Sanctuary Songs invites our ‘whole selves’ to worship

Matt Maher and guests will perform Sanctuary Songs October 18 at The Centre.

What does it mean to bring our ‘whole selves’ to worship?’ Not just the parts of us that reach our hands out in adoration, but the parts of us that come with open hands, humbly asking, “Where are you, God? Do I belong here? In this church?”

The experience of listening through the tracks of the Sanctuary Songs album by The Porter’s Gate offers a sampling platter of emotions to resonate with. In the joyful, contemplative, questioning and suffering that we might find ourselves in on a Sunday morning, you are welcome to bring that to this worship experience.

From its inception, the Sanctuary Songs project has stemmed from a collaborative and integrative spirit  between a musical collective called The Porter’s Gate and Christian non-profit Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries.

The Porter’s Gate is a sacred ecumenical arts collective that seeks to reimagine and recreate worship that reflects specific challenges facing the church. Their previous albums include Neighbor Songs, Work Songs, Justice & Lament Songs, Advent Songs, Climate Vigil Songs and Worship for Workers.

Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries, born out of Vancouver, seeks to equip the church to support mental health and wellbeing by providing comprehensive resources like The Sanctuary Course that’s been used in over eighty countries across multiple languages.

Brian Doerksen (centre) with Paul Zach and Nick Chambers on Keats Island.

Last September, on Keats Island, The Porter’s Gate and Sanctuary gathered well known-artists like Grammy-nominated Matt Maher, DOE and Leslie Jordan, plus Isaac Wardell, Jon Guerra, Brian Doerksen and many more, for a five-day songwriting retreat.

Theologian John Swinton and psychologist Dr. Hillary McBride joined them to speak into the creation process and bring in a new lens for thinking about mental health in the church.

More than 50 people, representing a range of countries, racial and cultural backgrounds, theologies and traditions, were brought into the journey of writing, singing and creating Sanctuary Songs.

The goal was to create an album that reflected the stories and lived experiences of people with mental health challenges who are often marginalized in the church. Each artist brought their own stories of grief, mental health challenges, longings and prayers for the church into song-writing sessions.

Resulting from the retreat was a 12-track album, released this fall (September 15). All the songs are now available on any music streaming platform.

The songs offer nuance to the human experience and in our spiritual lives that are too often missing on a Sunday morning. People are finding themselves in the album and recognizing that they are not alone
in their experiences of mental health challenges.

Leslie Jordan, songwriter and performer of the song ‘Good To Me,’ represents this idea through an experience she had reaching in to pull out a sweet-tasting blackberry while simultaneously pricking her fingers in the thorny bush. 

. . . joy and sorrow are often intrinsically linked together – whether we like it or not. Moments of grief, it’s important to recall what has always been true, the mercy and goodness of God and the presence of Christ. I hope ‘Good To Me’ will resonate with those looking for that reminder.

DOE, one of the song-writers and performers in this album shares about one track that especially resonated with her and others:

‘Always With Me’ is a song everyone will need at some point in their lives. This song speaks to so many meaningful moments within the human experience: moments filled with new life, questioning, loss, grief, rest, joy and storms. No matter what our present moment looks like, God is always with us. I was honoured to bring my own vocal interpretation and approach to the table with this song.

Songs like ‘Centering Prayer’ offer a humble grounding and meditative prayer in times of deep anxiety or intrusive thoughts, with the repetitive lines:

I wanna be where my feet are.
I wanna breathe the life around me

I wanna listen as my heart beats, right on time
I wanna be where my feet are

For churches that are interested in beginning to sing these songs in their communities, the companion liner notes were created to help expand on the meaning, ideas and experiences that shaped each song. There are also personal reflections on the lyrics, contributed by individuals with a range of lived experiences. Sheet music is also available.

The Sanctuary Songs group at Keats Island. Photo: Jeremy Stanley

No matter where you are at in your mental health journey, may the Sanctuary Songs album invite you to bring your whole authentic self to worship.

By expanding our understanding of worship and cultivating new ways of experiencing belonging in church communities, Sanctuary Songs can be a stepping stone in representing the rich diversity of the body of Christ.

Matt Maher, one of the talented musicians on the Sanctuary Songs album will be offering those in the Vancouver area the chance to experience some of these songs together in person, October 18 at The Centre (home of Westside Church).

Special guests Jon and Valerie Guerra will also perform. Guests will be able to sing along and hear other well-known original music like Matt Maher’s ‘Lord, I Need You.’ Tickets are $20.

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