London calling: Baptist wins song contest

“You Are There” by Baptist worship leader Giles Blankenship was named top song in Integrity Music Europe’s international “Search for a Song” competition.

By Bob Allen

The minister of worship at CBF-affiliated Snyder Memorial Baptist Church in Fayetteville, N.C., is London-bound after winning a worldwide worship music contest.

On Tuesday Integrity Music Europe named Giles Blankenship’s “You Are There” winner of its 2013 “Search for a Song” competition.

giles blankenshipBlankenship, a 39-year-old Campbell University Divinity School graduate who is celebrating his 10th anniversary at Snyder Memorial this month, told the Fayetteville Observer he received notification of his winning entry while working at the church.

"One of our administrative assistants asked if I could take a call," Blankenship said. "I answered the phone and there was a guy with an English accent on the other end. That's when it hit me. I must have sounded like I was going to pass out, because he kept asking, 'Are you all right? Are you all right?'"

Blankenship said he is flying to London this weekend to record the song for future use by the company. "It's truly a dream for me and a blessing," he said.

During July more than 280 songs were submitted to WeAreWorship.com. Entries submitted from across the globe attracted over 1.2 million Facebook likes and shares. The top five vote-getters went before a panel of performers and music engineers, who selected the winner.

Blankenship, a self-proclaimed band geek who tried his hand at writing his first songs at 16, wrote “You Are There” in 2008. He was working with Lars Gordon, a high-school student at the time who was learning guitar. Gordon showed him a cool lick, and Blankenship began roughing out some accompaniment chords.

Blankenship had been meditating on Psalm 139 and began phrasing lyrics about God’s enduring presence amid joy, pain, celebration and loss.

Blankenship, who has recorded five albums, said “You Are There” is one of a handful of all the songs he has written that have risen to the top and been affirmed by the church again and again.

He picked two songs he thought fit the contest’s focus and conducted an informal poll of his friends on Facebook about which one he should enter. “You Are There” was the overwhelming choice.

Blankenship said he thinks the song gains strength because it arises from a biblical text and deals in an honest way with the psalm’s theme of the ups and downs in the journey of faith.

“Sometimes we do ‘rise to the highest heavens,’” Blankenship said in an e-mail interview last month. “And sometimes – whether through a ‘hell’ of our own making or through no choice of our own whatsoever – we, nevertheless, find ourselves there, but we are reminded that God is with us in every circumstance.”

John Cook, pastor of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church, said he was not surprised that Blankenship’s song was selected winner in this year’s competition.

“Giles has a voice from heaven and a heart to match it,” Cook said in a statement on the We Are Worship website. “We are so blessed by his ministry with us every week and we know other local churches will be blessed as his song is shared more widely."

To listen to the song, click here.

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