The Book of Common Prayer is a 16th century treasure still used on a daily basis by many devout Christians all over the world. For Greg LaFollette, a Nashville-based musician and producer (Audrey Assad, Andrew Belle, Andrew Peterson), an introductory brush with the canonical work gave way to a beautiful new creative journey—one rooted in liturgy, worship and community.
Songs of Common Prayer is LaFollette’s latest sonic endeavor, an album whose lyrics are taken from (or inspired by) the Book of Common Prayer. The album features some of LaFollette’s musician friends like Sara Groves, Sarah Masen and more. We recently asked LaFollette about his personal faith journey and his hopes for the new thematic record.
RELEVANT: Can you tell us about the genesis of this project? How long have you had this idea?
Greg LaFollette: After growing up Baptist, then bouncing around at non-denominational gatherings and a couple of fizzled-out house churches, I crash landed at an Anglican service for the first time four years ago. Since then, the Book of Common Prayer and its liturgical approach to worship and life has shaped my relationship with God profoundly. I am captivated and inspired by its intention, expansiveness, and beauty.
The Church has always endeavored to set her prayers and confessions to music. In creating Songs of Common Prayer, I wanted to join the cloud of witnesses who have contributed art to the Church for the purpose of bringing people together in worship. Songs of Common Prayer is a collection of songs taken directly from or inspired by the Book of Common Prayer.
I hope these songs will be a reminder that what unites us is greater than what divides us; that every denominational difference is not an insurmountable division. May we learn to bear with one another as we become more truly God’s one, holy and catholic church.
RELEVANT: For those who aren’t familiar or maybe only familiar with the title, what exactly is the Book of Common Prayer?
Greg: The Book of Common Prayer was written and compiled in the 16th century by Thomas Cranmer. It offers a structure for corporate worship services as well as daily devotion. It was a centerpiece in the Protestant revolution and is still used widely across many denominations. It includes beautiful prayers for occasions from ‘For Peace Among the Nations’ to ‘Grace at Meals.’ ‘For the Unity of the Church’ is particularly in line with the aim of my new record:
O God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, our only Savior, the Prince of Peace: Give us grace seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions; take away all hatred and prejudice, and whatever else may hinder us from godly union and concord; that, as there is but one Body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all, so we may be all of one heart and of one soul, united in one holy bond of truth and peace, of faith and charity, and may with one mind and one mouth glorify you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
RELEVANT: You mentioned trying other styles or gatherings before landing in an Anglican church. Were you surprised by your response to the Anglican tradition and order?
Greg: Yeah, totally. I was magnetized by the grandeur of the service: the robes, the ornate cross, the procession, chanted psalms; I was in. There was so much thought and symbolism in all of the movements. I am still enamored with the moving of the gospel reading off of the stage and into the center of the people where everyone orients toward it. It’s a beautiful reminder of incarnation.
I’m currently serving as the director of arts and liturgy in a Baptist church plant that practices a lot of these traditions, and it is a beautiful synthesis.
RELEVANT: You’ve certainly been involved with other musical projects, but this sounds like something that’s a synthesis of several various elements that make up who you are. Does that make this feel perhaps more personal or at least representative of you than others?
Greg: Yeah, it does. One of the primary issues with liturgy is that it can become rote and uninhabited; I get that. There is also a benefit to constancy and declaring things to be true even when they don’t seem like they are or we don’t feel like it. Liturgy allows us to bring our honest emotions, true desires, and ordinary offerings to God while enjoying the freedom of its inherent boundaries. It brings us closer to actually worshipping in spirit and truth.
So, while the songs are decidedly personal to me, they are ultimately intended for the Church. This record is distinct because it feels raw and intimate while remaining congregational.
RELEVANT: We’d love to hear more about the guests on this project. How did you know who you wanted to work with?
Greg: Primarily I wanted guests who could bring themselves honestly to the recordings; I was looking for presence much more than perfection. With that as a touchstone, I reached out to some of my favorite singers. I’ve worked on a few projects with Sara Groves and have admired her art for years. Sarah Masen has one of the most emotive voices I’ve ever heard. Based on a recommendation from a friend, I caught Taylor Leonhardt on a trip through Nashville. There are many other great singers and musicians who shaped the songs profoundly and the record would not be the same without them.
A communal approach felt appropriate. A record called Songs of Common Prayer should be marked by gathering, sharing, and a native sense of belonging.
The last thing I recorded was a group vocal session. I invited professionals as well as a few friends who don’t consider themselves to be singers. There were pancakes, mimosas, and Saturday shorts, poetry, laughter, and fresh friendships. I always want my music to have this kind of open door, assuring listeners that they are wanted and welcome—that there is a place for them.