It’s one thing to write a worship album. It’s another to write a Christmas album. But what about a Christmas worship album? It’s an intriguing concept, given the popularity of both. And let’s face it, after the thirtieth round of “Silent Night,” nobody would mind some new Christmas music, worship or otherwise. But adding to the Christmas carol canon is an intimidating prospect, not for the faint of heart.
But that’s what Passion set out to do anyway. While the Passion group is legendary in the worship music industry, they’re new to Christmas music. But Hope Has a Name, their first Christmas album, delivers on both well-loved classics (“O Holy Night”) and a bevy of new songs that don’t sound out of place alongside the rest of their work but maintain a festive feel. We talked to Passion’s Kristian Stanfill about the challenge of new Christmas music, some perspective for Christmas in COVID season and what’s next for Passion in 2021.
So this is really Passion Music’s first ever Christmas album?
That’s right. In the past, Chris has put out a couple of Christmas albums and Redman put out some Christmas music. For Passion Music, this is our first little step into Christmas music, which is something we wanted to do for several years. It’s something we always talk about, but we always have Passion Conference happening at the beginning of the year, and it takes up a lot of effort on our team, as it should. But this year, one of the unexpected gifts of COVID was that we had a lot of time on our hands and it opened up a couple months for us to write these songs.
I’m really happy about it. We’re all excited about the way it all turned out. We’re always looking for songs that are useful in a church setting and we really feel like these songs have done that, at least for us.
What’s it like to write a Christmas album? Is it hard to stick to a theme like this when you’re writing worship songs that have a festive bent?
Well, it’s pretty intimidating to think about writing Christmas music, because you have some of these songs that are so beloved and so well- known really all around the world. And to think about adding new songs into that catalog, you’re like, do we really need more?
What we were hoping to do with this project is help people see the personal nature of the Christmas message. Christmas is the fulfillment of a promise that God made, that He would save the world and ransom His people. That promise needs to become personal to people. We’re really trying to help people find an inroad to the story of Christmas and go, “Wow. Jesus came to pursue me and save my life.”
Being worship leaders, one of the things we all talked about going into these writing sessions was, we would love to have songs where the content is Christmas but the heart is worship. The bridge of the song “Hope Has A Name” says, “Come if you’re broken, come if you’re searching, if you need healing, He’s where you find it.” That’s year round. I need that every day. We don’t have to park in December, but we can take these on throughout the year. And that was really the hope and the prayer.
It’s interesting. In some ways, Christmas music is extremely Christian. But in some ways, it’s very much its own distinct thing.
You’re exactly right. I think when we started talking about it, it was just a little overwhelming. But when we started diving into the miracle of Christmas, worship comes flying out of the Christmas story pretty naturally, if you let it happen.
Even with the angels announcing the birth of Jesus, they sing “Glory To God In The Highest.” That’s a worship line. When talking about worship music and worship songs, “Glory To God In The Highest,” that’s what we say when we worship God, just give Him glory. So, it emanates very naturally out of the Christmas story.
It’s obviously been an extraordinarily difficult year for really everybody. Writing about joy and peace and comfort can feel a little bit tone deaf. How do you all walk that tension, and how are you as a church hoping to communicate that message during this time of the year?
I love the question you’re asking because it’s so true. It’s been an interesting year. Like you said, even here at our church, we’ve seen COVID crashing to a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. And so we want to be sensitive to that.
At the same time, as worship leaders and as people who are ministers of the gospel and Jesus’ followers, I think we have a responsibility to point people to something that’s higher than our circumstance, or the season of life that we’re in. Our seasons of life change, the circumstances change, but who Jesus is, is the same yesterday and today and forever.
I think the very best thing that we can do for people right now is help lift our eyes up above our circumstance, or even what we’re feeling and help people grab onto something that’s rock solid, which is the truth of God’s Word. In that song, “Hope Has A Name” we say, “Come if you’re broken, come if you’re searching, if you need healing, He’s where you find it. You can lay down your burden, breathe in forgiveness, if you need freedom.”
That’s very conversational language. I’m not trying to gloss over it. But we are trying to point people to something very real.
Are there any songs that were particularly rewarding to complete?
“Grace Of God With Us,” absolutely. That was one that came together so beautifully with a worship leader in our house, her name is Chidima. And she has such a powerhouse vocal, she’s so anointed — even more than her vocal, her heart is just gold. And her leading the song came together so organically and so beautifully. It just felt right to have her lead the song.
We’re all hoping for a little more normalcy going into 2021. But how do you think — or hope — this year has impacted the Church at least here in America?
It’s affected all of us in different ways. We have started letting some of our volunteers, we call them door holders, come back into the building and be in the room when we’re doing our gatherings, which has been online. But now we’re starting to have more people in the room. And I think the overwhelming response that we’re getting from people really, honestly, it’s an emotional response from people saying, “I didn’t know how much I needed to be with other people. I didn’t know how much it would mean to me to be back in a room, and hearing the church sing, and being under the teaching of the word of God.” I think there’s going to be a real value put on the great assembly, maybe like never before.
I think people are going to be so grateful to be back in a room with other believers worshiping together. I just think for us, I don’t know if we’ll take it for granted. Again, I hope we won’t. So, I think that’s one way that this has really been refining, and I think it’s going to change all of us in a lot of different ways.
Any music projects on the horizon?
We have some new music coming pretty soon. We’re not going to be gathering in big arenas in the course of the year. But we are going to be doing something virtually online with some friends of Passion and you can check out our socials to get some details on that. But we have some new music coming out soon and it will be really exciting to share towards the end of the year.