- KATHRYN’S POSITION
The Porter’s Gate’s latest album is far from peppy Rudolph the red nosed reindeer-type Christmas tunes flooding the radio waves at this time of year. Drawing heavily on the biblical and written scriptures with the worship of the congregation in mind, Advent songs is a hopeful response to the dire realities of 2021.
“We lost Advent,” Porter’s Gate founder Isaac Wardell told RNS. “It’s not just the most wonderful time of the year, it’s the time of year when Christians historically examine their conscience and think about what it means that Jesus is coming and that Jesus is coming. will come back. It produces a really different set of songs and prayers that we need to hear at this point in history. “
The Porter’s Gate is a self-proclaimed “cult project” founded in 2017 by Wardell, a longtime cult leader, and his wife Megan. Designed with the goal of making worship spaces more universally hospitable, The Porter’s Gate begins most of the album-writing processes with various gatherings of songwriters, pastors, and theologians discussing a theme that they consider absent from church music, such as vocation, lament and justice. These conversations then inspire the songs written for each album.
The ever-evolving project has produced five albums or EPs and has had around 300 contributors over the past four years, including Audrey Assad, Liz Vice, David Gungor and Urban Doxology. Today, Wardell continues to lead the project from Belgium, where he graduated from the Catholic University of Louvain. RNS spoke to Wardell about the unconventional approach to songwriting for The Porter’s Gate and his latest album …
Porter’s Gate music sounds very different from the traditional Christian music you hear on the radio. How can The Porter’s Gate’s approach to recording music differ from that of other Christian groups?
“For all of our records we’ve done this thing that in the music business is actually pretty quirky and old-fashioned. Microphones and performing it live, no click track. It’s just a matter of documenting this. that happened in the studio, and I think for better or worse, that’s kind of why the records sound the way they do, a little rough around the edges.
“Big picture, these albums sound, sonically and theologically, like the group of people involved. For example, there is a song on our Neighboring songs called record In community which has three authors. And there just aren’t many contexts where you’d have a Roman Catholic Mexican-American woman, a Puerto Rican Pentecostal American woman, and a Presbyterian Episcopal African-American man collaborating on a track. I think in terms of theological content people get a kind of world church experience that way. The sound of the songs also has a lot to do with the people in the room, and I have this personal job of trying to handle that well and keep it all together. We probably write 300 or 400 songs for 10 that we record and release, so you’re going to boil it down to the things that have the most impact. “
The Porter’s Gate has released a new album containing all of the Advent songs in response to the realities of 2021, including the song ‘O Come’. IMAGE: Screenshot courtesy of The Porter’s Gate YouTube video
Why form a cult collective rather than a group?
“We’ve always avoided the word collective, we call it The Porter’s Gate Worship Project. And it might seem like a real cutthroat, but one of the reasons we call it a project is that we’re open to it. what it means to complete this project. There may come a point where we have created a certain amount of resources, and we can say that the Porter’s Gate Worship Project is now complete, rather than a group breaking up. we wanted it not just to be about the music. In about a year we are embarking on a project on liturgical resources for mental health and trauma recovery. This will be our first project that really involves heavy use. visual arts. We also like the language of the project because we don’t really know what’s going to come out of it. “
Can you talk about the religious diversity of the people involved in The Porter’s Gate?
“There is no entry threshold except for the Apostles’ Creed. After that, we very intentionally want to have old and young, black, white and Latin songwriters. Recently we wanted to be more explicit about the participation of Asian and Asian American participants. Beyond that, we want to have Protestant and Catholic, both the Reformed Protestant current and the Pentecostal current. I would like to continue to develop. I am currently in school with Coptic priests from Egypt and those who are Serbian Orthodox. So far, The Porter’s Gate has been pretty limited to the North American context. We really want to have all kinds of different perspectives, even if that means sometimes you have people in the building having passionate church issues or differences around the interpretation of the Scriptures.
Can you describe the creative process of Advent songs?
“Advent Songs” is kind of an outlier in the project because we didn’t have a single gathering of songwriters. What we’ve noticed is that we’ve had about nine to ten songwriting gatherings over the past five years, and we always end up accidentally writing Advent or Christmas songs. This year, we were in Paris to work on this collaboration with the COP26 in Glasgow. We have organized a church service in conjunction with this conference and a new album of songs on environmental justice will be released in the spring. So we had all these people come to record this record on environmental justice, and we booked another studio to record these Advent songs that we had accumulated over those two years. It is also a particularly good year for Advent. I feel like it’s been a whole year of Advent, the whole of Advent two years. “
The song Mary’s lullaby describes Jesus as a boy with dark skin and black hair, an image that contrasts with many white images of Christ broadcast at this time of year. Why include this description of Jesus in the album?
“Part of feeling welcome for everyone is seeing yourself in the scriptures, being in the history of salvation, walking into a church building, and seeing someone like you or who has a common experience. It strikes me, certainly in the main white line of Protestant and white evangelical spaces in North America, we have at times unintentionally and in some places, in serious ways, intentionally created spaces where blacks and black women in particular do not see each other.
“This story is a great opportunity to remind people that this is about a Palestinian woman with her Palestinian child. She is a brown-skinned woman with a brown-skinned child. In light of all uprisings that are happening in America around the Black Lives Matter movement and other movements, it has been a great year to say it, this Advent season, offer songs that particularly give voice to this kind of embodied experience of this what it means to be a woman of color traveling across planet Earth. Mary knew what that experience was, and we can all learn something from that moment. “
What do you hope listeners take away after hearing Advent songs?
“Everyone walks into this Advent season mourning some kind of loss. It could be something really explicit, like a loved one who died from COVID. But people have lost all kinds of things over the course of the year. year or two, economic losses, loneliness, lost plans or trips, I want people to feel that these are songs you can bring up in your grief.
“Second, these songs all inhabit this part of the peace and hope of Advent. And peace and hope isn’t just a hippie thing, or the idea of leaving hard things at the door. It has to do with real promises. God promises peace, and Christ comes as our hope. “
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.