Celebrating our first year of services on the Feast of All Saints. In loving memory of Phil Woods, City of Light’s first saint to enter the heavenly City of Our God. Seek the peace of the city where I have carried you, for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. (Jer. 29; Heb. 13)
These are songs we’ve been writing and singing together as a new church in Aurora finding a new day in Jesus. They tell some of the story of God’s work in us as he is gathering us together into a new home in his church. We wanted our church family and our larger team of partners to be able to experience these songs as they narrate parts of our church planting pilgrimage.
We didn’t have a big budget or a lot of time, but we’re glad we could make these simple recordings made in the attic of our Parish House available in time to celebrate our first year of weekly services.
We’re so thankful for the support of many churches, families, and individuals from outside of City of Light who are praying and giving regularly to support God’s work at City of Light and to partner through us with all of the churches in Aurora loving and serving our city.
“The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul who seeks him.
It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man that he bear
the yoke in his youth.” (Lamentations 3:25-27, ESV)
This song is about the “weight of waiting,” as one of our leaders prayed over us during our lengthy period of church-planting discernment. At the time the song was birthed, we knew we were called to plant a church, but we didn’t know where, when, or how. Bearing that weighty yoke was something that required us to enter quiet, hidden spaces with the Lord, waiting for him to speak into the silence. Like a seed that goes into the ground to die, the song is a promise of life bursting forth.
As we’ve begun to sing this song in worship, we’ve seen it transcend our own personal experience of waiting and resonate with many in our congregation who are in their own period of waiting or suffering. Together, we cling to the promise that those who put their hope in the Lord cannot be disappointed because through the waiting, the Lord gives us our portion—his very self. Though the sorrow may last for the night, his mercies and joy comes in the morning.
When our family moved to a new city and a new people, we found so much joy in the team surrounding us, but we still tasted the bitter edge of loneliness. Many on the launch team, leaving previous churches, selling homes and changing apartments, and leaving jobs to follow God’s calling, felt the same.
Psalm 84 paints a beautiful picture of discovering a safe place in the Lord’s house, even when our earthly place and people are shaken. Even the sparrow and the swallow find a place to rest near the altar of the Lord.
As so many at City of Light have pressed into life at the table, in the courts of the Lord, we have also found communion and friendship with one another around the altar. In the kingdom of heaven, we have more in common with one another that unites us than we have that seperates us. At the table of the Lord, we are and we become one family.
At our launch team meeting in March of 2015, we prayed the Morning Prayer office from the Book of Common Prayer that included this passage, the Third Song of Isaiah.
After we prayed this text, folks began to pray spontaneously in response to what this Scripture ignited in us. Bonnie and I began to study and immerse ourselves in it and it slowly joined Matthew 5:14 as our name-text. We are to be a city on a hill, a city of our God, a city of light.
“The glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.” A new day. “Over you the Lord will rise.” The risen sun like our risen Lord. There is a new day in Jesus. And a new city, a place of safety and light, with open gates inviting those who live in darkness and danger to find a new home in the church. The City of a God whose heart is for every nation, every neighborhood, every neighbor to stream toward it to find salvation.
This is who God is calling us to be, and like Isaiah, we wanted to sing it. We wrote this song that summer and sang it for the first time on September 13, 2015 at our sending church, Church of the Resurrection, as I was ordained as a priest and as City of Light sent out as a church.
There are several prayers we speak or sing each week during our worship. My favorite is the Sanctus, a combination of Isaiah 6 and Matthew 21 that the church has been singing for centuries. In the communion prayers it is preceded by the bold statement that when we worship we join with saints and angels around the throne of God in heaven. We actually enter into the scene from Hebrews 12 as citizens of the heavenly city.
Bonnie began writing this song with our sending church's worship pastor, Steve Williamson, on a RezArts songwriting retreat in 2014. They later finished it and Resurrection began singing it each week. We've brought many gifts from our sending church that have shaped City of Light. This is one of them—singing the words and melody with her each Sunday, singing the same words sung around the world, singing the same words as the saints in heaven.
We dedicated this album to Phil Woods, City of Light's first saint to enter into the worship around the throne in heaven. We imagine him joining with us in singing this song with us each week as he did for our first year together as a church.
Before our Grand Opening last fall, I was praying in the sanctuary at our cathedral, Church of the Resurrection. A few days before I had been laying on the floor, arms spread out like a cross, as I was ordained as a priest and I was feeling the overwhelmed by all of the preaching and pastoring that lay ahead. I read again a quote that I had written in my pray journal earlier that summer by English preacher and church planter Charles Spurgeon:
“Come, ye workers, be encouraged. You fear that you cannot draw a congregation. Try the preaching of a crucified, risen, and ascended Savior; for this is the greatest "draw" that was ever yet manifested among men...Old and young, rich and poor, ignorant and leaned, depraved or amiable—all men shall feel the attractive force. Jesus is the one magnet. Let us not think of any other. Music will not draw to Jesus, neither will eloquence, logic, ceremonial, or noise. Jesus Himself must draw men to Himself; and Jesus is quite equal to the work in every case.”
I walked over to the piano and turned to Isaiah 55, one of the texts I knew well from the Easter Vigil. It was the Word of the Lord that had called us to plant, thanks be to God. It was his Word, that told us to go to Aurora. His Word had drawn together a team, named us, brought us to Hill Elementary. His Word, not mine.
When we open our mouths, may it be the Word of Jesus that we speak. May we die to self reliance and in that crucifixion learn to speak only the cross, the place where the Word of God accomplished the purpose for which God sent it, to not leave us empty, but to fill us with his Word.
In 2014, our sending church’s worship pastor, Steve Williamson took a group of us to Wisconsin for a songwriting retreat. One of the songs that came out of that retreat was the Sanctus from track 4 that Bonnie and Steve wrote together. But the highlight of the time together for all of us was an evening we spent around the fireplace in worship and prayer.
As we moved between prayer and song, Brett began to sing Sleepers Awake. One phrase. One simple melody. We all joined in and in the space between sang and spoke prayers for us to be awakened to the Lord, for our families, for those who have never experienced the love of Jesus and the new day he brings, for new churches to be awakened, for communities to be awakened, for a revival of hearts awakened to the love of Jesus.
We recorded this live as a group in Matt Woodley’s living room (one of many times of prayer and worship there) at a music and tech team retreat this September.
Recorded at the Parish House
Bonnie McMaken: Lead Vocals, Background Vocals
Trevor McMaken: Piano, Keyboards, Guitar, Background Vocals
Lorent Meksi: Percussion
Sue Omanson: Mandolin
Rick Omanson: Percussion
Dan Peterson: Percussion
Rachel Wassink: Oboe
Jonathan Wiest: Cello
David Yeager: Violin, Background Vocals
With special guest vocalist, Steve Williamson, worship pastor at Church of the Resurrection singing on Sanctus.
Engineered, mixed, and mastered by Trevor McMaken
Mercies New (Lamentations 3) written by Bonnie McMaken, Trevor McMaken, Johannah Swank, © 2015.
In Your House (Psalm 84) written by Bonnie McMaken, © 2016.
City of Our God (Isaiah 61) written by Bonnie McMaken and Trevor McMaken, © 2015.
Sanctus (Isaiah 6; Matthew 18) written by Steve Williamson and Bonnie McMaken, © 2015.
Your Word (Isaiah 55) written by Trevor McMaken, © 2015.
Sleepers Awake (Isaiah 61) written by the RezArts songwriting retreat, © 2014.
Produced by City of Light Anglican Church, Aurora, IL
and The McMakens