A Private Jealousy, A Public Departure

Today I’m getting a little personal and talking about a mindset I’ve had in the past that has lead me to some pretty miserable places. Maybe you’ll relate to some of these things, or if not, you can at least learn from my mistakes.

Long, long ago I was at university. and I began attending a church that had several locations over the years, but was mostly meeting in a cinema while I was there.

As is the custom, it was eventually discovered that I was a musician, and I was invited to join the worship team. Towards the end of my time at uni, a new family joined the church, and the dad played guitar and sang, so joined with us also. The dad – let’s call him Dean – had begun writing songs, specifically worship songs, and the rest of the team were really supportive of him.

And I felt awful.

Because I wrote songs. I had been writing songs for far longer. Writing songs was what I wanted to do with my whole life. I even recorded my songs.

But it stayed totally quiet about that, because this was his moment, and what’s more, the songs I wrote weren’t church songs. I didn’t feel like I could ask for the support of my church musician friends because I was doing something ‘secular.’ So, I did what I always do when I need something: I don’t ask for it, I don’t even go to other sources for it. I just starve.

I have tried (Oh! how I have tried…) to be a worship songwriter. I felt that if I could only write church worship that somehow I’d be able to take off in my career. I’d have a ready-made audience. I’d have a platform. I’d have support. I’d be able to ‘make it’. I even went through a phase where I would try repenting to God if I wrote a song that wasn’t about Him. How dare I write anything else!

This probably all sounds a bit mad to you if you’re not part of a church, but to those of you who are, while being a creative person, you’ll be nodding along with me.

There’s this attitude among church folk. They really praise ‘creativity’ since it’s a fine example of who God is, represented in us. But equally, they see it as something that needs to slot into church life and service, rather than being its own separate form of expression that transcends only church-based activities. It needs to be ‘for the Lord!’, but make sure it fits neatly into this morning’s church service, because today the theme is ‘creativity’ and you’re creative, right??

It’s this weird, pseudo-championing of the arts in church that just makes you feel like you’re not actually allowed to express yourself truly. Sometimes boundaries are good (for example, you wouldn’t catch me singing a rapid 16-note run in the middle of Jesus Be The Centre), but equally, sometimes I want to sing that rapid 16-note run, something that would be considered wildly inappropriate for a worship leader.

Caryl Archer playing acoustic guitar
My life as part of worship teams

And that’s why I could never make a career out of church music. I can’t be free in that environment, and when I do try to apply my songwriting to the sacred, it comes out a bit more like a paint-by-numbers than a genuine expression of worship. People might like the songs, but they don’t come from a place of true devotion, they exist because I’m trying to be what other people want me to be, and that goes against the grain of some foundational worship leading values.


I was fortunate enough to have a socially distanced walk out with my pastor yesterday. We met to discuss whether or not I want to be part of the new worship team when church starts up again post-lockdown. I basically gave her an even more detailed and long-winded explanation of what I’ve just outlined here, and to my great relief and reassurance, she totally 100% ‘got it.’

So, I’ve stepped down from all worship teams! And other church-related worship engagements such as weddings and funerals. This is a massive move forward for me because it’s something I’ve never done permanently. I’ve certainly taken ‘breaks’ (I’ve had a long history of truly hating it at times, and then trying to normalise that as just the need for ‘rest’), but this is the first time I’ve just straight up said, “I’m leaving.”

It’s been a big week for leaving things, because I’ve also deactivated my Facebook account, and will eventually be removing my music presence from Facebook completely. I’m the kind of person who tries hard to commit to the things that are important to her, so canning Facebook was a nice little practice run for saying no to something else else that had been part of my life for many years.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m the only one who can choose the direction of my life, and I’m the one who can decide what I’ll let define me. Maybe I’m a little late to the party, what with being well into my 30s now, but I guess many of my well-behaved churchie peeps will identify with feeling like taking control of your life is synonymous with ‘disobedience.’ We tend to be a little behind with things like self-actualisation and autonomy.

God is not responsible for fulfilling our potential.

Chris Kelsall

The above is a great quote from one of my other pastors, introducing a concept I had only heard for the first time on this occasion. It was an utter revelation to hear this from the mouth of someone I had so much respect for, and who wasn’t widely known as an agitator in our community. He was just a very pastor-y pastor, saying something I had never heard a pastor-y pastor say. It released me to actually work unapologetically on my own vision.

I already know exactly the work I want to do, but I have great trouble with going about it directly. That’s something that’s become more apparent to me in this time, and to be honest, I’m not doing great right now. I don’t want to claim to write a blog post where I ‘open up’ and not admit to that.

I’m struggling. It really hurts. Today I really hate being who I am and I question why such a burden of sensitivity should be placed on someone so weak.

Therein lies the sting in that quote. If it is God who has made me as debilitatingly sensitive to the world around me as I am, then the responsibility falls to me to make something of that. Maybe I can turn that pain into something that is of help to others, and isn’t that what faith in Jesus is meant to exemplify?

I’ve talked too long, especially on a day where I feel like I should never share another word so long as live, so I’l leave all that there to brew in my own head any maybe yours too.

Love always,

Caryl

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