollars, and the cheapest stateside adoption, a black child from the intercity, is still ten to fifteen thousand dollars. How does a young couple come up with that kind of cash? It was only after meeting one of the most beautiful families; eight children, four white, four black, four girls, four boys, that our eyes were open to a third option.
"We found out that it's possible to adopt through foster care. We found out that the adoption process is not only most of the time free to foster-parents, never to exceed five hundred dollars, but the government actually pays parents to care for these children! My wife and I were astounded! "Why are more believers not doing this?" we asked ourselves. Doesn't the scripture clearly explain caring for the orphan and widow is the purest form of religion? I was literally blown away! We were both filled with fresh vision and hope at the possibility of adoption."
Shortly after completing their training and certification, Ivey received her first call from the agency. Remembered Michael, "We braced ourselves, my ear pressed against the back of the phone. The caseworker on the other end of the line spoke, 'Mrs Ketterer, we have a possible placement of a sibling group if you choose to accept.' 'What kind of sibling group?' she responded. 'Three boys, mam, ages four, three and one.' Our jaws hit the floor, we knew instantly these were our children, Sofia's dreams, our sons. 'Yes,' Ivey replied, and our lives would be forever changed.
"These boys came with a warning, the agency wanted to be very clear and upfront about their behavioural problems. The caseworkers words exactly: 'These boys are like wild wolves.' Our answer was still a resounding yes! Nothing is too great for God; love assuredly covers a multitude of sins! Thank God for naivety. Remember when we asked, 'Why aren't more believers doing this?' After only a few weeks we were beginning to understand why some could be apprehensive. As a matter of fact, we were realising how we had judged all kinds of people. From our six-bedroom home in a small neighbourhood we judged parents. We said things like: 'How could anyone neglect or harm a child?' We began understanding that the children were not the only victims but their parents were also a product of their upbringing. We were realising our ministry was not just to our children but to parents, caseworkers, lawyers and judges. The foster care system had opened up our eyes to an entirely new world that had once laid beneath our noses.
"We later uncovered in the police report that the two older boys were found outside a meth lab running through the woods. When the police raided the premises they found the youngest boy in a crib drinking from a spoiled milk bottle. The police estimated he had gone several days without food. Our first season with these 'wild wolves' in our home was quite a challenge. We dealt with issues such as being born addicted to meth, malnutrition, detachment disorder, heightened sensitivity, severe ADHD, pooping and peeing all over everything, colour blindness and dental issues out the wazoo! But all of this was just that, a season. Underneath all the symptoms we were uncovering hearts of gold. With each day we chose to love, more and more of their true identity began surfacing. With each day the wild orphan boys were becoming sons.
"Today we have three amazing, well adjusted and full of life boys. Their ages are seven, seven and four years old. Additionally we have adopted another four year old boy with cerebral palsy and are fostering another four year old boy. Yes, you read that correctly. We have two seven year olds and three four year olds in our home, all boys. We call the four year olds our triplets. One is African American, one is white, and the third is Hispanic. My wife always says, 'Only God can give you triplets like that.' Each of our five boys came within a 12-mile radius of our home. Who knew there were orphans in our own neighbourhood?"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.