Living distinctively: the 2019 Autumn Gatherings

The North - Rebecca Reavley

Another year, another persistent string of emails, and I was up again at 7am getting the train to Leeds…on a Saturday… why?

Honestly, the guilt was hard to ignore. The guilt from ignoring Music Network co-ordinator Tom Chevis’s emails, and persistent badgering of my CU-President-cum-housemate was just about bearable. The nagging feeling that I’d be cheating myself was not. Each year I’ve come, I’ve always gained something meaningful, and today’s meeting was no different.

Talks on 1 Peter

The day’s focus was on the theme “Distinctive”— exploring what it means to live out our faith as Christians in the music world. Fuelled by copious amounts of coffee and tea, we explored 1 Peter together in talks and seminars led by Tom to dig deeper into the topic.

We talked about the conflict between our culture and calling — how the lifestyle we’re called to live as Christians is hard because it’s often directly opposed to the norm. More than that, it is difficult because we have powerful spiritual opposition. However, Peter’s letter wasn’t just a checklist of good behaviours, or a command to keep fighting. Each call to change or action was partnered with a reminder of the gospel, its sheer power and its significance. To borrow a phrase from Tom:

Living distinctively is intimately intertwined with the Gospel.

The Gospel is our true motivator towards a life pleasing to God. He forgives our past, gives us power in the present, and a place in His Kingdom in the future. This truth and hope we have is one that we need to cling to in order to live as fruitful followers of Christ.

Fruitful conversations

In the second half of the day, we gathered in small groups to break down what these big truths meant more practically. Like most people, I grimace at the idea of group discussions, but once we got past the awkward first few minutes of silence, the conversations we had were really fruitful. It was encouraging to hear the same struggles I was facing in someone else’s words and experiences.

It put my challenges into perspective: they weren’t as trivial as I made them out to be, they could be overcome and I wasn’t alone. Things like competitiveness and jealousy, or anxiety about a tutor’s approval may seem petty or small, but can be revealing of where our security and assurance lies.

It also pointed out areas of weakness I’ve sometimes swept under the carpet. I realised that what I viewed as acceptable needed to be challenged. What are we saying when we brush past jokes about God from our friends?  Is absolute perfection in music even a realistic aim? These discussions were humbling in reminding me that there are parts of my life that need changing that I can’t see. Everyone’s thoughts on what’s ‘normal’ are different and I realised some of my values and convictions weren’t always based on the truth.  

Setting the basics straight

For me, this day helped loads because it helped me set the basics straight. Originally, I hesitated to commit because I knew that I didn’t have much time — auditions were coming up and I had loads to work on, but that was precisely why I needed to come. Music College is always hectic, and even though I do quiet time regularly and am committed to a church and CU, it’s still easy to be drowned under work and difficult to create the space to reflect and take stock. By dedicating a day to come away from it all, I could come back to the fundamentals—to enjoy the beauty of the gospel, and to set it as the base for my choices and actions. I wouldn’t say that I’ve magically changed. The challenges we talked about are still challenges I face now, but verbalising these things made me actively choose to change and to persevere.

The day wasn’t particularly complicated or fancy — we just had a good time talking over coffee and ended the day with pizza, but I still felt I walked away with a lot. After attending these events in the Music Network for 3 years, I’ve grown deep friendships that have supported me through college, and that I’ll take with me even after I graduate. Getting up early and giving up the time to come didn’t get easier, but the nagging feeling that this was important got stronger, and it was always right.

The South - Erik Fauss

When Joe Smith, CU staff worker for the London music colleges, initially told me about the Music Network gathering, I felt a bit doubtful that it would be worth my time. I had so much going on at the time, and I was starting to treasure my free Saturdays. Nevertheless, I prayed about it, and felt it was a good thing to do. I spread the word to my CU and put it in my diary, feeling slightly disgruntled.

As the weeks approached, I forgot about the event, and was not very effective in inviting people to it. Thank God for Joe, because he continued prodding me and reminding me, so I managed to get one other CU member to sign up. I would later realize the importance of this.

Saturday morning rolled around, and I plopped out bed (severely sleep-deprived). I messaged Kathryn about walking together, but she was just getting out of bed too. We both arrived feeling weary and a bit dazed. Socializing and small talk did not appeal to us too much, so we chatted away on our own. I actually forced myself to meet a few people, which was nice and encouraging.

Digging into Romans

The first session of the morning began with some praise songs. This completely set the tone of the event, as we invited the Holy Spirit to take part in our discussion and learning. Three cups of tea later, I was awake and alert. Joe presented some broad points on grace, sin, and our identity in Christ. As we dug into Romans, I felt a strong sense that this was more than worth my time; it was the best possible way I could be spending my time!

Joe gave us lots of discussion/debrief time, which I really appreciated. It was then that I realized how helpful it was that Kathryn was there. We knew each other the most, and we could apply the concepts and questions to our CU at Royal Academy. No one else understood the spiritual climate at Academy more than us two (and God of course). So it was comforting and encouraging to share about the struggles of living out Paul’s exhortation and command. We discussed solutions and ways we could strengthen our CU at Academy to live more distinctively, unashamedly, and publicly as Christians. Now the challenge is to hold each other accountable in that, and pass this on to the rest of the CU as best we can.

Spirit-filled fellowship and worship

The simplicity of the agenda was comforting and refreshing after weeks and days of jam-packed rehearsals/lessons and concerts/gigs: Listen, discuss, pray, eat, sing, repeat. Joe kept the discussions flexible, casual, and open for others to give input. Everything felt natural, easy, and peaceful. I suppose that’s a result of Spirit-filled fellowship and worship. I also realized later that our comments and questions were received warmly and humbly, whereas at Academy our thoughts and ideas can be critiqued, analyzed, doubted, rejected, or ignored. 

Though I had to leave after lunch and so missed hearing about the practical ways to be distinctive as a Christian musician, the general introduction of sin and grace was a powerful reminder of who we are as Christians, and how that comes first and foremost before our music. The fundamentals of our faith should never be taken for granted or assumed. They should undergird every decision we make, every encounter with other musicians and students, every performance and audition. Our future and success is secure in Jesus, and our boldness and confidence is unmatchable and impenetrable. This is a tremendous advantage as we fight through the battles of freelancing, auditioning, composing, researching, etc. If you weren’t able to come this year, meet with someone who did! Ask them about it. Be encouraged, be blessed, and be at peace.

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