Webster defines "change" as "an alteration" or "to undergo a transformation." And to songwriter Brenton Brown, change is not just an idea. It's tangible proof of God's grace, and something he's experienced first-hand on multiple occasions.
The impact of those experiences has inspired some of the songs on Brenton's first solo album, Everlasting God. And although it is his first solo project, Brenton's name is not unfamiliar in worship circles around the world. Having written such modern worship classics as "Lord Reign in Me, ""Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing)," "All Who Are Thirsty," "Holy" and "Humble King," he has been a featured worship leader on several Vineyard Music UK albums and co-producer on two - Surrender and Holy.
With Everlasting God, Brenton has brought together a collection of corporate worship songs that center around God's strength and the hope we have in him even when we're in the midst of situations that declare otherwise. "If there's a theme," Brenton says, "it's just a focus on the faithfulness of God despite the circumstances in which we find ourselves." Apartheid, Politics & Change Brenton grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, where he developed a love for the guitar in high school. "I took piano first, but hated it," he recalls. "I was into a lot of sports, but when I first learned the guitar I fell head over heels and started to play all the time. I began working with three different teachers giving me lessons every week. I decided this was what I wanted to do and it became one of my six subjects in high school. I knew I'd really love to make a living as a musician - but it wasn't a really obvious choice for people in my family."
Growing up in a white family in South Africa during the '70s and '80s, Brenton was seven years old before he first became politically aware. "We had a teacher visiting us and she explained to me that black people were being treated very unfairly," Brenton explains. "When I first heard it, I though she must be terribly wrong, because in my little world there was no evidence of anything untoward. At six or seven years old, you really don't know how to piece it all together. But as I grew older, I became more and more politically aware." Brenton attended college in Cape Town, where he studied law and politics, and by his fourth year, it was a time of enormous change in South Africa. "Because I was taking classes on politics, I was watching everything closely," he shares. "We were right in the middle of change. There were riots and demonstrations on our campus, and eventually the people who were drawing up the new constitution were doing it on the floor above our lecture theater."
In high school, Brenton had seen apartheid beginning to fall apart, and by the time he was in university, Nelson Mandela was released from prison. It was a historic time, and Brenton was eyewitness to it all. "It affected me a lot," he admits. "It affected almost everyone I know who grew up in that time. I have a natural suspicion of leadership now, which I don't think is necessarily negative. I was told by so many people I respected growing up - teachers, family members, pastors - that the current regime was fine and it was how it was meant to be. So I think I've grown up with sort of a healthy suspicion of leadership. I think most of my generation from my country - we all think like that. No one takes everything at face value anymore." Establishing Worship Roots During his last year of university in Cape Town, Brenton received a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship to study for two years at Oxford University, so he moved to the U.K. The transition didn't come without adjustments.
"There really is a love of God in the South African culture, and that was the environment I grew up in," says Brenton. "But when I moved to England I was shocked. Only three percent of England's citizens are church attendees. It's basically a post-Christian culture. So I had to learn how to be a Christian as a minority, and not as a majority. I had to meet with the church in order to make it through the week. It made me more hungry and more resourceful, I think. You had to get your fresh bread from God because you weren't going to get it on the radio, or from a lot of your friends." Brenton joined the Vineyard Church in 1996 as a worship leader and eventually lead the development of the Vineyard worship movement, nurturing the worship program there. It was also while he was in the U.K. that he met close friend and fellow songwriter Brian Doerksen, who co-penned "Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing)" with Brenton. Learning to Live Again Over the next several years, Brenton's guidance and musical influence became a major catalyst in the burgeoning Vineyard worship movement, which has grown to impact worship music worldwide. During this time, he connected with his future wife, Jude, who had also grown up in South Africa and made her way to England.
While in the U.K., Brenton and Jude began to experience one of the biggest challenges they've ever had to face. They both developed Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a non-transmittable and elusive disease that has altered their lives. "It feels like waking up one morning with a different body and a different head on your shoulders," Brenton shares. "We tried to carry on as if it would go away." But when the symptoms didn't disappear, Brenton and Jude knew they had to make some changes in their demanding lifestyles. They went home to South Africa, where they surrounded themselves with family and friends, and eventually married. "I'm so grateful that we've both been able to go through this together," Brenton says. "We understand what the other is going through. It's really like having to re-learn life again."
Along with major adjustments to their lifestyle, the couple relocated last year to Malibu, California. But in learning to deal with the disease, Brenton says his best and most productive songwriting has come through, and the songs on Everlasting God will attest to that. Produced by Nathan Nockels (Watermark, Passion worship Band, Charlie Hall, Matt Redman), the album is rich with new worship classics such as "Well With My Soul" (based on the treasured hymn), "You Are My God" and "I Will Remember You," which is one of the most personal songs on the project.
"Upon falling ill, I went back to scripture and started reading the Psalms. These people who were in the midst of experiencing the struggles of life called to mind their God. They reminded themselves about the God we worship," says Brenton. "And that's basically this album - it's me reminding myself about the strong and compassionate God we worship and recording his absolute faithfulness in times of trouble. But it's also rejoicing in His provision in the midst of all of that. So it's not about just reminiscing; there's hope in the middle of it all.
Along with a re-recorded version of "Hallelujah (Your Love is Amazing)," the album leads off with "Hosanna," a song Brenton co-wrote with friend and fellow worship artist Paul Baloche. But it's the powerful track "Like the Angels" that Brenton admits holds the biggest visual image for him on the album. "It's based on the passage in scripture when Jesus tells Peter to step out of the boat in the middle of the storm. I just love that image. The disciples are on the boat headed somewhere that Jesus has directed them to go. They encounter a storm and think they're going to drown, and then they think they see a ghost and are really scared.
It seems like it's all falling apart for them, it seems as if everything's going to collapse. But the next second, Peter is actually walking on the water and doing something that only Jesus had ever done - this miraculous thing. For me, that's a neat picture of our life with God. We can go from nowhere, feeling like we're about to fall apart and everything's going to crash and burn, to being in the middle of something incredible and supernatural, filled with God. I think that's a great picture of this whole album." Another highlight for Brenton is a special appearance by one of South Africa's biggest musical exports, Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Paul Simon's Graceland), on the powerful "We Will Worship Him."
"I felt like I was in a dream," Brenton says. "I never imagined we'd be able to get them on the album, but there I was standing in the studio with Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing this song. It was a really special moment. This song is just a lovely picture of God's grace, and how things can change." "That's another thing that South Africa taught me: the world is more malleable than we think. Things can change, and we've seen it in our generation more than anybody else. We've seen the Berlin Wall come down; we've seen South Africa change and we've seen Northern Ireland change. My parents' generation grew up in a world that looked more permanent and structured in an unjust way forever. But we've seen major changes in our generation, and it's hard not to be optimistic when you've seen the hand of God."
For more information visit www.myspace.com/brentonbrownmusic
Writer: Debra Akins