Backstage on songwriting in ministry
What is it about music that connects to something deep within us? And how does someone who writes songs set out to share work that is so personal?
Lt. Erin Wikle explores these ideas on an upcoming episode of the Do Gooders Podcast. The corps officer in Santa Monica, California, Wikle’s ministry touches situations including the effects of addiction and the reality of homelessness. She also leads people in worship and has released a new song, “Wait For You Here,” now available for download. A second song, “Higher Than I,” drops Nov. 18.
As someone who first sang in a worship group at age 6, Wikle explores what draws her to music, shares her favorite piece of music and walks us through her own creative process to writing a song. The following excerpt is from her interview with podcast host Christin Thieme; listen to the full episode when it releases Nov. 18.
What does your ministry look like today?
At first glance, full-time ministry is super messy, and it’s super messy here in Santa Monica…We see poverty every day. We see the effects of behavioral health issues every day and mental health issues every day. We see the effects of drugs and alcohol on men and on women who just really can’t get out of the cycle of addiction. We’re fortunate to work with those who are marginalized, but it’s draining and it’s difficult. But when we are able to share hope with individuals, and begin to see lives actually get turned around, it’s just one of the most amazing things to witness, I think, as a Salvation Army leader, and I’m grateful for that. That’s the highlight of what we do here in Santa Monica.
And you also lead a worship service every Sunday. What do you like about leading people in worship, and what is it like?
I was 6-years-old and remember my dad had me singing in the worship team when we were in Fort Collins, Colorado, at our little church there. As I grew I really began to understand the beauty and the importance of worship and how it tied into our faith in a powerful way. And so, I think for me, leading worship now, it’s one of the most amazing and beautiful things to witness other people experiencing freedom, and that freedom comes often when they’re under the influence of the Holy Spirit.
Any time I can be a part of facilitating that by creating an environment that’s open, by selecting and choosing songs that allow someone to express back to God, their gratitude or their need for him—it’s just a powerful thing to see.
What draws you to music?
What draws me to music? Just so much. Sometimes it’s literally the lyrics, and the way someone’s put poetry to music. Sometimes it’s the music itself, and just hearing different combinations of chords, or melody lines that I’m like, oh, that’s really great. I don’t know how to describe it but just something resonates within me, and I’ll literally have it on repeat, forever listening.
You also recently wrote and released a new single, titled ‘Wait For You Here.’ Can you share more about this song?
I wrote ‘Wait For You Here’ out of this season where, if I’m really honest, I had grown distracted and really distant from the Lord for various reasons…The song itself is, I think, really about the determination we often have to have as Christians to not grow weary in waiting on the Lord, and to remember that we have power available to us through his resurrection. There’s a part of the song that talks about looking for Jesus on the empty cross, and in an empty tomb, and realizing that he’s not there, right? Because he came to life three days later, God’s power in him resurrected and brought him to life.
And so, it’s a reminder to not be looking after a god who’s dead. That Jesus is alive and his power is available to us, so it’s a call to remember that, but also a reminder to not grow weary in the waiting even when we’re not experiencing the emotional connection to our faith in the ways that we’re often looking for.
So even though it’s a personal song, what would you want someone who’s listening to it to experience?
I would want them to resonate with the human experience as it’s being encountered by our God, and I want them to be reminded that they’re not alone, that no matter what they’re experiencing or going through—even if it’s vastly different than what I have experienced—that they can find hope in Christ, and garner strength and encouragement from remembering that God is with them.
If it can’t mean something to someone else, if it doesn’t hit them on that level too, then I feel like I might’ve missed the mark. My hope is always that what I’ve written might be able to be of support and encouragement to someone else too.
Can you take us backstage on how you go about writing a song?
You know, it’s a little different all the time, but I just love to sit at the piano. I start off with a pen and a notebook that I have all my songs written in and just start playing. There’s really just something very therapeutic about just that process of exploration… It could be that the Lord is giving me words before he even puts the music or melody in my mind. It could be that I’ve spent time looking at a particular Scripture verse, or I’ve been meditating on a certain passage of Scripture, and I will then try to articulate that basically back to a melody. That’s my general process. With ‘Wait For You Here,’ again, I was just so desperate to articulate my heart to the Lord that this is one of those songs where the lyrics really just flowed, so I felt like he was in that process for me, just making it very easy for me to write the words to that song.
How would you say your writing and singing songs connects to your ministry?
I think it completely connects. Writing a song is, like I mentioned, always so deeply personal. It’s not a trivial thing, and so sharing it with others takes tremendous vulnerability, and the feeling of sharing your song with someone for the first time even if it’s just one-on-one, there’s such vulnerability attached to that. There’s always this sense of satisfaction when I’ve written a song that means something to me, but also of it meaning something to someone else. That’s the moment when I realize this is impacting someone’s life, or I’ve received a note from someone saying, ‘Hey, thank you for this song that you wrote, it’s been important to me during this season of my life.’
I think that as a Salvation Army officer, it can become so easy to say, ‘This is what I do and this is the ministry box that was designed for me, so this is where I need to stay.’ The reality is that God has given us all talents that need to be used for his glory and for the benefit of others in their own faith journeys. Someone recently encouraged me to keep writing music because where new music was being written, he was certain a movement of God was occurring. Music can be used to help uplift, encourage and articulate the human experience—if any songwriter or musician can compose to that end, ministry is taking place.
Listen to the full interview with Lt. Erin Wikle on the Do Gooders Podcast, out Nov. 18. See more at caringmagazine.org/podcast.
Download Lt. Erin Wikle’s new songs anywhere you can buy or stream music online with all proceeds going to The Salvation Army. Connect with her on YouTube, Facebook @erin.wikle, and Instagram @the.key.of.e.