“The Walking Roots Band has always been about relationships,” says Seth Crissman, student at Eastern Mennonite Seminary and member of The Walking Roots Band. “We started out as a group of friends who happened to make music together, and that’s pretty much how things are today, seven years later.”
The Walking Roots Band, formed when many of the members were students at EMU, will soon issue its second album of church music, titled “Light: A Hymn Reclamation Project,” in which they take old – sometimes ancient – hymn texts and set them to folk melodies and other new arrangements.
“The writing of this album has been such a beautiful process of articulating Good News musically and lyrically in our current context,” says Seth. “This is an enduring Good News, and these songs connect us to so many who have lived before us as Jesus’ disciples through the ages.”
For music teacher and band member Greg Yoder, the album is an opportunity to “emphasize discipleship and what it means to truly follow Jesus.”
And the band’s sound resonates with a wide audience, with guitars, harmonica, accordion, violin, upright bass, mandolin, banjo and minimal percussion, along with rich vocal harmonies. The sound is best described as folksy, Americana, roots music.
“At our shows there are often people who are our age, in their 20s and 30s, but also grandparents and grandchildren,” said Crissman.
Yet they don’t limit themselves to church music.
“We are equally comfortable giving a concert at a coffee house or bar on Saturday night or at a worship service on Sunday morning,” said Yoder. “We want to be in both places because we believe that God is in both places.”
In addition to “Light” the band hopes to record a six-to-eight song EP called “Prayers for the Church.” They plan to give this music away for free, as a gift of encouragement and admonition for the church.
“The church is Christ’s body here and now, and we want to encourage everyone to pray that the church may continue to be Christ to the world,” says Yoder.
Eastern Mennonite Seminary and University have pledged support for “Prayers for the Church” through the band’s online Kickstarter campaign. Kickstarter is a crowd-sourcing platform that encourages artists to collaborate with their supporters to undertake projects that might not otherwise be possible.
“We love the example EMU/EMS set,” said Yoder, “and we think it’s a great way for churches, conferences, businesses and other organizations that are committed to the church to get involved in our project. We would love to have many more partners in helping us make Prayers for the Church available as a gift, mostly because of what it would look like to have that many people saying, ‘Yes, we believe in the church and want to see it continue and strengthen.’”
Crissman’s seminary studies serve as catalyst for many of the songs in the new hymn collections. The prayer practice of using music to connect to and spend time with God is one his professors have encouraged.
“I have been able to learn from and study with incredible professors and students who have walked with me as I have encountered God in new, and also ancient, ways,” says Crissman. “I really appreciate EMS’s commitment to equipping students to become ‘wise interpreters, mature practitioners, discerning communicators and transformational leaders.’ It’s been a beautiful place for me to grow into my call.”
Published December 2014.