Eddie Mercado has been leading worship for less than nine months at Open Hearts Community Church, an emerging congregation in a diverse, urban area of Wyoming. But he says he already feels like one of the family.
“I love the people here and their willingness to serve," said Mercado during a recent interview.
“I’m having a great time.”
The Gurnee, Ill. native has a part-time position as Open Hearts worship/music leader, which means the bulk of his responsibilities have to do with their 11:15 a.m. Sunday worship.
“Scheduling the worship band and audio/tech guys for rehearsal, choosing and getting the songs ready, looking at the Scriptures, doing arrangements, meeting with the pastor…,” listed Mercado of several of his weekly duties.
The worship leader works with a rotating set of volunteers, intentionally alternating the look and the sound in their approach for Open Hearts’ 40 to 60 worshippers, who share space in the facility of Eighth Reformed Church.
“We switch between the drum and bass combo – a contemporary grouping – to a stripped down sound of an acoustic and a single percussionist,” offered Mercado who with his guitar usually leads with several background vocalists.
SEARCHING THE MUSICAL STYLE
Mercado said he generally favors hymns, often rearranged with a more modern sound. Among those is a revamped take on “Holy, Holy, Holy,” and a “fast, upbeat” version of “How Great Thou Art.”
“We do (Chris) Tomlin and (Matt) Redman songs, but I also like to incorporate songs from little known worship leaders,” he added.
Those would include Dustin Kensrue’s “Grace Alone” and the band Ghost Ship’s “One God.”
Open Hearts pastor Mark Milkamp has enjoyed watching Mercado develop his gifts for music ministry.
“His heart is driven to lead authentic worship from a rich theological perspective and tradition,” Milkamp noted. “His ability to revive many of the older hymns in a creative way has breathed fresh air into our worship dynamic.”
Mercado came to West Michigan specifically to attend Kuyper College where he is a pre-seminary student.
The bi-lingual worship leader was attracted to Reformed theology, although he was not raised in the Reformed family of faith.
“It’s something that during my high school years I gravitated to,” he said of his faith journey.
Mercado learned guitar and keyboards in his youth – his father was also a worship leader.
When he and his wife were preparing to move from Illinois to Grand Rapids, Mercado was looking for work and a church in the area while he was in school.
“I saw the Open Hearts job opening on a web site, prayed and sent a resume to them,” he recalled.
“After a Skype interview, I had a visit to the church, then was invited back again and eventually was brought on board.”
Milkamp called Mercado a “transforming agent” in the church’s worship ministry.
“He is willing to invest deeply into the worship team and take time and energy to equip, encourage and disciple them to maturity in Christ,” he said.
The worship leader reports that his current academic track will allow him to complete both Bachelors and Master of Divinity degrees in six years between Kuyper and Calvin College Seminary.
MINISTRY AND ARTISTRY
Given his experience and leadership qualities, it’s hard to believe that Mercado is still only 19 years old and wrapping up his first year of college.
He is married, and the couple is expecting their first child this fall. “We’re so happy and blessed,” he said.
He has done a bit of songwriting, and recently completed recording a five-song collection – four originals, and a cover of the hymn “It Is Well (When Peace Like A River).”
“I’m on a budget of, like, zero dollars, and I recorded it on an iPad,” he said.
“Actually I’m pretty surprised at how good it sounds – the technology is incredible,” Mercado said.
Recording under the name Sinner//Saint, his project is called “Living Water” and is available at http://sinnerandsaint.bandcamp.com/
One of the songs carries a mysterious-sounding phrase for its title, borrowing from the Latin, “Proto Evangelium.”
It’s actually a reference to Genesis 3:15, a verse which gives God’s original promise of a plan for the salvation of humankind (the Latin is translated, “first gospel”).
Mercado says he is looking forward to, the Lord willing, maintaining his role at Open Hearts even as he continues his studies toward a seminary degree and eventual ordination.
Could he one day be a “singing pastor?”
“If the Lord calls me to that – that would be great,” he said. “I love singing and I love preaching as well.”
Just The Facts:
Who: Eddie Mercado, 19, married
What: Worship/music leader
Where: Open Hearts Community Church, 841 Burton St. SW; www.facebook.com/openheartschurch
How: Plan and lead music in worship
Philosophy on the role of the arts/music in worship: “Music and the arts help a congregation to respond to the glory of God as revealed in the scriptures. It gives us a way to respond to what we’re reading in the Biblical text.”