Hillsong United: From The Music To The Faith
As someone who has attended Hillsong Services semi-regularly over the past few years, when I read Iman’s review of the Hillsong United Concert at the Beacon Theater, I felt compelled to write my thoughts.
Shying a bit away from the music for a moment, and more towards the faith I will say this about myself. I was raised catholic, and lost some faith in the Catholic church the more crimes against children came to light. Our own pastor actually came out to the congregation and on national TV that as a child he had been molested by a priest, and he had joined the priesthood to try and fight the problem.
A few years ago, I was facing a major loss, and having a profound crisis of faith. A friend of mine posted a link to the video for Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United on their Facebook, and for some reason I was compelled to listen. I can’t say how many times I replayed that song and then went on to listen to as much as I could find. For me it wasn’t about the orchestrations, or the production value (though I am generally a big music nerd), for me this was about the faith. They were touching a part of my soul that was in dire need of a hug and healing at that precise moment. I went down a rabbit hole of songs by Hillsong United and Hillsong Young and Free, (their younger-skewing band… think Jesus meets EDM). Then I started watching videos of NYC Lead Pastor Carl Lentz preaching at conferences, and then attended a service. At that time they were meeting at Irving Plaza, a club with a bar in the back and a disco ball. It was unconventional, loud, and beautiful, with signs all over the place welcoming you home. Cheesy as it sounds, it’s not something I have ever felt in any other church. Usually it is “Where have you been, We haven’t seen you” something about “Welcome Home” was comforting. During that first service I didn’t have the courage to raise my hands in praise, but spent the majority of the service with my hand on my heart and tears in my eyes.
Over the years, they have ended up in the news a few times. Most recently was in 2015, when two worship team leaders had to step down from their positions because a conservative Christian blogger found out that they were gay (they were appearing as a couple on Survivor.) I watched it unfold over the social media accounts of our church and pastors, until our Lead Pastor in Australia made a statement. I was worried that I would find out the church I had come to love was homophobic and not nearly as inclusive as I had thought (I had met many gay members and assumed it was accepted, and not discussed). Though they did leave positions as leaders in the church, they remained members. I find that Hillsong holds steadfast to beliefs, but also allows the doors to remain open to conversations. They may preach abstinence, but I have seen members who are young single parents. There are members of all colors, all classes, all ages. Every once in awhile you hear about Hillsong on TMZ because famous people like Justin Bieber, Hailey Baldwin, Selena Gomez and Kevin Durant (and a few Kardashians) have attended services here. Young and old, everyone worships together: some arms raised, some eyes closed… some smiles, some tears.
In terms of the music: For me, Hillsong United was never about being a fan of a “band” or attending concerts, it’s about the faith and spirituality in the words and music. It’s for those days when I am in need of a reassurance of faith, or a lifting of spirit. Music has always been that way for me, secular or not. To be honest, 99% of the music I listen to is not religious at all, I just listen to what moves me. I know which songs will make my cry and help me heal… and which songs will make me cry and feel too much. I know what will make me laugh, or smile… or bring up a great memory of a time I associate with that song. Hillsong United takes me to a place that reminds me of church, and more importantly, spirituality. Does listening to their music give me a better relationship with Jesus? Probably not. Does it ease my mind sometimes and renew my faith? Absolutely.