Worldwide Meets … Jonathan ReaNews
Starting a new series, Worldwide meets…, this month we chat with Jonathan Rea, the Creative Chief Executive of New Irish Arts.
New Irish Arts works in partnership with the Irish Church to present Christianity through the Arts. The group was started as the New Irish Choir and Orchestra in 1994 by Irish hymn–writer Keith Getty.
Jonathan studied music at Cambridge, winning the Rima Alamuddin prize for performance. Having enjoyed 15 years of music teaching, including 10 as Director of Music in Bangor Grammar School, he is now combining his work in New Irish with a busy freelance career as conductor, pianist, arranger, producer and composer.
Jonathan, tell us a bit about your involvement so far with Bangor Worldwide?
Oh, it must be about 8 years now since I began leading worship with my friends in New Irish Arts. It’s always an honour to serve at the event, because it has such a clear focus to its agenda, and because I know so many people have found it to be formative in working out God’s purpose for their lives.
How would you describe the Convention to someone who has never been before?
The Convention is a week long conference which gives us a chance to look beyond our natural horizons, hear about what God is doing in the world and be challenged to serve Him with greater urgency and focus, wherever our own mission field is. Each night there are talks and sung worship – some of the talks are entertaining as people relate their experiences and dramas of travelling around the world. Others are encouraging as we hear of the church progressing in places we know almost nothing about. Still others are harrowing as we hear of great injustices or suffering. In each case it is good for us to stop the busyness of our routines and look beyond our comfort zones and reflect on what God would have us learn.
How do you prepare ahead for the Convention week? Who chooses the songs and do you try to weave in with the themes that the speakers adopt?
I choose the songs when I’m leading and try to be sensitive to the tone of what’s happening on the evening. We don’t always get a lot of information in advance from the speakers, so it’s helpful to have different options available for last minute changes. Some talks at the Convention demand an exhilarating or triumphant response, while others require us to weep, reflect and repent. A huge part of my role is to help people sing words which are right for the context of what God has been saying through the meeting. So I tend to bring more songs than we actually need and then make changes as we go along.
What is your favourite/most memorable moment from the Convention so far?
I used to attend the Convention when I was a kid at school and one night a guy who was a couple of years ahead of me in school was interviewed about going on Love Europe with OM. I remember being inspired by his sense of purpose and how fired up he was for sharing the Gospel. It meant something to me to see a slightly older guy taking his faith seriously enough to go and do something about it.
Of the speakers you have heard so far, which has stood out the most for you and why?
The Vicar of Baghdad, Canon Andrew White. He is a man who has faced more difficulties than most, but who is prepared to put his life on the line to proclaim Christ. I admired the way in which he has remained focussed in the face of significant illness and persecution, when it would have been so much more convenient for him to give up. It encouraged me to be a little bit better at counting some of the difficulties in my own life as nothing, compared with the sufferings of Christ and the great inheritance He has prepared for us.
And one final question – this may be a tricky one to answer! Do you have a favourite hymn/worship song and if so, why does it mean so much to you?
I’ve become very fond of a reworking of an old hymn called He Will Hold Me Fast which was written by an American, Matt Merker. The hymn talks about our security in the Lord in a most reassuring way – arguing that if Christ loved us enough to suffer and die for us, then He will certainly place high enough value on us not to let us go now. The song has a stunning melody which really makes the lyric very reflective and beautiful and I think it has tugged at my heart more than any other song over the last couple of years.
Jonathan, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us. We look forward to you and New Irish Arts leading us in worship this summer!