LOS ANGELES (AP) — Even though Marvin Sapp finished recording his new album before the coronavirus rocked the world, the gospel singer believes his prophetic message of enduring transition and change still resonates during the pandemic.
Sapp says his songs about being fearless of the unknown was heavenly sent for his 12th album, Chosen Vessel, out on Friday. While recording, he did not expect to release a gospel project during the pandemic, but he hopes his album can help listeners overcome uncertain change in the same manner as him.
Sapp, an 11-time Grammy nominee, is best known for the platinum-selling hits “Never Would Have Made It” and “The Best In Me.” Last year, he resigned as pastor of the Michigan-based Lighthouse Full Life Center Church, where he remains a chairman of the board of directors. He made the move to Fort Worth, Texas, where he is pastor of Chosen Vessel Cathedral.
With Sapp being a widower and his three grown-up children leaving him with an empty nest, he said the move was a “fresh start.” His wife died from complications with colon cancer in 2010.
In a recent interview, the singer spoke with The Associated Press about the meaning of his album’s title, how he’s handled the pandemic with his congregation and the role of gospel music in today’s society.
AP: Your album and church have the same name. What led you to call your album Chosen Vessel?
Sapp: I didn’t name my album Chosen Vessel after my church. Honestly, that would have been a great marketing piece. I went with the name because I’m flawed, I make mistakes, I have fallen short. But despite it all, God decides to still use me. He chose me when I wasn’t worthy of being chosen. We all have flaws, things we must overcome. But no matter what, when God chooses you, you are qualified based upon his choosing.
AP: How do you think your album will uplift listeners during the pandemic?
Sapp: We weren’t even thinking about the pandemic while writing the songs. But it feels good to know that you had a hand on the pulse of what was about to happen. The mind of God. The heart of God was to give a musical message of encouragement. It was foretelling.
AP: Why make the move from Michigan to Texas?
Sapp: Believe it or not, I had three prophetic gifts come and tell me that I was leaving Grand Rapids. I thought on it for two years. It’s one thing to know it. It’s another thing to experience it. When God wants you to go — no matter how hard you fight to stay — he always wins.
AP: How tough was it to walk away from your church and hometown?
Sapp: That was the real struggle. It’s easy when you walk away when you’re 22, because you don’t have much. …But at 52, you know, this is God, because you’re too old to be starting over. I left everything. I still have furniture in storage. I just packed my bags and moved here. I told myself that I want a fresh start. Honestly, it was the best decision for not only me, but also the church I founded in Michigan.
AP: How did you deal with the pandemic at your church?
Sapp: We were forced into a space that they weren’t comfortable with. Technologically in Michigan, we were savvy. We had LED walls and top-of-the-line 4K cameras. I got down here, they didn’t have any of those things in place. For the first six months, we were just putting everything into place technologically-wise. I didn’t foresee COVID … but we shifted our membership to understand the importance of going digital.
AP: Some pastors are allowing members to attend church in-person. Have you done the same?
Sapp: Being in a red state, everybody is having church. Some churches are at 75% capacity. Some evangelical churches are jammed packed. But I understand the demographic of my church. I just started having in-person services. However, we are only allowing 125 people in a sanctuary that sits 1500. We totally do what the CDC requires. Everyone must wear a mask. We’re making sure everybody is six feet apart. We have a professional team sanitize the sanctuary before and after services.
AP: Did your new congregation push to have in-person services?
Sapp: No. I surveyed my ministry to see who was ready to come back. …About 80% of my members said they wanted to leave it (virtual). However, there was the 20% that really missed sitting in the sanctuary. So we opened up them. We do it via reservations.
AP: What role does gospel music have in these times?
Sapp: Right now, we need a message of hope. When people are going through it, they may enjoy listening to different R&B and hip-hop artists. When they need messaging that’s encouraging and uplifting, they got to go to the gospel. Gospel simply means good news. My whole livelihood has shutdown. Now, I have to live off what I’ve been singing about. That gospel message is what the entire world needs to hear.
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