“After they had prayed, the place where they were gathered together became shaken, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit and walked away, speaking the Word of God with boldness.” Acts 4:31 It’s been four short years since Casey J made her gospel debut, The Truth, which launched massive hits like “Fill Me Up” and “I’m Yours” and landed the full-time elementary school teacher a Stellar Award for “New Artist of the Year.” Since then, she’s traveled the world and sang for hundreds of thousands of church people alongside the biggest gospel music stars on the planet. As much as she loved the opportunities and enjoyed the accolades, the experience left her burdened for those beyond church walls.
“I started to realize that God is not for the elite, but He is for the hungry,” she says. “He is for the people who want to meet Him, not just for the ones who are dressed up. He loves them,” she says. And the good news of the Gospel is for them.
As sure as she knew her name, God called her, saying: “Go where the people are.”
So in addition to leaving her day job and embarking on a new professional course — starting her own label imprint and launching a new creative business — Casey began taking her music to the streets. She began hosting “Pop Up Worship” gatherings in the neighborhood park near her Atlanta home with a few friends, a few guitars and no agenda but to lift up the name of Jesus. Pure and simple. “We started going to coffee shops, any place, and we just loved on people. We never asked them for anything. We never condemned them. We didn’t care what you looked like. We had people clearly on drugs just walking up, taking a seat and joining in.”
That nontraditional approach to worship gatherings turned into a non-traditional approach to recording when Casey decided it was time for a new album. No sterile studio environment for her. Instead, she and an eclectic group of 50 friends gathered at a nearby farm. There, while standing on rugs from her grandmother’s house in front of a roaring outdoor fireplace, she recorded songs that reveal who God is for local church folks who gather in corporate worship each week, but also for people who are not connected with the local church. The goal? To build a bridge where people can meet God from wherever they are.
Appropriately titled The Gathering, Casey’s sophomore project may be unlike any worship album you’ve heard before. Organic, spontaneous and without cliché, hype or restraint, this project hinges on speaking a common language, on being a conduit, an open door through which the Spirit can move. “I wanted to make music that is scripturally sound enough that we could sing it at a church that is 300 years old,” Casey says, “but it is told in such a way that if it is your first time hearing the concept of grace, you can still wrap your mind around it.”
Creatively co-produced by John Webb, Jr., with all but one song written or co-written by Casey over a two-week songwriting intensive, the album evolves in three distinctive sections: the invitation, the encounter — a series of stories in song that reveal the calling and nature of God — and the response.
The title track makes the invitation and the intention of the entire album clear: “We have gathered here together with one agenda and it is You alone… Come, we’re ready for Your presence… we’re desperate, hearts are open. Jesus, come…” Incorporating parts of the Lord’s prayer, “The Gathering” sets the tone and the transparency of the whole album.
From there, songs like “Creation Testifies,” “Hosanna” and “A Thousand Hallelujahs,” all reflect on the character and nature of God and echo back what it means when “heaven and nature sing.” Casey believes that as people join in praise together, we mirror what is also transpiring in heaven — cross-cultural, cross-generational, transformative worship that affirms one’s identity, place and hope in Jesus.
Part of encountering God, discovering the character of God, is the powerful song, “Adopted.” It’s a concept that anyone can understand, even those who have yet to begin a relationship with God. For Casey, who lost her father at a very young age, it’s as personal as worship can get. “Songs like these,” she says, “are meant to introduce or reaffirm or reestablish these really basic concepts of the nature of God. Adoption isn’t this mystical thing that takes two hours to explain, but when you start singing ‘You have made us sons and daughters so forever you’re our Father’ you can feel the connection in the room. If they’re crying, you’ll hear it. If they’re singing, you’ll hear it. In every song, you will hear the response of the people. They are my guest artists. So in every song, you hear their hearts.”
If no one knows me, still His heart adores me
I am safe, I am loved and I healed.
“If God,” a beautiful ballad that includes a refrain of the old hymn “Nothing But the Blood of Jesus,” serves as one of the most poignant, intimate moments on the album. It’s the kind of moment Casey is especially hopeful in. “We are trying to plant seeds that allow people to sing truth over their own lives — to find themselves in a space for God to speak — and I hope that as people sing truths about what God thinks of them, they begin to believe it down deep.”
In these and all the songs of The Gathering, Casey walks out her calling to lift the name of Jesus high, depending solely on Him to do the work in people’s hearts.
“I’ve always kind of felt like ‘little worship orphan Annie,’ with no mentor of my own,” says Casey, who wears ‘Abba’ tattooed on her arm. “But what I felt God affirming in me was ‘If you will allow me to lead you, I will mentor you, and then you never have to worry about replicating and duplicating what someone has already done, because I am telling you what to say, and I am telling you what to sing, and I will father you in the places that you are un-fathered.’ So for me, it’s a reminder that when I step on a platform, I am already affirmed, I am already adopted, I am already everything to God, and so I don’t have the pressure of being anything to anybody else.”