Austin Stone Worship is a collective of artists who serve and equip the church with songs and resources rich in theology, mission, and expression. Their latest album, This Glorious Grace, is an intensely personal and yet wholly communal look into what God is doing within The Austin Stone Community Church and throughout the city of Austin. “The motivation for this album was to capture what’s already going on in our church,” says Aaron Ivey, Pastor of Worship for The Austin Stone Community Church. “These are the songs that engage our people.”
Founded in Austin, Texas in 2002, The Austin Stone Community Church exists to exalt the name of Jesus Christ in its city and around the world, and to welcome all people in worshipping Him. Austin is well known for its creative influence and community, and Austin Stone Worship couples the city’s creativity and culture with worship of Jesus Christ. This Glorious Grace stands as a unique reflection of worship at The Austin Stone Community Church.
Over the last 13 years, The Austin Stone Community Church has grown from 120 people meeting in a middle school cafeteria to a church serving the whole city with five locations and weekly attendance over 8,000. In the midst of this growth, the artists of the Stone sought to stay connected, even as they served all over Austin. Small, casual collaborations and friendships blossomed into more formal projects, and then grew into monthly gatherings for artists who lead the church in worship. The whole Austin Stone Worship collective—songwriters, worship leaders, musicians, writers, filmmakers, editors, and photographers—began to gather monthly for a meal, worship, encouragement, and communion. These nights quickly became an important rhythm for the Austin Stone Worship community.
Out of these nights of intimate worship, the vision for recording This Glorious Grace sprang to life. After an evening singing in the round with musicians from several worship bands, an idea took root: the album should be recorded live, at one of these monthly gatherings. When Ivey took this idea to Steven Bush, Lead Storyteller at The Austin Stone Community Church, it evolved further as they began to dream of the possibilities. What if they brought the talents of the church’s storytellers to bear on the project? What if they told the stories behind each song? What if they filmed the live recording and released it for free? Could they tell whole story of how this album came to be?
In the resulting films for This Glorious Grace, a three-tier chandelier hangs over the stage, casting a unified glow over the crowd. This centerpiece is a tangible icon of the collaboration below, where on a single night in May 2015, more than 70 artists worked to bring the project to life.
A gathering for artists to connect and worship Jesus inspired this full film and recording production. And though some circumstances had changed, the desire was still the same. With Jesus at the center, a community of artists came together to praise Him and magnify His name.
As much as the captured performances are a pure expression of the worship culture at The Austin Stone Community Church, the songwriting is also intensely personal.
Rising out of a church that values both worship and the Word, This Glorious Grace is suffused with biblical truth expressed uniquely through the songwriters’ lives. When Marcus Dawes wrote “Gracious Redeemer,” he not only captured the grand story of the gospel, but he also captured his own story of redemption. Reflecting on a season of struggle and sin, Marcus distilled the source of our desperation to a single confession: “I was lost in sin, held captive by my fear.” But Marcus’s sin and fear is not without answer, and neither is ours. We’ve been delivered from sin, redeemed, and restored as sons and daughters of the King. So we can then declare along with him that, “My God, You came and made a way for me.” Just like “Gracious Redeemer,” each track on this album carries its own backstory, and each is featured in the 11 accompanying story-behind-the-song films.
Beyond the songs, the artists behind This Glorious Grace each have their unique stories. One of the most unlikely stories comes from Jaleesa McCreary. McCreary leads the live audience on the title track for the album, but five years ago, something like this seemed impossible.
In 2010, McCreary was a vocal performance major at Texas State University when she was diagnosed with cysts on her vocal chords. Doctors informed her she might never sing again. Within a week of diagnosis, she underwent surgery to remove the cysts.
The prospect of losing her voice led McCreary to question her purpose, but God was using those questions for her good. She was not wholeheartedly pursuing Jesus then, and her mother kept reassuring her, “We just have to trust the Lord with this.”
McCreary remembers asking herself, What does that mean? I don’t actually know how to do that. After the surgery, the results were better than expected, but the doctors still did not expect her to recover her singing voice. From that moment on, the Lord revealed to her exactly what it looked like to trust Him.
McCreary had been attending The Austin Stone Community Church for a few months. She applied and was accepted as an intern working on social media at the Stone. Her voice started to recover through therapy. She started trying to sing jazz instead of the opera she pursued before. God began to strip away pride she had always felt in her singing. McCreary learned to trust Him, and she learned her identity was not in her voice, but in Christ. Her voice grew stronger, and she found herself leading worship for students. It grew stronger still and she was asked to lead worship during Advent. After Advent, she was a regularly leading worship at The Austin Stone Community Church’s Downtown campus.
Now, McCreary finds herself singing words on the title track of this record that resonate deeply in her soul. When she sings the opening lines of “This Glorious Grace,” she sees a sweetness in the lyrics that others may not. “I think they are so personal. I need you, every breath, every pulse of my heart,” she quotes. “It’s His glorious grace that we can believe that it’s true. They’re not just words we say. They’re actually true.”
This Glorious Grace is more than a worship album—it’s a full body of resources for the global church, for worship leaders and individual worshippers alike. For each song on the album, Austin Stone Worship released a film of the live recording, the story behind the song, a theology paper, and other free resources for worship leaders and musicians. The films, stories, and resources for this project flow from a desire to bless and serve the people of The Austin Stone Community Church and churches around the world.
“God is infinitely worthy of more praise,” Ivey says. “There need to be more congregations all over the globe sitting in living rooms, cathedrals, arenas, and backyards worshiping Jesus. He deserves more worship.”