Songwriters’ retreat creates new music for churches

July 27, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 15
Will Braun | Editor
Nichelle Bauman (left) and George Makinto work on a new song. (Photo by Anneli Loepp Thiessen)

Nichelle Bauman felt pressure going into a weekend retreat of Mennonite songwriters. What would she come up with? What could she contribute? She also had a strong desire to learn.

Organizers had suggested in advance that the 23 participants from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico ponder the Beatitudes in preparation for the retreat. One night as Bauman was trying to fall asleep, three bars of music, rooted in the Beatitudes, came to her. She took these with her to the May retreat at Hidden Acres Camp near New Hamburg, Ontario.

The event was organized by the Anabaptist Worship Network, which secured a $19,700 grant from the Calvin Institute for Christian Worship to cover costs. According to organizers, the intent of the retreat was to “elevate the creative voices of Anabaptist songwriters” and provide new material for churches, especially those for whom hymns are not the preferred style of music.

Bauman, who lives on an acreage north of Durham, Ontario, with her husband and two young kids, recorded her first album when she was 17. She is active in leading worship at Floradale Mennonite Church.

Speaking by phone from her home, Bauman says that while 95 percent of the songs she has written “have some sort of spiritual theme,” other songwriting events she’d been part of were not a great fit because of their “secular vibe.” This time, she felt like she was with “[her] people.”

At one of the retreat sessions, Bauman shared her three lines of music with George Makinto and Erik Mohr. Bauman says that sharing your music is a “really vulnerable thing.” Many of the other participants were more prolific and experienced songwriters than her.  She “held loosely” as she shared her music, curious what would come of it and how the process would unfold.

Within a few hours, Bauman and her collaborators had created most of a new song, “Hope is Ringing Out.” They finished the bridge the next day. “Sometimes ya gotta sleep on it,” Bauman says.

On another day, two songwriters—Emily Ralph Servant and Nathan Grieser—shared with Bauman a song that was 70 percent finished. They wanted another collaborator, a fresh set of eyes, to help them finish it.

Bauman says she was fascinated to see what the creative process looks like for other songwriters. Other highlights for her were the diversity within the group and singing together. While people held differing views, Bauman said it was beautiful the way they could sing together and affirm one another. This was a “beautiful representation of what the church can and should be.”

For songs from the retreat, including a video recording of “Hope is Ringing Out,” see

Nichelle Bauman (left) and George Makinto work on a new song. (Photo by Anneli Loepp Thiessen)

Nichelle Bauman (right) along with Emily Ralph Servant (left) and Nathan Grieser, at an Anabaptist songwriters’ retreat. (Photo by Anneli Loepp Thiessen)

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