Gettys’ famous hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ was written on back of NIE bill in former pigsty

It has been 20 years since Keith Getty scribbled down the melody for what was to become one of the most sung songs in the world.

Monday, 29th March 2021, 8:00 am
Keith and Kirstyn Getty

Recalling the time when Christian hymn ‘In Christ Alone’ was written Keith said: “I’d come back from college and I was travelling a lot. When I was home, I was living in Lisburn and working in a converted pigsty nextdoor.

“I wrote the tune on the back of a Northern Ireland Electricity bill.

“I played it to a friend – Stuart Townend – he thought it was fantastic. He said, ‘what’s your vision for it?’ I told him about this kind of creedal hymn, going through everything that Christians believe, what their faith is, kind of like an Apostle’s Creed – a creedal statement of the Christian faith.

“I came up with the title and he wrote the hymn. The melody came first before a word was written.”

It’s believed over 100 million people in the world have sung In Christ Alone and many rankings have it as the fourth most popular song of the millennium.

Describing the feeling when the song is sung by a congregation, Keith said: “It feels amazing, as a hymn writer my identity isn’t tied up in how I perform the song.

“Whether it’s the little church my friend helps with in Nigeria or whether it’s a big megachurch or an arena somewhere, it doesn’t matter. The goal of being a hymn writer is to write a song that lots of people can sing at once.”

The Gettys at home on the north coast

Keith said lockdown had not curtailed people’s desire for Christian songs: “Churches have been meeting online and singing songs.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in the use of our hymns locally since coronavirus started, simply because our hymns are much more thoughtful lyrics, they’re about the greatness of God in every context of life.

“The modern praise song movement is more about short songs that make you feel really happy, that require a pop band.

“I actually think people are more in the mood for hymns, because you can sing them anywhere, you don’t need a band and also hymns are much more deep in their understanding of God and much more honest about the fact that life is full of struggles.

“We’ve been writing hymns for 20 years. It was Easter 20 years ago that ‘In Christ Alone’ was performed for the first time. We certainly have seen a bigger rise in our songs in the last year than in any point in history.”

In Christ Alone was not a one hit wonder. With millions of people across the world singing their hymns every year, the Getty Evensong album knocked Frozen off the Billboard charts in the USA.

Keith said: “All albums that have got the word lullaby in their title or subtitle get listed as children’s albums.

“It was number one on Billboard, it knocked Frozen off number one. It had been number one for 43 weeks. That was a fun little statistic.”

In addition their Sing! festival is now the largest church music festival of all time.

Discussing faith in times of Covid, Keith said: “A lot of people have suffered during this time a lot more than we have. Whether it’s emotionally and relationally or physically and financially, I’m deeply concerned for those whom that has been the case for.

“The link between God and suffering is a complex one that requires a lot of thought and empathetic listening.

“In contrast to the first 20 years of this new millennia, more people actually were confronting the reality of death.

“People have had more time to be at home with the ones we love and live life at a slower pace. I think in a lot of ways it has been really profound in building up the Christian faith for us, for sure.”

Born and bred in Lisburn and Belfast, Keith and Kristyn have for years split their time between their homes in NI and Nashville, while performing and touring across multiple continents.

Lockdown has brought about a longer than planned stay in the Province with their four young daughters.

Keith said: “Coming back to Ireland has been really special. We’ve lived the last 15 years at this insane speed.

“Growing up in Co Antrim it’s a privilege I thought I’d never have. I’m always thankful for it but at the same time this has been a much healthier way to live.”

Approaching their 17th wedding anniversary, the couple have never spent a night apart since they’ve been married.

Keith said: “We’ve managed over 1,000 flights between us and we’ve managed to organise them all so that we’ve landed in the same city on the same night.”

• At Home With The Gettys is on BBC One NI on Thursday night at 10.45pm

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