WENDELL KIMBROUGH: THE PSALMS WE SING
AN INTERVIEW WITH WENDELL KIMBROUGH BY BEN BOWMAN
I first met Wendell Kimbrough in January of 2012 when we worked together on some worship events. Since then, we’ve become good friends, shared life together, and been an encouragement to one another. I have great respect and admiration for Wendell as a brother in Christ, a good friend, a musician, and worship pastor.
Wendell currently serves as the Worship Arts Director & Artists in Residence at Church of the Apostles, in Fairhope, AL (Gulf Atlantic Diocese, ACNA). He is also an accomplished singer/songwriter and has recorded various albums, including his most recent release, Psalm We Sing Together, which I highly recommend.
I asked Wendell to answer six questions for us regarding his story, his passion and calling, and his most recent album.
Tell us a bit about your background and how God brought you into full time ministry as a musician and worship pastor.
When I graduated from college, I planned to go into academia. Music had always been my first love, but I was afraid to pursue it as a career—it seemed too risky. But the year after I graduated I got the chance to be part of an African Methodist Episcopal church in Unionville, MD, and at that church, my relationship with the Lord changed. The music was simple—just one man playing a piano and a lady who started each song a cappella. But that music shook me to my core every week. It was so powerful: the voices of the small congregation singing together, singing mostly hymns I had grown up singing but had never really felt their power.
During the course of that year, worshiping with the AME church, I came to the conviction that fear was a poor reason to avoid using my musical gifts. I felt the Lord calling me to sing, write songs, lead worship, and put myself and my music out there for others to hear and share. Not long after that, an Anglican church in Washington, DC, Church of the Resurrection, got in touch and offered me a job as worship leader.
Can you say a few words about your personal sense of calling at this point in your life and ministry? What’s at the core of what you sense God has put on your heart to be and do?
God is calling me to do the hard work of growing into a whole person. For me, that means emotional maturity and honesty. For a long time I have lived with my emotions stuffed down and hidden from myself and others, but God is teaching me to come out of hiding and live in reality and relationship. That may sound highly personal, and it is, but it is also what I see as the animating drive in my music at this point. God gave us the Psalms to help us grow into emotional wholeness, and singing them is a gift in our churches. The Psalms call us to stop pretending in worship and start being honest about where we are before God. I see my call right now as doing my own work of growing into wholeness through the Psalms, and as I do my own work, inviting others into that journey by sharing musical settings of the Psalms that others can sing as well.
Have you recorded other albums in the past?
This is my 4th album. The first two were singer/songwriter projects, Find Your Way Home and Things That Can’t Be Taught. I did that for about 5 years, toured a bunch, and shared those songs in bars, living rooms, and music venues across the US. In 2014, I recorded an album of traditional hymns called Hymns & Friends, and in 2016 I’m releasing my first record of all original songs for worship: Psalms We Sing Together. I’m very excited about this one!
How did Psalms We Sing Together come about?
Two years ago, my pastor asked me to begin writing a short refrain that our congregation could sing each week with the Psalm for the day. We follow the Revised Common Lectionary, so I began writing a new Psalm refrain every week to sing with my church. Over the course of 2 years, several refrains emerged that were favorites—ones that really impacted people and were particularly singable. Of the 90 or so Psalm refrains, the best of them I developed into full-length hymns or worship songs.
In the Fall of 2015, I created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for the record, and 283 people rose up to help fund it. I hired a great record producer, Isaac Wardell of Bifrost Arts, and we put together a band and recorded the album.
What were some of your musical and lyrical values or priorities in writing and recording these songs?
My goal was to translate the Psalms in a way that would carry an emotional impact similar to what I imagine the original audience might have experienced. The Psalms are poetry, and God revealed himself through poetry because he wanted to transform our hearts, our emotions, and not just our heads. So I knew that if I translated the Psalms into something that was technically and theologically correct but emotionally disconnected, I would not be honoring the truth and power of the Psalms. So my goal was emotional impact.
In recording, we wanted to make a record that was fun to listen to while still being singable. It’s easy in the studio to get carried away trying to get dynamic performances, but often the things that make a record exciting to listen to also make it more difficult for the average voice to sing. The Psalms were meant to be sung by the people of God, so we aimed at making something people could truly sing along with. According to the early feedback we’re getting, I think we mostly hit the mark!
What are your hopes for this album and these songs?
My hope is that churches will find here a new tool to help them jump into the Psalms. Singing the Psalms is a powerful practice that transforms us more into the image of Christ. Jesus himself sang the Psalms, as a good first century Jew, and we need the Psalms if we want to be his disciples. So my biggest hope is that people in churches will take up these songs and sing them, and in doing so, experience the transformative power of the Psalms.