The following was adapted from the address Rev Gav gave to the Bermuda Bible Society at their Annual General Meeting.
My passion has, and continues to be, to find ways of connecting people to Jesus, and particularly through finding contextual ways for people to engage with the Bible.
By trade, I am a music technologist — a sound engineer, designer, and producer — however I also have skills in writing, web design, graphic design, and video. My first degree was in computer engineering, and technology is the canvas on which I paint. It feels perfectly natural for me to use my multimedia skills to communicate the gospel message.
Alongside my skills in music technology, I am also a human beatboxer or vocal percussionist. In fact, so successful was my beatboxing that I grew a website dedicated to the artform that had over 100,000 unique visitors per month and I have been a judge at the world beatboxing championships on more than one occasion.
If there is evidence that God has a sense of humour it is that I was called, by God, to the Anglican Church. I felt most at home in music culture and I was beatboxing at hip-hop clubs, hanging out with musicians and artists, and finding my identity in a completely different world to the church that I attended. When God called me to be an Anglican priest my first response was, “You’ve gotta be kidding me? Me? Really?”
I grew up with one foot in contemporary culture and one foot in church culture, and I have to confess, as the gap widened it was a bit like having one foot on the shore and one foot on a boat that was slowly drifting away from the shore. It felt as if I was losing my balance. Either I would have to jump onto the shore — back into contemporary culture, or I would have to jump onto the boat — fully into church culture. The alternative would be to fall into the water!
The gap between church culture and contemporary culture has been widening, partly because church culture has remained very much the same, whilst the change in contemporary culture has been accelerating. The disconnect between church and everyday lives is wider than it has ever been.
Now, I love the church, and I love contemporary culture. My calling to the Anglican Church was and is to be a bridge between the two — to keep one foot on the shore, one foot on the boat, and draw the two back together.
At my installation as an Anglican Priest I made a declaration of assent and in it I made the promise to, “proclaim the gospel afresh to each generation.” In other words, the gospel is the same, the good news about Jesus Christ is the same, but the method is up for grabs. The wonderful thing about the gospel is that it can and has been applied in any context and to any historical culture, which means it can equally be applied to ours.
The problem, in part, is that many of us Christians have inherited a model of church, or a way of being or expressing church, that is immovable and rooted firmly in the past.
Let me give you an example. I was evangelising young people — young people that were, like me, embedded in music culture — they were beatboxers, DJs, dancers, rappers, and artists, and they found their identity in that culture. So, when they turned to Christ and found a new identity in Him, the wider church expected them to go along to their local church and engage with church culture. They felt like a fish out of water. They had come to know Jesus and give their life to Him, but the way of dressing was different, the music was different, and the language was different. We expected them to jump from the shore to the boat, and I can tell you that for most, it did not and does not work. They either jumped back to shore or fell in the water (then swam back to shore).
We Christians need to recognise that some of us are acculturated into a church culture that has become inseparable from our expression of Christianity, where we look at Christianity through the lens of our church culture.
The burden I felt for those young people broke my heart and so, being obedient to my Lord, I have always tried to bring the shore and the boat closer together.
I do not want to let go of the wonderful strength there is in being part of an established church tradition. It is built on a firm foundation. I love our inherited sacred spaces, the prayers that have been passed down from generation to generation, the sense of being part of something continuous and everlasting, and the connection I have, through the Spirit, with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet I love contemporary music, art, and design, up-to-date means of self-expression, the Internet, the connectedness, language, and food of our era.
All of us have one foot in contemporary culture and church culture, but to cope with the widening gap between the two, we sometimes find ourselves hopping between the two. We jump from the boat to the shore, spend some time there, then hop back to the boat again. We ‘go’ to church. We listen to ‘Christian’ radio. We read a ‘Christian’ book. Then we jump and ‘go’ to a party or dinner with friends, watch Netflix, and read that summer novel. We live in two separate worlds.
God does not call us to live separate lives. The Kingdom of God transcends our world and we are called to be in it. Jesus uses metaphors for us such as light, and salt, and yeast — all things that permeate and change their surroundings.
My calling is to bridge the gap between contemporary culture and church culture, and I do this by bringing contemporary culture into the church and taking church culture into contemporary culture — pulling the boat closer to the shore — and I can tell you that it is not easy. There are currents pulling at the boat. There are people in the boat with oars, rowing hard, desperately trying to keep the boat away from the shore, and there are people on the shore with long poles doing their best to keep the boat away!
Over the past twenty years I have worked closely with Bible Society and other Christian organisations on several projects to bridge the gap by making the Bible accessible and in a format relevant to contemporary society. Here, in Bermuda, the first thing I did in St.Mark’s was install a massive sound system and integrate, not just modern worship songs, but use music technology to add contemporary beats and sounds to our modern and traditional worship.
Closing the gap.
We have great visuals — using designed graphics, the web, and have created high-quality video content for YouTube and social media.
Closing the gap.
We have made our Anglican liturgy accessible to children and to those with learning difficulties so they do not feel excluded.
Closing the gap
We have openly declared our church to be fully inclusive and welcoming.
Closing the gap.
We write articles for the newspaper to inspire, challenge, generate discussion, or draw people back to God.
Closing the gap.
We use our skills to engage with children and young people both in our church and in our schools and youth groups.
Closing the gap.
It is a very exciting time for St.Mark’s Church. We are a church family with a God-ordained mission to preach the gospel afresh to this generation — and that is exactly what we are doing.