I have sung these words forever, ‘Hallelujah’ from my lips!
How I meant them in the moment, but in the moment failed the test
What a shame they’re so familiar, ‘cause I’m a beggar at my best
Singing like I sing forever and ever, and ever… Hallelujah!
—from “As A Saint” by Elias Dummer
Fifteen years ago, amidst churches coming together to transform the struggling steeltown of Hamilton, Ontario, Elias Dummer was inspired to start an interdenominational movement of students. They’d gather to worship in song and serving, and while it would change the landscape of student mission in his hometown, it was also the birth of a worship band that would go on to captivate audiences all over the world.
Winning the prestigious Juno Award (Canada’s Grammy) for “Christian Album of the Year” in 2012, along with nine GMA Covenant Awards, The City Harmonic released three critically acclaimed albums, charting success with songs like “I Have A Dream (It Feels Like Home),” “Mountaintop,” “Let There Be Light,” “Holy (Wedding Day),” and the seminal “Manifesto,” a declaration of faith, hope and unity that echoes in gatherings around the world to this day.
But in music, as in life, almost everything is seasonal. Health issues, growing families and frankly, the desire to get back to serving their churches led the band to lower the curtain, with the band playing their final show on April 29th of 2017.
For Elias, the pen and the voice audience know by heart, retiring the band makes it possible to get back to what launched it to begin with. “The City Harmonic was always about writing songs from the intersection of our different theological persuasions,” he says. “It was about being tied to the groundswell of what God is doing among the people and hopefully being a conduit for unity among churches.”
After almost two years of collaboration with his neighbor, pastor Travis Garner, Elias helped launched The Village, a vibrant United Methodist Church-plant in Nolensville, TN, in January 2016 and now one of the fastest growing UMC church plants in the country. Averaging over 600 people weekly, this growing community of believers and seekers from all walks of life and all denominational backgrounds—along with his wife, Meaghan, and their five children—is what fires his unique, theologically-rich approach to worship.
“I’ve been leading worship for over 20 years now,” says Elias, whose work has also appeared in Worship Leader Magazine, WorshipTogether and the Huffington Post. “There was a season when I thought being a worship leader was like being a lightning rod for God’s will, and a season when it was hard to think about it at all except in mechanistic or sociological terms,” but today, he approaches it differently, and it may be something we all need to hear.
“The worship leader’s job today is to help break the fifth wall,” he says, “to participate with the congregation, to be a pastor, a theologian, a translator, a cheerleader—to help people see Christ, in so see themselves in the right light. In that sense, you don’t get out of the way, you jump right into the thick of it… Worship is a humanizing practice that reorients us to God and, therefore, to each other. It’s not simply some spiritual experience, it helps us to remember what it means to be human at all.”
As pastoral, cultural and worship visionary for the church, the worship leader’s role to actively engage. “Engaging people is one of the most Christian things we can do,” he says, “to look them in the eye and lead them in songs that reflect what’s going on in our lives. In that moment, in the room, your role is to love your neighbor. That, in and of itself, is an act of worship.”
Sincerity, the pursuit of Jesus, being led by the Spirit, being rooted in community and in deep relationships with others, using language that people understand, he adds, …these make all the difference in a church subculture long confused by performance issues.
Currently at work on a collection of worship songs that fuse modern worship with liturgical practice, and born out of this hybrid worship found at The Village, Elias primary aim is suitably harmonic: “To give people songs to sing, yes—but more than that, to write songs that shape and equip people to be Jesus in their communities, and to lead in a way that inspires churches to do the same.”