On Wednesday, March 23, Wheaton hosted Christian singer Andrew Peterson in chapel — where he performed some of his worship songs for students — and at an evening concert. The concert, held in Edman Chapel, was open to students, staff, faculty and the general public and sold around 600 tickets. The Chaplain’s Office, College Union and the Conservatory collaborated to bring Peterson to Wheaton and to organize the event.
Peterson, who lives in Nashville, is a Christian folk singer-songwriter and the author of a popular children’s fantasy series called “The Wingfeather Saga” as well as two nonfiction books, including a memoir. Peterson has released 17 albums in his 26-year career and is best known for his song “Is He Worthy?”. According to the evangelical organization The Gospel Coalition, his style of worship music combines biblical allusions and scriptural imagery, a childlike wonder toward the world, and an authentic faith that is “firm in its grasp of the truth and yet honest in its experience of doubt or suffering.”
Jessie Taetz, the worship arts coordinator in the Chaplain’s Office, explained that Chaplain Greg Waybright was involved in bringing Peterson back to perform. Peterson was last in Wheaton for chapel on Oct. 14, 2016.
“ pushed hard to invite him back to campus, especially given that this is the Year of the Arts, Faith, and Imagination,” said Taetz. “He felt strongly that Andrew’s musicality, spirituality and creative process would fit in well with our larger theme this year.”
Waybright thought that the hopefulness expressed in Peterson’s lyrics would work well at the College, especially since this year’s school verse — Isaiah 61:3 — is centered around cultivating beauty, joy and vision.
“The lyrics of his songs often address issues that are much like the Psalms but rarely occur in our current church music,” said Waybright. “They are honest while, at the same time, never lacking some element of the hope of the gospel. I felt this would serve us well here.”
Peterson first appeared in chapel on the morning of March 23. After an introduction by Chaplain Waybright, Peterson performed a couple of his songs for the student body. In between the songs, he shared stories about his life and faith journey.
The evening concert on March 23 had a similar format. Throughout the 90-minute set, Peterson performed both with a small band and on his own. Susannah Bennett, a junior computer science major, described Peterson’s intimate and personalized performance.
“Between every song, Peterson told a story of what something meant and why he wrote it, and it brought every song to life in a way,” Bennett said. “If I hadn’t gone to the concert, I would have never known about his life through songs or what God has been teaching him.”
English professor Jim Beitler attended the concert with his family and commented on Peterson’s artistic style. “Peterson weaves together music, storytelling and worship beautifully,” said Beitler. “This was one of our boys’ first concerts, and we were so glad that we brought them along.”
Hannah Poole, a freshman psychology major, was also touched by the Edman concert. “Peterson’s music spoke to some of the insecurities I’ve been experiencing in my faith journey,” said Poole. “His music is so raw and emotional, and it just reminded me of the ways all of us as Christians all feel that way sometimes.”
Two student musicians, juniors Amber Smith and Annie Rhoads, opened the concert with a performance of original songs. The juniors are members of Storytelling Project, a team of student creatives who make art by listening to the stories of other students within the Wheaton community. Director of Intercultural Arts and Media Stevener Gaskin, who oversees Storytelling Project, invited Smith and Rhoads to perform because their style of folk music is similar to Peterson’s.
“It was so much fun when it came together,” said Smith. “We were originally going to do some cover songs, but then Stevener and the Chaplain’s Office got back to us and they approved us to do three originals. So it’s really cool that we got to sing the songs we had written.”
Rhoads, who also played guitar during the concert, has experience in leading worship, while Smith, who played piano, has performed in theater. However, the experience of performing in a live concert was new for both of them.
“It was such a fun experience to be able to share the platform with Amber and perform some of our original songs,” said Rhoads. “It was an honor to be able to open for Andrew Peterson and surely a memory that will remain bright in my mind for a long time.”
Waybright highlighted the impact of the concert on him personally. “I believe God used Andrew to speak to many of us while he was here,” Waybright said. “I know I was encouraged by Andrew’s presence and his ministry.”