The Story Of The Union
The Story Of The Union
I came from England, arriving in Chattanooga Tennessee after waiting nearly two years to receive a working visa so that I could begin my job working for the Chattanooga House of Prayer. I had a rather grand title as Director of Worship and Creative Development, and a sense that I was supposed to be grateful of the opportunity that had been made available to me, but I was equally underwhelmed with not really knowing where to begin in building the culture of worship in the city of Chattanooga.
I didn’t have many relationships, contacts or any kind of understanding of the culture, but I began to begin sending emails out to local worship pastors inviting them for a coffee. I had a few takers that were kind enough to take me up on my offer after my first round of emails. I could tell people were skeptical and unsure of exactly what I was hoping to accomplish from these meetings. I have to admit that I was skeptical too!
The first two or so years were difficult times in my role at the Chattanooga House of Prayer and there were many moments when I wanted to find an escape route or a way out so that I could do something that made me feel like I had a greater sense of purpose. I am definitely guilty of trying to press the eject button too soon when things don’t work out as I hoped they would. I had big dreams of adventure and accomplishment, moving my life across the world….!
Malcolm du Plessis had been a friend since we met in a coffee shop in Franklin, TN in 2012. He was instrumental in supporting me throughout my waiting, my struggle to find a place in life, and the turbulent times that I encountered in my first couple of years in the U.S.. We formed a strong friendship and we often talked about church, culture, worship and people.
As Malcolm invited me to be a part of the very first Common Hymnal writing camp, I had no idea just how much his concepts for community, cultural change, the priesthood of all believers would begin to impact me as a leader as well as the community of creatives that were in Chattanooga.
For two and a half years, one coffee at a time I began to see a network of relationships beginning to form and I began to share a vision for a collaborative community of creatives and what an impact this group of people could potentially have on a city. I shared much of Malcolm’s big picture vision, but It was fashioned, formed and shaped in my local context and local relationships.
In 2017 a small group of worship leaders began to get together and from these meetings we began ‘The Union’. I was traumatized at the suggestion that we hosted a night of worship as we had struggled in my first two years of employment to get anyone to come out to prayer and worship nights. I was equally as shocked when around 65 people came together from different churches around Chattanooga. 'The Union' began.
Since then the community has flourished and we truly are seeing unity and togetherness expressed through our work that is not often seen in Chattanooga. Chattanooga has a long history of painful division; racial, social, and denominational division. However, we’ve been having at least 30 different churches represented at our worship nights and we’ve started on the journey of building a family together and discovering what it means to gather around differences. We typically have around eight worship leaders lead through the night, all with their own expression and story. We're learning to prefer one another and to understand that there’s something beautiful that happens when we step into God’s design for people to exist together in unity. There is a long way to go, but we have set off on the journey.
This year we have begun to more intentionally create content together that looks, feels and sounds like our local community and we hope to continue this journey of discovery inspired by the vision and passion of Common Hymnal. I’ve never been more excited about my work now and I’m almost exclusively working full-time on ‘The Union’. It’s a dream, full of the most beautiful people.
Real relationships, connectedness and love for each other will trump any amount of resources, strategy or excellence. For they are the things that are long lasting.