If it's possible to inherit a calling, singer/songwriter Sara Groves did just that. Her grandfather, who was a carpenter by trade, followed in the footsteps of another long ago carpenter from Galilee and left behind the molding of wood for the shaping of souls. At midlife he moved his family to Vermont and planted the first of several churches he would pastor. Then just about the time the church was established and the tithes were coming in, he moved on, much to his wife's chagrin. Groves' parents eventually joined him in ministry, playing and singing for the hippies who congregated on and under the boardwalk in Atlantic City before inviting them to church. They came by the busload that summer, straining the capacity of the modest church building, but her grandfather happily made room.
It wasn't until Sara was grown, though, that she realized her heritage was a unique one. During the summers she would vacation on Cape Cod with her grandfather and his seven siblings and their families. "Every night we'd all gather and there were probably 40 or 50 family members. People would just start singing the old hymns and then sometime in the night grandpa would start to preach," Sara recalls. Sitting with her cousins during her younger years, she'd roll her eyes at the start of this family time. But with age came the dawning realization that those gatherings were somehow special. "Every family doesn't do this," she finally understood.
Little did Sara know, all that preaching and teaching she was soaking up was preparing her for something bigger. At her grandfather's funeral, struck by the huge void he would leave in the lives of so many, Sara was overcome by a sense of calling that she still carries with her. "That call was to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people and care about them enough to put myself aside and walk as Jesus walked," she explains. At that point performing didn't even enter the picture. "The music was very secondary to what that call meant on my life. It was not to music ministry," she emphasizes. In fact, Groves was working as a schoolteacher at the time, but she returned to her public school classroom with a fire in her belly. "If I lose my job, if I get run out of town, I don't care," she told herself. "You've got to take people with you...I was already a lay minister. What changed for me was the all-consuming feeling, that all or nothing."
As Groves continued to explore her talents and gifts, writing songs and playing during her off-hours, she found that she could offer people something through music that they sorely needed. "I feel like one of my strengths is to give people tools," she explains. "I feel like music can be a tool to come to grips with your relationship with God and your relationships with others. That's part of my call, to put words to people's emotions so they can work through [them] and go on to the next place with God."
She decided to make music full time and now she and her manger-husband, Troy, and their young son, Kirby, traverse the U.S. by bus, sharing her gentle acoustic folk-pop with audiences. But Sara isn't just giving; she's also receiving. One of those gifts has been a unique perspective on the "capital-c" Church. "I have relationships with the neatest people all over the country that make up the greater body of Christ. I've seen how the body isn't functioning and then also how it's alive and well. I literally have brothers and sisters in every corner of the globe and that's amazing."
That diverse perspective has shaped her songwriting as well. While her debut, <i>Conversations,</i> had a decidedly devotional feel, on her latest release, <i>All Right Here,</i> Groves wanted "to give voice to the whole human experience and not just a corner of it." As a result, her sophomore disc reflects every aspect of her life: motherhood, marriage and cherished child of God all rolled into one. And whether she's singing about her baby boy, God's sacrifice, or the strength she finds in her husband's love, her calling comes through loud and clear. That message she promised to make her life's work is found in every note. So while she may not be a preacher in the traditional sense, Groves is following in her grandfather's footsteps just the same. Her pulpit just happens to be in the shape of a piano bench.