Activist, Priest and veteran recording artist Garth Hewitt talks with Sam Hailes about his 40 year ministry dedicated to speaking up for the oppressed and downtrodden.
Garth Hewitt has been writing and recording music for 40 years. Although he has released over 30 albums and toured around the world, music isn’t at the centre of his life. As an Anglican priest, Garth has dedicated his life to service, and often speaks out for oppressed people around the world.
Many of his nine books are about social and religious issues. Justice is also at the heart of Garth’s work with the Amos Trust – an organization he founded 25 years ago to “promote justice among forgotten communities”. The activist's work has been praised by many within the Christian community, including Sir Cliff Richard, who describes the musician as a “gifted and devoted servant of God”.
1. Out of your many releases, which are your favourite albums?
We’re just in the process of re-releasing part of my back catalogue. We’ve released three so far, including Lonesome Troubadour. The producer was Mark Heard - a remarkable musician and writer. We’d just got permission from the record company to do a second album with Mark when he died. It was tragic. I think he did something for me, musically which stretched and gave me more confidence in doing my own style.
We’re also re-releasing Scars which I did in Nashville. While I was recording it, George Hamilton IV asked me if I would come and sing a song at the Grand Ole Opry so I came and sang the song When Johnny Cash Sang Men In Black. I’d never sang it live before and I sang it first at the Grand Ole Opry, which I count as very significant.
2. How did you become a Christian?
I suppose my understanding of things started very young. However the process of making it my own was culminated when I heard Martin Luther King at St Paul’s Cathedral. It was as if everything had been turned into a circle. I saw that the lifestyle of Jesus, the way of justice, the way of caring for others, loving your neighbor, loving God. All of that was tied together in one circle. I don’t think my views ever drastically changed after that.
3. Do you view your music as being evangelistic?
I think my motivation for starting music was partly to do with evangelism. I wanted to be faithful to the art and creativity, but I wanted to tell the story of what motivated me. If I’m faithful to reflecting gospel values then there is an evangelistic impact. If you look at the times when I’ve strongly campaigned, there isn’t any absence of the wholeness of the gospel message.
4. What’s the best Christian book you have ever read?
A Book of Hours by Thomas Merton is a book I keep reading. I had cancer last year and had a big operation. When I was convalescent I’d get up every morning at 5am and sit quietly and read it. It spoke to me in an incredible way. He’s a monk from the 1960s but he seems to have some insights that I’ve found very helpful and very inspiring. It’s helped me to pause and pray.
5. When did you first become interested in the Israel/Palestine situation?
One time in the early 80s I picked up an article and it talked about the Holy Land and the Palestinians. I had just never considered them in any sense of equality. I felt ashamed. It opened my eyes to ask: ‘In what sense do I value that community?’
I picked up a book by Elias Chacour who is now bishop of Galilee. As a child, he was in one of the villages that the Israelis expelled people from. There was a massacre in his area. He talks about the way his father told him to love the Israelis and how they’d suffered in the Holocaust. His principles of peace and justice shook me.
Greenbelt invited him over and during the peace at the communion service he came to me and said: ‘Can we do this in Galilee?’ I’d never been. So I went over there and it was the time of the first intifada. It opened my eyes to what was going on and the suffering of the Palestinian people.
6. There seems to be a status quo in the region, that no one is happy with. What is the way forward?
The one thing I’ve always stayed committed to is I’d like to call myself pro Palestinian and pro Israeli. I believe the future for Israel is in relationship with its neighbours and it starts with a good relationship with the Palestinians.
7. What is the Amos Trust doing to help achieve peace?
It started with linking with the churches in Palestine and inside Israel. We tried to reflect the voices of the people, particularly from the Palestinian community. We work with them and with peacemakers from the Jewish and Muslim communities as well.
We take people over there to see first hand so they can pray, tell churches about it and campaign. We’ve also tried to make sure that people get away from stereotypes and views whereby you denigrate one person or another.
8. Do you see your work as political or theological?
I think theology is always political because the Bible is political. I don’t read into the Bible a sort of road map. I see it as the principles of Jesus and the Prophets shows us the way to behave and in that sense we can follow guidelines.
9. What has God been teaching you recently?
I’m reading a book called The Holy Longing. And it’s been teaching me something about the Church and about the community that we’re called to be. And to understand our hopes, longings and passions and how it all leads us on this journey that I’ve found has refreshed my vision and understanding of what we should be as a church community.
10. What does 2012 have in store for you?
I’m working on a couple of music projects of which one is I’m setting music to old hymns on worship and justice that were written in the 1840s.
I’m also putting out a double album of songs of worship on the theme of justice. It’s a compilation of songs I’ve written over the years, plus some new ones.
We’re re-releasing a book I wrote in the 80s called Nero’s Watching Video. It’s the story of journeys that I took to different places. It was my education in going to the third world and seeing what the nature of poverty is. It made me significantly aware of why we should be on the side of justice.
March 21st, 2012 - Posted & Written by Sam Hailes