Why Lynn Harrison is shifting the balance from ministry back to music
Lynn Harrison performs at MooseFest: celebrating 5 years of Roots Music Canada, a one-night festival in honour of this website June 4 at Toronto’s TRANZAC. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Show starts at 7 p.m. Get your tickets HERE
When singer-songwriter Lynn Harrison took up Unitarian ministry in 2010, it was about trying to find the right balance in her life between music and everything else.
Now, seven years after devoting herself pretty well full-time to parish ministry, she’s leaving it behind, again in search of that elusive balance that so many artists struggle to find – between the precarity of supporting oneself as an artist and the demands of just about anything else one commits to.
“Seven years is about the limit for me,” she said of the vocation, which she’ll retire from in the fall, though she plans to continue preaching on a freelance basis.
“Anybody who has been a frontline worker through this period of time, has experienced the emotional demands of serving people through a collective trauma. … And I have to say, I’ve been extremely grateful for the music through all of that because it was a lifeline for me.”
As the world struggles to deal with existential threats such as the climate crisis, geopolitical instability, and soaring rates of poverty and addiction, Lynn finds herself drawn back to art, music and grassroots community, she said, things she sees as vital.
“I think I’m a good parish minister, but I think I’m a songwriter first,” she said.
“And I think I needed to go into ministry in order to realize that. … I kind of thought that I was giving up the music business when I went into ministry, and I found that, actually, my calling to music deepened and became more clear. So, I think I became a better musician throughout that as well.
Doing the kind of social service work that comes with ministry made Lynn a better songwriter, she added.
For one thing, she said, she understands herself better, and she believes that allows her to write from a deeper place.
She also feels she understands her own songs better – as though she’s grown into them.
Take for instance the song “Room to Love” from her debut album, which she released 23 years ago. It spoke of the need to create space in one’s life for love to flourish.
She learned that lesson even more profoundly, she said, when she pursued ministry and put herself in a position where she was so needed by others that she had almost no space in her life.
“I had written that song years ago, but I hadn’t lived into it fully,” she said.
“I’m living into it fully more now as I’m creating more space for what I love and who I love.”
In addition, Lynn said, ministry gives a person “a front row seat in the theatre of life,” the privilege of bearing witness to life and death and of hearing people’s stories.
It drew her out of herself and helped her better understand human experience.
“I think that can’t help but make me a better songwriter,” she said.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that Lynn’s new album, Treasure, which came out in February, contains one song that finally captures a sentiment she has struggled to put into song for ages.
It’s called “I Know It When I See It,” and it describes the experience of recognizing the divine in another person, the same experience expressed in the Saskrit word “Namaste,” which one routinely hears uttered in yoga classes across the nation.
“That song, it was a matter of me kind of transcribing it when it came along,” she said. “So that was a gift.”
For Lynn, songwriting has always been an intensely spiritual activity, and she plans to share that process with others through a book she’s working on.
“It’s called Songwriting As Soul Work,” she said, “and it’s about the value of songwriting for personal and spiritual growth and how every song really is kind of – it can be a map for the writer about what’s important.”
Lynn plans to stay close to home in the coming months as she promotes Treasure. She’s got a regular summer gig at Two Blokes Cidery, and she’ll be playing MooseFest: Celebrating Five Years of Roots Music Canada, June 4 at the Tranzac.