“Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old”
It was almost three years ago. A box, yellowed with age, containing a reel to reel tape sat in front of me on my desk. The date on the outside read, “November 26, 1981 – Demo Tape.” I removed the tape from the box and slowly threaded it on to a Teac 4300. Hesitantly, I hit the “play” button. I heard a familiar guitar introduction and then came the words, “Joyful Light of the Holy Glory…” Suddenly, I was transported back in time. This was the song we once used to open our evening services in our small evangelical fellowship over 30 years ago. My friend, Michael, had always led it in worship. I had not heard it since then…
We were an odd group back in the day. We were Evangelicals, but we read and studied the Church Fathers as well. We had rock bands out on the road playing in coffeehouses, but for our worship we had turned to the music of The Lord’s Supper by our old friend, John Michael Talbot, or we wrote our own songs using the words of St. John Chrysostom or Ignatius of Antioch or the Didache. We had Bible Studies twice a week, but we always celebrated the Eucharist on Sundays, with the ministers in albs!
Of course, it couldn’t last. We were not a part of a larger supportive faith community and, after close to 10 years, we were all wanting to get on with our education, get married and, maybe, even find a Church or a community that we could call “home.” So, we all went our separate ways. My friend, Michael, went on to get his post-graduate degrees and serve the United Methodist Church as an ordained youth minister in several large churches and, eventually, in campus ministry in Iowa. In the meantime, I had completed my doctoral work in Patristics and served in the Anglican communion in both the US and Europe.
Through a series of circumstances, almost five years ago, Michael and I had gotten back in touch. We started writing and recording music again. Within a year, Michael moved to be closer as we started to work together on an album in Nashville. During this very same period of time, as a result of a various social engagements here in Indianapolis, I met and had become friends with the new Roman Catholic Auxiliary Bishop, Chris Coyne. As we recorded our album, Martyrs Prayers, Bishop Coyne maintained a keen interest in what we were doing and encouraged us along the way. He also counseled, advised and, in the fullness of time, received us into the full communion of the Roman Catholic Church.
The reel-to-reel tape and what it contained, however, would not leave me alone. There were only three songs on the tape. All of them were songs that we had used in worship decades ago. They were all taken from the Easter Vigil liturgy of Chrysostom. Michael and I began to talk about the possibility of updating the songs we had and then to write more to fill out a full album – an album that would consist of treasures old and new. So, we began writing and recording once again. Thom Daugherty (formerly lead guitarist of The Elms) and the legendary Phil Keaggy offered their talents along with other vocalists and musicians including keyboardist Steven Potaczek (formerly with the band 1,000 Generations). Having written liner notes in the form of a journey narrative, Owen Thomas (Creative Director for The Band Perry) created the artwork and design for the packaging.
Our first album, Martyrs Prayers, had asked the question, “What would you die for?” It was our small attempt to speak musically about the issue of “cheap grace” as defined by one martyr in particular, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. From Ignatius of Antioch to Oscar Romero we considered those who had given their lives for the faith.
Our second album, Mystic Chapel, we decided would ask another question, “What if we still believed?” We came to faith in a time when something was happening. It wasn’t programmed, it wasn’t planned, but it was real. The theology was not deep or profound and there was much that we needed to learn, but we believed, and that belief was translated into a movement that changed the Church, changed the style and substance of ministry, changed worship and changed music. It was a time when it seemed nothing was impossible.
As our first album, Martyrs Prayers, garnered numerous favorable reviews and attracted a good deal of attention across an amazingly wide spectrum of both faith-based and secular media, we began connecting with all sorts of people from “back in the day.” Some were old friends, others were simply people with similar experiences. Some had remained active in varied faith communities, while others had no apparent affiliation whatsoever. Still others retained a deep faith, but, as one writer has said, were simply “done” with Church – too many scandals, fund drives, intolerance, traditional/contemporary arguments, and all the rest. Moreover, as we worked on the music and design of Mystic Chapel with numerous talented friends, artists and musicians of a younger generation, we saw a similar phenomena – some were marginally involved in a faith community, others had no affiliation and still others, while retaining a very real faith, had simply given up on finding a community that expressed that faith.
So, a lifetime later, as we recorded Mystic Chapel, we wanted to simply ask the question, “What if we still believed?” The album, we decided, while filled with songs involving worship, would also involve a journey – a journey to faith. For that journey, we looked to our own experience as well as the experiences of so many we have encountered. While we may not have known it all those years ago, the power of our belief was, essentially, an incarnation of the kerygmatic theology of the mid-twentieth century. That is, we encountered the “proclaimed word”, the kerygma, and by that word, encountered Christ and his saving work both in history and in the present moment. It was an encounter that changed lives… changed us… changed so many… Yet, we also found so many that, like us, longed for, and in many cases, still long for a place to call home – a place of faith, of history, of belief.
In the end, we are offering this new album, Mystic Chapel, as a “love letter” of sorts. We’re sending it out to the faithful, to the “nones”, to the “dones” and to all those in between. There’s no promo, no hype, just a journey, offered in music and story. We recognize, however, that this is but our journey. We hope that some will travel with us, but even more, that listeners will find a journey to make their own, for the Mystic Chapel is not a place that you can find on a map, it is an encounter that takes place in the soul. It is an encounter that may, for each of us, bring an answer to the question, “What if we still believed?”
Copyright 2016 Duane Arnold
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