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Feeding the Hunger to Create—wholeheARTed guest, Daniel Heath

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Art, Faith, and Honest Connection

Feeding the Hunger to Create—wholeheARTed guest, Daniel Heath

Lisle Gwynn Garrity

Some people are visionary creatives, seeing possibility for beauty and collaboration in the midst of what has become tired and all-too-familiar. Daniel Heath is one of these types, working graciously through music, people, and visual media to gently nudge communities forward into fresh ways of thinking, hearing, seeing, and worshiping. Daniel has both the imagination to dream and the determination to enact big ideas in real and vibrant ways. 

Over the course of 8 years at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC, Daniel served as the director of music and worship arts, helping to launch two new worship services each with their own unique balance of innovation and tradition. For each service, he formed and sustained two separate worship bands, breaking beyond sacred/secular divides to offer music that stirs your heart and soul. Though his work called him primarily to the role of musician, Daniel saw a hunger for visual expression in worship also, so he gathered a faithful worship arts team to work collaboratively to create visuals and installations for Sunday services and liturgical seasons.

Like most of us, Daniel was born with the hunger to create. Unlike some of us, he feeds that hunger with creative expression of all kinds, stepping into whatever role his creativity demands and modeling for us all what it means to pursue a wholeheARTed creative life in ministry.

Read reflections from Daniel below, and be sure to check out our wholeheARTed series premier post here.

Photos from Lenten arts retreat with the worship arts team at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, NC.

SA: When did you first consider yourself an artist or creative person?

DH: I first considered myself a creative person at age fourteen when, for a homework assignment, my piano teacher, Clara Jones, asked me to compose original music for a Coke commercial.  It was her way of allowing my creative spirit to fly and my whole heART to pump strongly; piano lessons alone were not enough to feed the hunger to create. She printed out sheets of staff paper from her SLOW and LOUD printer and gave me a week to score the thirty second masterpiece. I went on to study music composition in college.

SA: Tell us about the art you create or how you express yourself creatively.

DH: Personally, I write songs about memorable moments along life’s journey. I have written a wedding anniversary song for a friend, the proposal song for my wife, a graduation theme song for a school, and a commemoration song for the September Eleventh Anniversary among others. I love a good story and enjoy finding the perfect melody and lyric to accompany its telling.

For congregations I enjoy developing ideas that help carry themes and scriptures to all age and stages of life and that touch the five senses. For example, I consider music, visual art, lighting, digital media, sacrament options, prayer stations, poetry, etc. I have even explored different scents that might create a more meaningful space in which to worship.

SA: What is your creative process like?

DH: For music, I enjoy living with the text (scripture, a poem) a while and gauging what consistent feelings surface. For a specific example, when I am writing a wedding song, I give a survey of questions to the bride and groom. The two complete their answers separately, not having knowledge of the other's answers. I take the responses and pray to God for the Holy Spirit to shower down beautiful sparkles of notes, chords, riffs and such.  

Below is a song I co-wrote with a college classmate for the Morehouse College Glee Club. He was inspired with a beautiful prayer after the September Eleventh tragedy and asked me (then a sophomore composition student) to add some music. Little did we know that the collaboration would end up on Morehouse College Glee Club’s recording entitled, Walk Humbly.

Original composition by Daniel Heath, recorded by the Morehouse College Glee Club

SA: What does fear look like for you and how does it show up in your creative process?

DH: I am reminded of Paul’s second letter to Timothy when he wrote, “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7). In the creative process of songwriting I sometimes stall, thinking I want the final product right away, knowing that the time spent could be a draft of something that is developed months later. Once I let go, I see my creative process time as a gift, not expecting a product, but rather holy time with the Lord.

SA: How do you push beyond fear and self-doubt when they emerge during the creative process?

DH: I am comforted by believing with my whole heART that, in the beginning, God created, and because we are made in God’s image and likeness (Gen 1-2), we, too, are encouraged and enabled and should create, which engages seeds that God planted in each of us when God formed us in our mothers’ wombs (Jer 1:5).

Palm installation & Silk banners (left) created by worship arts team at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, NC. Worship art (right) by worship arts team member, Ron Boozer.

SA: How is your creativity connected to your faith?

DH: An omniscient and omnipresent God spoke planets and plants, stars and seas, animals and almonds into existence long ago. Then, in God’s image, God made human beings with free will; God said all creation was good. Human beings made an error in judgment in choosing curiosity over obedience to God, and human beings’ relationship became broken with God. Because of the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of God, God chose to provide a way to mend the brokenness of God’s creation and to provide an example of how God’s children should live on earth. Jesus is the example of how we should live in relationship with God and with God’s children. We cannot live without making mistakes, but with God’s Holy Spirit, we can be strengthened and encouraged to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

God created all things with a purpose in mind. When the purpose of the created thing is fulfilled, it brings God glory. When a sunflower seed blooms, it brings God glory. Likewise, when God’s children live a life full of God’s purpose, it brings God glory. Music/worship ministry is one aspect of my purpose and I believe I am bringing God glory everyday serving in God’s kingdom.

My sense of call is to use my musical, exhorting, faith-based, teaching, and leadership gifts to build a Christ-centered community through worship/music/arts, which looks diverse, feels like family, and sounds heavenly. I have longed to be part of a worship leadership team that promotes a shift from segregated to integrated worship experiences in terms of music style, arts mediums, personnel, worship space, and traditions.

Photos from Lenten arts retreat with the worship arts team at Covenant Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, NC.


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Daniel Heath is the founder and lead consultant for Church 21 congregation consulting firm. He served as the Worship and Arts Director of a vibrant, 2,000 member church in Charlotte, North Carolina for nearly a decade. Daniel recently accepted the call to further his education at Princeton Theological Seminary as a Presidential Scholar. His passion includes helping congregations thrive amid a rapidly changing contemporary landscape. He and his wife, Katrina, have two sons.

 


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