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The UK Blessing: Tim Hughes on when worship goes viral

'The UK Blessing' video is set to reach one million views within 48 hours of being released. Tim Hughes, one of the worship leaders behind the project, speaks to Sam Hailes about the unexpected viral sensation

The video has had nearly one million views. What is your reaction to worship going viral?

It's amazing! 'The Blessing' is a fantastic song written by a bunch of friends in America. And they've put this beautiful melody to this incredible blessing in the book of Numbers.

There are over 65 churches involved, and they represent hundreds more. It's really just a small part of God's UK Church. Seeing them all come together to sing this over the UK - that God wants to bless people - is absolutely beautiful.

Over the last six months, I've felt what God is doing in the Church, in terms of worship, is we're seeing the sound of his people singing. There's been lots of worship leaders that God has raised up and it's been beautiful, but I think actually the time has come when God is raising up his whole Church - the sound of his people - and not just one individual. I think this is just a little glimpse of what we're going to see much more of.

Where did the idea come from?

Well truth be told, I saw the Pittsburgh blessing in America, where a bunch of churches got together and sang this over their city. And then I had a call within 24 hours from Pete Greig, and from Nicky Gumbel, and my wife Rachel was also saying, 'we should do something in the UK!'

We thought, 'let's call friends from lots of different networks and denominations and see if everyone can send in someone from their church singing this song.' It was amazing. I mean, musicians aren't the most organised...! But we spoke to them on the Friday and Saturday, and every video had to be in by the Tuesday, and everyone got behind it.

What is it about this song that's so powerful? Does God anoint a particular song for a particular time?

I think so. I think there are some songs that when you sing them or when you hear them, something just shifts. You can't make that happen, you can't manufacture it. You can't sit down and say 'we're going to write one of these songs'.

Where do you think this will go next?

Who knows? Since it was released yesterday there's been a phenomenal response. Loads of people have been getting in touch saying, 'when I watch this, I just find myself weeping.'

I think the spirit of God is on it. There's a sense of unity and diversity - we've got the Coptic Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church, Pentecostal, Church of England...so I guess I feel God's going to do what he wants to do with it.

I love the fact that no one owns it. When you watch the video you don't necessarily know who the people are, but you just catch the spirit of 'this is the Church delighting in God and delighting in these words of blessing over the UK.'

Worship music has arguably been a strong force for unity. We might each be in our own different denominations, but so often, we're actually singing the same songs!

Yes I think there's something deep within us that wants to feel united. In Psalm 133, God commands a blessing when brothers and sisters live in harmony and I think these songs are moments where you realise, we have all these petty disagreements over silly things, but the bottom line is, God loves us. And God loves the world and we want to be people who put the megaphone out and say 'God loves you!'.

Online church has gone from something a few people were doing, to now being the norm, and the necessity. When this is over, will church go back to normal?

Well, this is the big question.

I think the great tragedy would be if we all just carried on doing exactly the same things and said, 'well, that was a weird year or 18 months'.

I think what we're seeing is God empowering local households to take responsibility for their faith. Church isn't where we go to a building or an event, but instead we're learning to take responsibility for our own faith and our families. And also to think about our communities - our street that we live in. We have started up this WhatsApp group and I know many have done the same all over the UK. We're connecting with our neighbors in a way we haven't done since we moved to Birmingham, and I think this is just a stunning opportunity which could radically change things. 

There's been a big debate about the extent to which church can happen online. Do you want to invest more in online services, or are you more looking forward to the day when you can be in the same room again together?

I think it's both.

With the online stuff, it's so easy to invite your friends. You can try church out from the safety of your lounge. This is providing an opportunity to communicate this gospel message in a really easy way. In our church on the last four Sundays, 60 or 70 people gave their lives to Jesus Christ. We've been launching the new Alpha, and the numbers have gone through the roof online, and it's working brilliantly.

One of our staff had been praying for their mum for years to become a Christian. She tuned in on Easter Sunday and off the back of that said, 'I want to do Alpha.'

I'm part of a small group at my church with eight guys and there's been some really beautiful, honest conversations. Perhaps it's easier for some people to feel safe their own home.

If our only interaction is online, that's not great, because that's what I'm missing as a pastor. There's so much nuance you miss. Body language and just being around people. And I miss the joy when you're in church and hundreds of people are all united singing these songs. That's powerful and you can't quite replace that through endless Zooms!

What has been your lockdown high, and your lockdown low?

I've loved the opportunity to innovate - to try new things and see our church come alive. But gosh, there have been some really hard moments where you're worried about loved ones who are sick. And the chaos and trauma that's happening globally. There are moments where you suddenly feel flat. There's a lot more up and down.

This situation has brought the very best and the very worst out, which means you have an opportunity to reflect and ask yourself 'Where's that coming from? How do I invite God into that?'

Has there been anything in particular which God has been challenging you on or speaking to you about in this time?

I've been thinking a lot about the role of a worship leader, and in many ways, the role of any pastor is not to provide a moment of connection or entertainment on a Sunday. But I think that's where a lot of our energy goes - into creating the buzz on a Sunday that's going to attract more people. And that's important, I've seen the benefit of that. But the role is actually to equip people so that when they're at home, they can worship, they can read their Bibles, they can pray, and they've got a passion for that. 

I think God is shifting things so that people are going to take responsibility for their faith. We can't be consumers. If we can get hold of that, we're going to see the Church awakened in this nation like never before, with much less emphasis on the great preacher, the great worship leader or the great church, but actually much more on households and the individuals getting right before God, praying for God's kingdom to come and just loving people around them.

You and I have both been in many meetings, and sung many songs about revival, which has been hoped for and prayed for over years. Some have predicted it, and are now even saying we are on the cusp of it. Do you agree?

I'm an optimist. I think God is doing something really special. The Church is praying more across the board and I think there are early signs of things shifting.

Whenever something of this scale happens globally, you have to believe God is going to work in and through it. I don't believe God has sent this virus. But I believe God can use it to really speak into people's lives and we're seeing that there's a hunger and an openness when suddenly everything that you thought so secure - your personal freedom, finance - is all stripped away. You have to ask the big questions. What is this all about? So I think we have a massive opportunity. I always believe God is about to do something remarkable.

We don't want to get carried away. I'm always wary when people are predicting dates and saying we're going to see this in the next year or 18 months. But I want to pray that God is going to do something remarkable. I want to live like that. And I want to serve, fully anticipating God's doing something special in our country.

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