Keith Getty: 'I regret that we didn't do more for the innocent unborn children in Northern Ireland who will never see the light'
What I Believe: In conversation with Keith Getty
Keith Getty, from Lisburn, is a hymn-writer. He is married to his hymn-writing partner, Kristyn Getty, and the couple have four daughters: Eliza, Charlotte, Grace and Tahlia. They divide their time between Portstewart and Nashville, Tennessee.
Q: Can you tell us something about your background?
A: My wife, Kristyn, and I are modern hymn-writers. The Getty/Stuart Townend hymn In Christ Alone was third in the BBC Songs of Praise poll for Britain's best-loved hymn recently and, according to Christian Copyright License, Getty and Townend are the two most popular composers in churches in the UK.
Kristyn and I have annual shows at the Kennedy Center in Washington and Carnegie Hall in New York. Our latest project is setting the Psalms to music, which was launched last year with the North Coast Sessions album winning the Gospel Music Association's Dove Award for Inspirational Album of the year.
We have also started a national campaign teaching churches and families the 10 great carols of the faith, with two new Christmas releases.
I was the first Church musician of the contemporary era to be awarded the OBE from the Queen and was also awarded the Freedom of the City of Lisburn earlier this year.
We still love to spend our summers back in Northern Ireland and occasionally perform here, leading the music at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Houses of Parliament in 2018 and performing at the SSE Arena in Belfast earlier this year.
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We have four daughters, Eliza, Charlotte, Grace and Tahlia. We live between Nashville, Tennessee and the North Coast, writing hymns, playing them and trying valiantly to keep an eye on the various goings-on of our music. I am 44, but my daughters keep me young (or exhausted).
Q: What about your early life?
A: I grew up in Lisburn in a house full of music - dad was more the church musician, playing piano, organ and conducting the choir, and my mum was a piano teacher. Kristyn and I are both the oldest of four and we are so thankful for the encouragement we received growing up.
I was a relatively late starter with music. When I moved to Pond Park Primary School in Lisburn, Bobby Wright and Michael Newman encouraged me and then Peter Hunter at Friends School. I was always really involved in Church music and the opportunities to break into music industry happened during sixth form at Friends. As a teenager, I mostly worked as a composer-arranger before realising I was better at songwriting (or "composing with one finger", as my classical music friends call it). I also founded New Irish Arts at that time, which has just celebrated its 25th anniversary. We haven't been actively involved since 2004, though they joined us at the SSE Arena in June and it was an amazing experience.
The hymns were really a side interest. I was so angry with what I saw happening in modern Church music and the effect it was having on my friends and our Churches that it really was a crusade to bring a deeper Church music to the Church today.
Q: How and when did you come to faith? And does this faith play a real part in your daily life, or is it just for Sundays?
A: I was a Christian from a young age and, despite my own daily failures, I see it as the centre to every decision. It was Belfast's own CS Lewis who said that Christianity, "if false, is of no importance and, if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important". I've never understood the intellectual integrity of "nominal Christianity." I do think singing helps us join Sunday's faith to how we live it on a Monday, though it's also a sober warning every day to live what we sing.
Q: Have you ever had a crisis of faith, or a gnawing doubt about your faith?
A: I think leaving the culture of Northern Ireland for the first time was probably the toughest. When I went to university in Durham, I met a lot of brilliant minds, who had other faiths (or no faith) and were determined to undermine mine; this was pretty shocking at the time, but ultimately a healthy thing. It woke me up to the need to follow the evidence around us, to be a more serious, deep believer and to have a vibrant, passionate witness in our culture. Ultimately, if Christianity is true, we have to have the confidence to ask the hard questions.
Q: Have you ever been angry with God? And, if so, why?
A: I think all of us, if we were being honest, have serious questions of God, which at times turn to anger. That's why the Book of Psalms is so important and why we have committed the rest of this decade to creating a modern psalter. It allows us to bare our souls, but to bring them before the God of the universe. I have learnt much more through dealing with honest disappointment and anger than with success.
Q: Are you ever ashamed of your own Church, or denomination?
A: I have deep sympathy with those who have been sincerely wounded by the Church. The Church - like every other institution in history - has made terrible mistakes, as well as doing many great things.
We all need to walk with a more gentle humility.
To those who are bruised, I can only plead to try and look beyond the offence to Christ himself.
The failures of the Church and God's people are all through scripture, Old Testament and New. It is nothing new.
Q: Are you afraid to die? Or can you look beyond death?
A: I don't think I am. I don't like the idea of pain, though, as my family will quickly tell you, and I really hope I get to be around for my girls growing up and would love to see them flourish.
Q: Are you worried about hell? Do you believe in a resurrection? And, if so, what will it be like?
A: Christ talks about hell throughout the Gospels, so we can't ignore it. We can't build a "I like the Jesus who loved little children and had a radical social agenda", but ignore hell, because of the nasty, anti-social, hellfire-breathing preachers we heard when we were young (though some were truly disgraceful). It's intellectually untenable: Christ talked about both in similar measure.
On the other hand, I think the promises of Christ allow us not to be worried about hellfire, but to know, trust, love and fear God and to understand this world with all its unfulfilled hopes and contradictions is not all there is.
Q: Why are many people turning their back on organised religion?
A: I think we have to both teach the Gospel and live it in love every day. The churches that are emptying in Northern Ireland are the ones that are not teaching the Gospel, not the ones that aren't "relevant" (though I am suspicious of Church growth in some quarters).
But there is a need for these churches to be more salt and light in every part of our society, too. Christ is the centre of all beauty, wisdom, knowledge, joy and love and we need to do a better job of reflecting this.
Q: What is your favourite film, book and music, and why?
A: My favourite music right now is Christmas music - incredible tunes, written by the masters, explaining the Christian faith so winsomely and are just such incredibly fun to sing.
I like Once In Royal David's City by Irish hymn-writer Cecil Francis Alexander and my wife Kristyn's new setting of In The Bleak Midwinter is stunning.
My favourite book is the Psalms and favourite film is Chariots of Fire.
Q: Where do you feel closest to God?
A: In church, singing, and with my wife and girls. That's why it's so important.
Q: What inscription would you like on your gravestone?
A: Soli Deo Gloria ('Glory to God Alone'), which is what Bach wrote on every composition.
Q: Finally, have you any major regrets?
A: That we didn't do more for the innocent unborn children in Northern Ireland who will never see the light.