Celebrating the work God places before us
It’s a well-known fact that we often remember better what we sing than what we say (or hear). In the context of the local church, this means we need worship songs with both good harmonies and solid theology. A recent collaboration of artists, produced by Isaac Wardell, combines a robust theology of work with beautiful melodies meant for singing and remembering.
Wardell, Director for Worship Arts at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Virginia, recalls when the idea for the new album, Work Songs, first occurred to him. “I was asked to lead worship in 2014 at a conference on faith and work,” he said. “When the organizers asked me for songs celebrating vocation, I had a difficult time thinking of good examples. That experience highlighted for me the need for songs about calling and vocation.”
In June 2017 Wardell launched The Porter’s Gate, a “sacred arts collective” with the aim of creating soundtracks that “imagine a movement of redeeming love that welcomes those outside church doors.” The Porter’s Gate hosted a two-day consortium in New York City, where a group of 60 songwriters, musicians, scholars, pastors, and music industry professionals from a variety of worship traditions and cultural backgrounds gathered for meaningful conversation about worship and vocation.
This eclectic group of what Audrey Assad called “world-class musicians” recorded a live album of musical meditations on the work we do inside and outside our homes. In addition to Assad, Work Songs features artists David Gungor, Sarah Hart, Aaron Keyes, Madison Cunningham, and Josh Garrels, among others. The “why?” behind the project is summarized well by Stuart Townsend: “We need more songs about who we are in our daily lives, not ones that just give [us] a good experience on a Sunday morning.”
A quick tour of the album
The album includes 13 songs, each with a common motif of celebrating the work God places before us, whether in the home or the workplace. Here are a few highlights.
“Establish the Works of our Hands” reminds us of our utter dependence on the Lord to build the house so we might not labor in vain. This song originated as a meditation on Psalm 90 by Keyes and Sandra McCracken.
“Every Mother, Every Father” is the album’s recognition of the vital vocation of parenthood. It’s sung by Paul Zach, Audrey Assad, and Madison Cunningham, with Zach on acoustic guitar. A little like a lullaby, it’s simple, gentle, and lilting:
Every mother, every father
Called to raise up sons or daughters
May your heart be patient
May your mind be clear
May our God be with you
And calm your fears
My favorite selections are the songs that remind us of how our (often wearying) work in this broken world is conducted in the midst of the larger story of God’s work of renewing all things. “We Labor Unto Glory” fits into this category:
My heart, my hands, they’re kingdom bound, glory
Where thorns no longer curse the ground, glory
Trim the wick and light the flame, glory
My work, it will not be in vain, glory
Not only the album itself but also the process of creating it witnesses to a robust theology of work. This was a collaborative endeavor, pulling together artists from different races, denominations, and musical genres, to mesh their diversity into a beautiful mosaic.
“There are many new worship songs written every year,” Wardell notes, “but the subject material seems to be generally limited to categories of personal spiritual salvation or celebrating God’s goodness (which are great topics for songs). But when it comes to other areas of the Christian life—such as sanctification, vocation, longsuffering, peacemaking, mercy, or patience—there is an absence of worship resources. Over the next ten years, it’s my hope for the Porter’s Gate to continue to create worship materials addressing some of these areas.”