The first time I heard Carolyn Arends in concert I was wrestling with no small amount of envy. She was opening for Rich Mullins on the Brother’s Keeper tour on November 12, 1995, and the show was at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. At that point I was in Bible College in Florida. I had only ever driven through Nashville on the way to somewhere else, but since I’d never seen Rich Mullins live, and since Jamie and I were considering moving to Music City to make a go at this whole songwriting thing, it seemed like as good an excuse as any to visit.
The afternoon of the show my friend Mark told me about the opener, this new artist named Carolyn Arends (pronounced like “errands”), and how she was like a female Rich Mullins. That afternoon with some skepticism I unfolded the cassette tape and read through her lyrics. I fashioned myself something of a lyric snob, so I wanted to investigate this person whom Rich evidently thought good enough to bring on tour. I was captivated. Before I had heard a note of her music, I was in love with her songwriting. There was a deftness and attention to detail in her words that was rare and humbling. That night during her set she talked about how geeked out she was about playing the Ryman (she even took a picture of the crowd to document it), and that was my first clue that the Ryman was someplace special. Her demeanor was winsome and humble, and it was immediately clear that she belonged on that stage with Rich and Ashley Cleveland. After the concert I approached the stage and thanked her for her songs, and then I tried to weasel my way in to meet Rich. (I’ve written about that embarrassing moment elsewhere.)
The point is, I’ve admired Carolyn for the last twenty-four years. Not only has she consistently released record after record of truly great songs, she’s also written countless essays for Christianity Today–essays that are as winsome and humble as her stage presence that night at the Ryman. Her prose is as deft as her lyrics, and it glows with an effortless kindness and wisdom. You can tell she’s not putting it on. It’s hard to imagine Carolyn not smiling while she’s writing. Those essays were collected in a book called Wrestling With Angels, which I devoured. She also wrote Living the Questions and Theology in Aisle Seven, both of which I plan to devour as soon as possible.
But she’s so much more than just a good songwriter and essayist. As you’ll remember if you’ve been around the Rabbit Room for the last few years, we’ve partnered with the Renovaré Book Club a few times–Renovaré is a ministry founded by Richard J. Foster, where Carolyn is the Director of Education. I grabbed this from her bio on their website:
“She’s written and released 12 albums and is the author of three critically acclaimed books. 15 of Carolyn’s songs have become top 10 radio singles on the Canadian pop and US Christian charts. Carolyn has earned two Dove Awards, three Juno Nominations, and was recognized as the West Coast Music Awards’ Songwriter of the Year. Her prose has been recognized by The Word Guild, The Evangelical Press Association and The Canadian Church Press Awards.
In addition to her busy touring and speaking schedule, Carolyn has been a regular columnist for Christianity Today and is an adjunct professor at ACTS Seminary, Pacific Life Bible College, and Columbia Bible College. She has a degree in Psychology and English from Trinity Western University and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from Regent College. She lives in Surrey, BC with her husband, Mark, and their children Benjamin and Bethany.
Like I said, she’s so much more than a songwriter. It’s my great pleasure to tell you that Carolyn is coming to Nashville in October to share that winsome, humble wisdom with us at Hutchmoot. We’ve emailed back and forth quite a bit over the years, but I think this will be the first time we’ve met since that night at the Ryman Auditorium in 1995. I was an instant fan back then, but my admiration for her and the way she’s stewarded her gifts has grown deeper and deeper over the years. I can’t wait to for her to share those gifts with the Rabbit Room.
Andrew Peterson is a singer-songwriter and author. Andrew has released more than ten records over the past twenty years, earning him a reputation for songs that connect with his listeners in ways equally powerful, poetic, and intimate. As an author, Andrew’s books include the four volumes of the award-winning Wingfeather Saga, released in collectible hardcover editions through Random House in 2020, and his creative memoir, Adorning the Dark, released in 2019 through B&H Publishing.