Hymns and Hope

What Bruce Benedict brings to Hope College

This article was also published in the October 15, 2014 issue of The Anchor on page 9.  


Photo Courtesy of Hope College

Bruce Benedict and I are sitting in a meeting room in the Keppel House at Hope College deeply engaged in an interview.  We are 30 minutes in and just beginning to touch on what brought Benedict to Hope.

Trygve Johnson, dean of the chapel, enters the doorway ignoring Benedict, motioning for Johnson to be quiet and pointing at the voice recorder.

“I would just like to say,” Johnson interrupts, “that Bruce Benedict is beautiful, substantive, creative, visionary. A man who is going to create an aesthetic that will immerse us and launch us into the high country of the Trinity. We will sing the songs of the faith, old and new, with such an eloquence that it will inspire generations yet to come to proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord…Bruce Benedict ladies and gentlemen. He’s awesome!”  Johnson walks away mumbling to himself about his love and appreciation for Benedict.

“I’m going to play that when I’m feeling depressed,” Benedict says laughing.  The interview continues.

Benedict is new to the Hope College community.  He moved to Holland, Michigan with his wife PJ this past summer when he began serving as the chaplain of worship music on campus. Benedict has many passions including, but not limited to, music, college students, and retuning old hymns.  All of which he plans to blend together in this new position.

At Hope, Benedict leads worship at Chapel on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and also at the Gathering on Sunday evenings.  Benedict grew up playing piano; however, he plays acoustic and electric guitar on the worship team.

He doesn’t take the stage with the bold confidence of some worship leaders. Rather, he leads with a large smile and eyes focused on the heavens above.

“I actually have horrible stage fright, and especially leading worship because of how the modern worship leader is viewed because of our conceptions of worship leader as sort of rock band leader,” Benedict said. “Initially I was just always frightened. It was hilarious … It really is a natural way that God has wired me to be an actually good worship leader… I don’t want to be the center of attention,” Benedict said.

Being on a college campus isn’t new to Benedict. “It feels like home,” he said about working with college students. Benedict’s father taught psychology at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Benedict spent a lot of time there while growing up.

Prior to coming to Hope, Benedict started Cardiphonia, a collaborative project to share liturgy and traditional hymns that have been set to contemporary music.

Benedict has worked multiple church settings and engaged in a many church traditions with different musical backgrounds.

“We need as much music as possible because different kinds of music have a wonderful way of just moving different parts of us,” Benedict said.

Although his main experience living overseas was in England while PJ was in school, Benedict said he plans to encourage students to engage in the global society, another idea he has explored through Cardiphonia, as outlined in Hope’s mission statement. He has already begun to do this by incorporating “Let the Spirit of the Lord Come Down,” a Nigerian folk worship song into one of the services he led. This song was new to Hope students.

“One of the great things about living in London is that the whole world lives there … Every single day I would hear 10 to 15 different languages,” Benedict said.

“It’s one thing to sort of talk about globalism, and it’s another to experience it … The Kingdom of God is pan-national: it’s international. And we need opportunities to reflect and celebrate all the different places where God is worshipped … Music is such a great way to remind people that there are more songs than just our songs.”

Benedict’s passion for hymns was sparked long before he pursued studying them further.

“When I got a little bit older, my dad and I, anytime we were together, we were singing hymns. We would always take turns singing all the parts … It was kind of like vocal ping pong that we would play,” Benedict said.

Because his parents were trained in classical music, music played a big role in Benedict’s life. However, he didn’t start to seriously consider music as one of his main passions until high school.  A friend convinced him to join a choir. Then, Terri Willard, the choir director who would become one of the most influential people in Benedict’s life, encouraged Benedict to audition for the school musical. The auditions took place during the same time that Benedict had been planning to try out for the varsity basketball team.

 “The auditions were like the same kind of time period, and I just had this realization about half way through the end of both these things where I was like ‘You know, I don’t know. I don’t really like the basketball coach that much. And I actually am enjoying hanging out with the musical theater people a lot more than I thought’ … That sort of set me on whole different path I think in some ways. I started taking music a lot more seriously,” Benedict said.

Although college ministry was not always in Benedict’s plan, students are happy to have Benedict on campus.

“He’s definitely doing a great job with being inclusive in worship, as well as balancing that with new things as to grow students almost intellectually as well as spiritually. And that, it, might be subtle or more forward, and that takes various different forms,” Aaron Goodyke said. Goodyke is Benedict’s student assistant and a member of the Hope worship team.

“Bruce is super nice. He’s really relaxed and easy going, but, just really, he’s really fun. We just really love him. We love his southern accent,” Sarah Carpenter said of her and the other members of the Hope worship team. Carpenter is new to the worship team. The vocalist’s face lit up with joy when she began talking about working with Benedict.

Benedict said he is looking forward to what the rest of the year will bring and that he loves being able to connect with college students.

“We are loving it. We love Hope,” Benedict said, referring to him and PJ, with a huge smile of excitement on his face.

Benedict has been able to accomplish so much already this semester, especially in incorporating his prior experiences into the atmosphere of Hope, but there are still some things that he hasn’t had the chance to explore yet.

“I’m still really waiting for someone to ask me to play Frisbee golf. So I would say that if anything I really need someone to ask me out to play a disc golf round … I’m nervous I’m going to do it wrong. I’m going to hit a professor or something,” Benedict said.

Other Resources

  • Hope College Worship on Bandcamp
  • Review of “All Hail Christ,” Bruce’s first album with the Hope College worship team