In the fall of 2000, I arrived in Roseville, MN for my freshman year at Northwestern College. I knew a few people who were also starting their freshman years there, but I had put myself at the mercy of the housing department when it came to picking my two roommates. I ended up rooming with two guys both named Chris. We got along pretty well and I have lots of great memories from that year (including the time the cops came to school and confiscated a bunch of counterfeit Beanie Babies from a room on our hall). Chris T. was a musician too, so the two of us spent plenty of time talking about and playing music together while at NWC. It was Chris that introduced me to Enter the Worship Circle.
Enter the Worship Circle was an album featuring Waterdeep and a band called 100 Portraits which consisted of Ben and Robin Pasley. 100 Portraits had released two albums of avant-garde folk music before turning their attention to crafting acoustic worship songs. Enter the Worship Circle eventually turned into a full-fledged musician collective that released a number of albums under the same banner and featured many contributers. I was draw to this first offering because of my affinity for Waterdeep, but this album took on a life of its own for me.
Somewhere in the late 90’s, Christian music began to market some albums as “Worship Albums” and some as just “albums”. It some became apparent that “worship albums” sold really well and “worship” actually started to become an actual genre in and of itself (which, in my opinion, is pretty sad). Anyway, slapping the word “Worship” on an album seemed to ensure two things: that the album would become a best seller for the artist and that most of the songs on the album would be highly forgettable. Enter the Worship Circle broke the mold in a big way. It was recorded independently by two largely unknown bands and featured lyrical content that was beautifully poetic. The songs weren’t all just anagrams of previous worship songs, they were original and authentic. The unplugged nature of the recording also made the songs feel very personal. While most “worship albums” of the day were recordings of bands playing before thousands of people, this recording had maybe 6 people in the studio at a time. The recordings weren’t polished either, but were left feeling improvised and somewhat ragged. Word got around about this album and soon it had sold thousands upon thousands of copies. The Pasleys have spearheaded the releases of a number of followup albums and Ben has even written a book about worshipping God through authentic song, prayer and art.
In the film Garden State, Natalie Portman’s character recommends listening to The Shins saying “It’ll change your life”. When I think back and ask myself what albums have truly changed my life, this is the one that comes to mind immediately. This album changed the way I think about worshiping God through song. I used the free chord charts from the Worship Circle website to learn and play the songs myself and had many meaningful connections with God through them. It was and still is so refreshing to listen to a recording of people truly worshiping and not just recording or performing. This sort of thing has proven to be a rare find, so allow me to recommend that if you haven’t listen to Enter the Worship Circle, please do so soon. It’ll will change your life.