Common Hymnal Writing Camps


Common Hymnal Writing Camps


It started out of necessity. 

It began almost as an experiment. 

It was a way to gather people from different streams to begin to cross pollinate. 

Common Hymnal writing camps have rapidly become a lifeline to those who have participated. 

Oftentimes, we as people are dispositioned to pursue perfection and high levels of production as paramount. 

As songwriters, we join a quest to make songs fit a certain mold. We come in with a predetermined direction and prescribed outcome. Our efforts are focused on production, attempting to access something that will sound fresh and revolutionary, often attempting to make a 2.0 version of something else that’s become tired. 

The quest for this leads us to polish and perfect before anything becomes public. We don’t want to release the song until everything has been overdubbed, vocals have been tuned and the song emotes a certain level of complexity and musical intracasey. The music video certainly can’t be released until it is elaborate or it is perfect in the way it tries to look organic. 

What has struck me, as the Common Hymnal writing camps have continued to grow in a greater sense of depth and purpose these last few years, is that every part of that formula, every piece of that equation, has been entirely abandoned and replaced with the simple pursuit of people over production. 

The focus in the room as songs are written, and the focus as songs and stories are shared late into the evening, is stunning and simple. Dignifying the people who went through deep vulnerability to put forward a courageous song, and dignifying the people that the song speaks to becomes the warmest, safest and most transformative environment I have experienced. 

Guards are let down. Stereotypes are shattered. Healing of deep wounds takes place. And the Kingdom of God is experienced by everyone in the room. 

The song, the story of the song and the people in the room all have room to breathe. 

It’s contagious. 

It’s life giving. 

It’s sacred and holy. 

And, as we continue to be courageous and wrestle with the real struggle of our depravity and how it intersects with a holy God in a broken world, songs will emerge that will do a lot of good for the people we know and we are - people desperately trying to find our way. 

Mark Alan Schoolmeesters


Additional Comments By Attendees

Sanchez Fair
My week at the Common Hymnal retreat was one of the most liberating experiences I have ever had in my entire life. From the moment I arrived, I felt a supernatural peace invade my heart, however, there was inner conflict in my mind that initially kept me from receiving the peace of God.  Once everyone arrived, I immediately felt skeptical, insecure, optimistic and embraced. At times, I wish the group was called Uncommon Hymnal because as the week went on, I was able to fully embrace the love that was freely given without requiring me to give anything in return. Reality, for me, tends to be transactional, especially in my vast music circles. I would also add that it is normative within the Christian music network to use people for personal gain. Many people waste time seeking to impress others with what they have and what they have to offer and Common Hymnal negated all stereotypes and pre-conceived notions that I had about Christian “worship” musicians and singers. The word that I cling to about my experience is redemptive. I would add that this directly correlates to the work of Christ, coming to redeem the fallen world back to God. I can truly say I have found home. My home does not limit me to my local community, but opens up my heart to receive a glimpse of the kingdom, through Common Hymnal. I am forever grateful and forever changed. 

Kierre Bjorn Lindsay
"For me, it's been a safe house as it relates to what's going on in the world with race and oppression. The group is made up of all kinds of people from all over the country, and world. So, that makes it that much more safe and healing. It's truly a taste of the love of humanity and the kingdom of God, where my fears and frustrations are manufactured into powerful worship tunes that reach up and out."

Brittney Spencer
"Our writing retreats continue to change a part of my world each time we meet. The theme of this particular retreat was social justice. I got to share some of my cultural experiences out-loud with fellow songwriters without the fear of introducing a subject matter that may be too heavy for a christian song. Through this retreat, I found family, healing and just overall joy in being able to talk, sing and write about trauma, race, hope and acceptance through the lens of faith and humanity. I think the most beautiful part is that I did this with people who were desperate to find a little part of themselves in each person in the room. We walked in each others shoes and found stories many were afraid to say aloud. We championed each other as we allowed us time to unpack trauma, doubt, clarity and revelation - things we all experience while journeying through this sometimes abstruse life. I think everyone found, and felt a higher sense of freedom and empathy as we opened our hearts and minds to all of the beauty that overwhelmed our retreat. It’s a week I’ll always hold on to and search for again."

Ben Hardesty
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” I cannot think of better words to describe the love and unity experienced at Common Hymnal. Our gatherings are a place for insecurity, brokenness, and struggle, yet these aren’t elevated above the comfort, healing, and retreat that comes only from God. I remember the first camp I attended, surrounded by people I looked up to. I was intimidated, but there was no reason to be. I was welcomed as a friend, and the spirit of God was clearly present in the hearts and minds of those who I now consider family. Common Hymnal is a family; a family that welcomes the stranger, extends a helping hand to the hurting, and champions the downtrodden. We write songs, it’s what we do. However, we focus on people and where they are, then we write songs to meet them there. For that is what Jesus does. Jesus meets us where we are, and weeps, rejoices, and rests with us.

Emily Brimlow
Instant family = instant creativity. There is something very special about getting a group of musicians together, that are not in competition with each other, a group of people that genuinely want to encourage, support and create together ... I think that's when the magic happens.

We were not trying to outdo each other with songwriting or trying to "make a hit", and I believe that's why the songs written at this retreat were so outstanding. We were able to be real with ourselves and one another, and the songs we wrote reflected that. We were expressing our hearts and telling our story's with beautiful melodies.

It was a divine week.

Art Hooker
"In all of my life’s experiences, I’ve seldom felt all things dear to me converge in one place like they did at our recent writers camp at The Fold. I’ve been in and around movement-making for years. However, this experience not only reawakened my creative soul, it actually moved my heart."

Brandon Hampton
"John 15:12-15: This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.

It’s not enough to just commune with Jesus and ignore our brother or sister. And it’s not enough to engage with our brother and sister without the love of Christ! Both are central to embodying and producing the kingdom of God amongst us. After my experience with this last Common Hymnal gathering, I found a living breathing example of what John 15 shows us. Life is found in those who have communed with Christ coming together, in all vulnerability, willing to receive, give, risk, trust, and depend on each other.

Coincidentally, all these thing attribute to collaboration that transcends styles and taste preferences. The result of true collaboration yielded a sound and feeling beyond any I had experienced before. Wasn’t sure how folk, jazz, gospel, soul, indie, ccm, and alt rock would all fit together, but every new expression that has value is found in individuals histories and influences coming together. This is what happened a few weeks ago. We saw true collaboration that transcended just music, but rather showcased a deeper coming together. The key ingredient being the culture or honor which John 15 references when it says “I’ve named you friends that you know everything I’m doing” So Christ himself set the model of co contribution amongst the whole community. This has been from the beginning of Common Hymnal, the model of expression.


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