Worldwide meets … alistair hamillNews
Bangor Worldwide meets…Alistair Hamill, who for ten years has been one of the musicians leading worship at the Convention.
Alistair, take us back to when you first got involved with Bangor Worldwide. What have been some of the highlights so far for you?
My first year of being involved was way back in 2007. I had fewer grey hairs, and fewer pounds around my waistline back then (there are some vintage photos on the Worldwide website to prove that). My brief from the committee was clear: pick songs and lead worship that bridge the generations. To create a worship experience that unifies the people there and allows us to lift our voices in celebration of the gospel that speaks hope across the whole world, even to those places that seem in greatest need and darkness.
Since then, I’ve been privileged to work with a range of friends and musicians as we have led worship. Unlike Jonathan Rea from New Irish Arts I don’t have a formal musical training. The only certificate I have is Grade 1 in the piano! But I have a bunch of musician buddies who have joined with me and how breathed life into the arrangements that I have done – and I am indebted to each and everyone of them!
The core of the band is the rhythm section. But I’ve loved using the brass and woodwinds section in more recent years. I remember the reaction from Eddie Currie (the then convention secretary) when I first suggested using trumpets. In his usual gracious and kind manner, I remember him nervously expressing some ‘concerns’ about how loud they would be. ‘Trust me,’ I said – and he did. And, I must say, hearing those instruments join with the rhythm section to enhance the music has always been a thrill for me – and a great aid to our worship (thanks, Eddie!).
HOW DO YOU PREPARE AHEAD FOR LEADING WORSHIP DURING THE CONVENTION WEEK?
Back in 2007, when I first started, I tried to pick a range of songs: some of them were general worship songs, some focused more on mission. Back then, there weren’t too many mission based songs, so I tried my hand at writing one or two to try to give voice to the theme of worship and mission. It’s been my honour to debut these songs during the Convention Week (I’ll leave it to you to try to guess which ones they are!).
Since then, I’m delighted to say that a new fresh set of songs that address the issue of mission have been penned for the church – it has been great to have led people in singing Facing a Task Unfinished, reimagined by the Gettys, for example.
In the months coming up to the Convention, I start to prayerfully consider the song list. In addition to songs that explore mission directly, I’m looking for songs that allow us to celebrate the gospel: songs that remind us of the cross, of God’s love, and of the hope that reaches out into places of despair. I will always try to pick a couple of newer songs each year to keep things fresh. But I also like to include hymns, songs that have stood through the decades, sung by the saints through all those years. I like to come up with fresh arrangements for the hymns to make them sound a bit more contemporary, maybe adding a chorus, maybe changing the feel of the songs on the guitar. New songs and old, sung by all the generations that are gathered at the Convention.
Each night, we have a song list. The first songs on the list usually stay the same, but we never know how the evening is going to end. I’ll always have a song selected. So, if you see some frantic whispers and scrabbling around for music towards the end amongst the band, you’ll know I’m breaking the news to them that we’ve changed the last song. And I’m hoping that the team on the media desk have their phones handy and have got my text telling them that so that the right words appear on the screen behind me!
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE/MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT FROM THE CONVENTION SO FAR?
Most memorable? I’m tempted to say the time I tripped over a monitor on stage just before the meeting was due to start and ended up falling spectacularly in front of the 800 or so people who had just settled down in anticipation of us starting (the guys in the band have never let me live that down!)
Beyond that embarrassing memory, there are so many other wonderful memories over the years. From the times we have been singing songs like ‘How great thou art’, when we have dropped the music out for the last chorus, and been blown away by the sound of the voices of 800 people singing their hearts out in worship to our great God.
From the times of joyful celebration of hope and the faithfulness of God, to the times when we have been brought to quiet repentance because of how easily our hearts become indifferent to the need around us.
From the speakers who have inspired us with stories of God’s amazing and miraculous work and the fruit they have seen, to the speakers – equally inspiring – who have told us of their faithfulness to their calling, despite such little apparent impact.
From the Irish missionaries who have travelled all over the world, to the Brazilian missionaries who have travelled to work with the Portuguese in Dungannon. Whatever the context, one theme unites them – a faithfulness to the call of God and a trust in the promises of He who has called us.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE CONVENTION TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER BEEN BEFORE?
The one thing I would say is that the convention will expand your vision.
Your vision of the world will grow. You will hear stories from all the continents, you will hear of peoples – some of whom you will know, some of whom you will not – and you will be reminded that the world is much bigger than the small circles we tend to inhabit.
Your vision of what it means to be a follower of Christ will grow. You may hear some speakers and think they are in a different league. Those who suffer for their faith, who are imprisoned and beaten for the Lord they love, and yet they remain faithful. But, most of the time, you will be struck by just how ‘ordinary’ the speakers are.
They are people not unlike you and me. They have their hopes and fears, their moments of trust and moments of doubt. But they are ordinary people in service of an extraordinary God. They are weak and broken people who serve a God of strength and healing. They are people who are proving His faithfulness through their lives. And, I’m quite sure, even those that seem like the ‘remarkable’ Christians, they would testify and say the same thing: they are broken vessels in service of a remarkable God. You will be challenged – and inspired.
Most importantly, your vision of God will grow.
As you hear stories of His work in and through the church all across the world, you will be amazed at the stories of miracles and faithfulness, of breakthroughs and comfort in failure, that you hear. In those countries that may seem dark and impenetrable, God is at work. In situations that seem beyond all human hope, God is at work. In places where Christians face opposition and persecution, God is at work. Through broken and weak people, God is at work. When the struggle seems long and the fruit limited, God is at work.
Sometimes you will laugh with joy, sometimes you will weep with sorrow. But through it all, you will be reminded of a God who loved the world so much that He gave His Son – and calls us to follow in His footsteps this day and beyond.
YOUR OTHER GREAT PASSION BESIDES MUSIC IS PHOTOGRAPHY. HOW DID YOU HAVE TIME TO GET INTO IT AND IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU FIND PHOTOGRAPHY A WAY OF ENGAGING WITH OUR CREATOR GOD?
I took up photography about six years ago when I had an issue with my wrists that meant I couldn’t really play the piano or guitar. And photography came along to fill the gap that music had left! I dabbled in a range of different types of photography when I was first learning, but I quickly settled on landscape photography. Really, it was just an excuse to go to Northern Ireland’s most beautiful locations!
Whether it’s standing up a Mourne Mountain top at sunset, with the clouds settling gently in the valleys below me, being inspired by the glory of the landscape spread out in front of me. Or whether it’s standing in the bitter cold of a wind swept Causeway Coast location in the deepest dark of night, watching the lights of the Aurora Borealis do their dance in the skies above. These are moments when the soul is refreshed and the spirit is lifted.
In fact, it’s not unlike what I was talking about before – these are moments when your vision is expanded. When the glory of creation is spread out before you in these times, it’s not hard to lift your voice in worship to the Creator who made all things good.
And, I suppose, it brings me back to the music again. Through the songs we lead with and the arrangements we play, we seek to help people reconnect with the source of all truth and beauty. And through the images I capture, I hope that folks are reminded that there is a beauty in creation, and are brought to think of the Creator. We are all, at heart, worshippers. We are made to give ourselves to something greater. May we all remember, whether it is in listening to the stories of God’s faithfulness, of in singing songs of his goodness, or in seeing the beauty of his glory in creation around us, may we remember to lift our hearts in thankful worship to our great God.