Songs of Rage is a community, passionate about Christ, focused on serving the alternative music culture. Its founder, John Peddie, explains how it started and his hopes for its development as a fresh expression of church.
We call ourselves the 'Messiah's Misfits' and we aim to serve the alternative music community in the Aldershot, Camberley, Farnborough and Guildford area whilst providing an opportunity for people to explore and express the Christian faith. We are not a band!
The name Songs of Rage doesn't perhaps sit easily alongside other church titles and we like that, because we're a church for people without a church, with a focus for the people not reached or perhaps not interested by the 'normal' church. It was initially used as a play on Songs of Praise, but the rage in Songs of Rage is about identifying with injustice, pain, hurt and suffering on a personal and global scale that cries out to God for change.
Alternative music is often criticised for being too angry, it asks tough questions of society and individuals, but in general, it leaves the listener searching for answers. Songs of Rage identifies with the source of the anger and believes that answers can be found in Christ.
We have been called 'Punk Church', but we are not a church exclusively for 'punks' or any other individual stream in the alternative community. We have simply tried to understand the roots of the culture we are in and use language that identifies with that.
Songs of Rage, which we say is 'where music and faith meet', has a number of members from churches across Aldershot and Camberley. We are closely supported by Holy Trinity, Aldershot, to which we have accountability.
We help out at gigs at the West End Centre in Aldershot, wearing 'Messiah's Misfits' T-shirts. The phrase comes from 'The Message' translation of 1 Corinthians 4:
It seems to me that God has put us who bear his message on stage in a theatre in which no one wants to buy a ticket. We're something everyone stands around and stares at, like an accident in the street. We're the Messiah's Misfits. You might be well-thought of by others, but we're mostly kicked around.'
It all goes back to about 1998 when I was in a Christian punk band called Cephas and we used to tour alternative music venues across the country. It was all a bit of a shock when it came to an end in 2003 because I thought it was a ministry I'd be a part of, in some way, for life. God gave me a vision of a lot of people throwing their shoes at a stage (a compliment at American punk shows) and dancing barefoot on the sticky floor of some music venue and all I could think of was, 'take your shoes off, the place you are standing on is holy ground'.
I was advised to get some training. That advice made me feel very low because I knew that my particular character would find it difficult to stick with a three or four year rigid training course. Instead I wanted to be out there exploring my personal calling and ministry in a way that was relevant to my situation and past experience.
My vicar at the time asked me to consider becoming a youth worker, which I did. I loved my time in that role but I just felt that working at the church was a kind of 'babysitting' service for the already churched. Not that there is anything wrong with that, it's just I knew someone else could do the job better than I could, so when my three years were coming to an end, the vicar suggested creating a new role for me to go out into the community. I was very excited about that. The following night my mum had a dream that I had changed my job and she described the message of the dream was 'it's now or never'. I told my boss and we were both excited because it seemed obvious that God was calling me on into something new.
That meant some big changes in my life – such as going into a meeting as the church's official youth worker and coming out without a job or a house. There was certainly a moment when I thought, 'What have I done?' because I had absolutely loved my job but I knew that God was telling me 'it's now or never… remember that vision I gave you?'
The first phrase I came up with to describe what I felt was the next step was 'punk church'. Unfortunately that description confused a lot of people and I think in a lot of ways it confused me too. At that point I was still learning about fresh expressions of church and I wasn't yet clear about what that meant or how to go about it. I had to de-baggage 26 years of church teaching and the way church 'has to be'.
I spent some time at the 24-7 prayer room in Calgary, Canada and also talked to various people and permission-givers in the diocese. As a result I, and others who wanted to be part of this vision, knew that we had to go out and meet people and listen to them in order to take a step forward. There were a few false starts…
St Michael's Church in Camberley kindly offered us some meeting space; that was good because it was the closest church to one of the area's main rock venues but it wasn't so good in that the young people who came along wanted something that was up and running and had a shape to it. They weren't so keen on developing that shape and we found ourselves struggling around that. Again we found ourselves 'babysitting' and decided to close the doors until we had grasped our vision.
The breakthrough came when a group of us went to the West End Centre in Aldershot. We took them doughnuts and offered to clean up their car park. We had friends there from our days in the band and they knew our beliefs because we had never held back on our faith at gigs. The challenge however was to gain trust from the staff; they needed to know that we didn't intend to shout about Christianity from the rooftops but instead were simply there to serve and love them in whatever way that meant something to them. That process took about two years and I'm sure, even now, we have our doubters.
Now we are established as regulars at the Centre to serve the staff, the bands and the audience. The point is that it's not about flying in and flying out of a place, as it was when I was in a band. We are here for the long haul and it takes a long time to re-establish friendships and develop new ones. There are still big questions of course. We are still trying to work out what Songs of Rage is all about and how we develop the growing, very positive, relationships.
We have created a local fanzine which contains gig and music reviews and with that there's a 'message' section in which we take a lyric and write a piece on it, designed as a conversation starter. What's great about the fanzine is that we now have gig goers writing for it and wanting to work alongside us as part of the fanzine team. We also put together a self-funded 10-track CD of the best local bands and gave out 500 of them free of charge because we wanted to show that Songs of Rage was supporting the alternative music scene and being a positive influence within it. It also helped to promote traffic through our Songs of Rage website. Everything that we do has to be of benefit to the alternative music scene. We are guests at the West End Centre and they are running a business at the end of the day. The worst thing that could happen would be if people were put off from turning up to a show because some religious bloke is going to start ranting at them.
There are now staff members who sometimes ask us for prayer and several people who have turned to Christ after coming into contact with Songs of Rage.
The church often talks about 'creating community' but a community already exists at the West End Centre and in the alternative music scene. We are not going to try and recreate it in a patronising way and we don't aim to put gigs on or have our own venue. These things already exist and are exciting, creative and authentic. Our role as SOR is to say 'isn't this great – it has God's fingerprints all over it, let us show you. To gain the influence we must first gain trust and this takes time. Some people find this frustrating as they feel we must be 'doing' something. I tell them that we just need to 'be'. My belief is that we need to be organic in our working; that by being involved in the day today leads you to the natural next step. There is no big plan as to what SOR will look like at the West End Centre in a year's time – we are simply loving people and music and praying God does something!
My wife and I have recently had our first child, a daughter and we took her to meet everyone at the Centre before we took her to our home church. Why? Because they are our family now, our people, and it felt good and right and natural to introduce her to them first. What this 'church' will look like we don't know yet but as people gather, we will work it out together with God's help.
We used to have a Songs of Rage meeting on a Tuesday night for supporters but it came to an end because of work pressure on the vicar leading it and general questioning of its purpose. Don't get me wrong, the group was great – I love everyone in it, but it was taking up too much energy and diverting us from our ministry to be part of the alternative music scene.
It was interesting that as we went to churches to tell them of Songs of Rage, we got a lot of enthusiasm from people in their 40s and 50s who wanted to pray for us and help us but couldn't connect at all with that alternative culture. We were also attracting many disaffected people from traditional church and a lot of energy was being spent on comforting them; it was a difficult time because I had to remind myself, and others, that our particular ministry is not about that at all.