Chris Tomlin’s Baton Rouge show will start with an Irish accent.
Rend Collective, a band that formed in Bangor, Northern Ireland, will be the opening act.
Bandleader Gareth Gilkeson explained the unusual name stems from a community gathering that started 12 years ago.
Rend “is an old English word that basically means to tear,” he said, mentioning two Bible passages that use the word. “One of them is God rend the heavens and come down — b asically, a prayer for him to tear open the heavens and to change their lives,” he said. “The other one is a scripture in Joel, in which God commands his people to rend their hearts and not their garments. There was a religious thing they did in the day where if you had done something wrong, you tore your clothes to show you were sorry. And basically, what God was saying was, ‘I don’t want you to tear your clothes. I want you to actually be sorry. Tear your hearts. Actually repent and change. Don’t just pretend you are religious.’ So we started that community gathering on those two things.”
The collective part is simpler.
“We are all about unity and family, so that’s where the collective comes from,” he said.
Gilkeson described the group’s music: “We are a worship band; we write songs for church, for congregations. That’s our heartbeat. I suppose I would describe ourselves as a celebration band.
“We believe that the joy of the Lord is our strength and that celebration and joy are sometimes things that in the church we overlook because life is difficult. We believe that as we pursue joy, and as we celebrate God’s faithfulness even in the hardest times that we actually receive strength for the battles that are overwhelming us.”
As far as sound, Gilkeson mentions many styles.
“We love folk music. It’s always been a part of us, every record,” he said. “There’s lots of different types. We love a little bit of rock ’n’ roll ’cause that’s still part of our culture. We love the folk stuff. … We try to write songs that make sense in church, and then we add our own flavor to it, which makes us unique.”
When talking of influences, Gilkeson was asked about the ancient Irish hymn “Be Thou My Vision” that was translated into English within the past two centuries. He pointed out that the English version doesn’t match the sense of the original Irish.
“It sounds like ‘Be Thou My Vision’ is a prayer, but what it’s meant to be is a declaration,” Gilkeson said. “So we retranslated it, and you can hear that on our ‘Campfire’ record. … ‘You are My Vision’ is a declaration of who God is rather than a prayer for him to come and be that to us. We thought it was pretty important, and we retranslated the whole song to get the Irish heart behind it. We play that most nights.”
U.S. versus U.K.
On the differences in worship between his home and the United States, Gilkeson pointed to the treatment of leaders.
“I think the United States is much more professional (in worship),” he said. “Sometimes, that has good elements, and sometimes it has bad elements.”
In Europe, the band would drive hours to play somewhere, and no one would even think of paying the group.
“I figure there’s a little bit of something to learn … from each other,” he said.
For America, he said, those items would be to avoid making this only a job. Instead, the emphasis should be “an expression of our love for God and serving the local church … pointing to Jesus.”
On the other side of the pond, he said, there needs to be an emphasis of taking care of the people leading worship. “I think that is something America really understands and is very good at looking after people.
“That’s the great thing about church … we are all meant to support each other and learn from each other.”
Speaking of the 20th century decline of church in Europe, Gilkeson concluded, “The rise of the secular culture has been, in a lot of ways, a frustration against established church, people not connecting with God, people not understanding life.”
He was quick to point out that “the church is actually on the rise in the U.K.”
One example he cited was that Rend Collective’s latest album broke into the Top 20 secular chart.
“There is also something about being the underdog, being the church in a secular environment,” he said. “There’s something about that that makes it an adventure.”
To forestall Americans’ slide into a secular society, he said, “the main thing is to always be able to communicate with people. We are not here to force a political agenda. … People are finding out what (the church is) against and for rather than finding out how much we love Jesus. If we are emphasizing Jesus over all our opinions, I think that the people will see the heartbeat of us” and not want to leave the church.
He added, “Jesus didn’t get up and give a political revolutionary speech about the Roman Empire and how we needed to change it. People responded to who Jesus was and his love for people. I think that is exactly what we need to do as a church.”
Working for unity
At times in Irish history, violence is the image people have.
“The Troubles,” as the multi-decade conflict is known, pitted Protestant and Catholic believers against each other.
Gilkeson said, “It was much more a social and political conflict. It just happened that those who were Protestants were from one side, and those who were Catholics were from the other. That was the unfortunate thing, God got dragged into it.”
He said Rend Collective finds it important back home to communicate, “We are neither Protestant nor Catholic, but we are followers of Jesus. And that can be whatever.”
When recent events such as shootings at an Oregon college and the Lafayette movie theater were mentioned, Gilkeson said, “It’s very sad how destructive we as humans can be.”
He described growing up and hearing about shootings on the news every day. His father worked in the government and had to check daily for car bombs.
He said that as the church, we need to share life-bringing stories, change cultures, change the atmosphere and be known as peacemakers.
When asked what message he wanted to give Baton Rouge, Gilkeson responded, “Rend Collective is a community worship band that believes in family, believes in choosing joy over cynicism. … We believe that whatever our difficulties are, whatever giants we face in our life, that we actually come to a God who took down Goliath and who tore down the walls of Jericho. And for people who feel like they need a resurrection in their life in whatever situations they’re in, we come to a God who rose again from the dead. … That’s what we write songs for, and we want to come and lift up Jesus and lift up a God who has done all those things.”