WINTER GARDEN — As of Jan. 18, the newest member of the worship team at First Baptist Church of Winter Garden is Jarian Felton, an Orlando native whose specialties include vocals, piano and drums.
“First Baptist was a bit of a hidden jewel,” Felton said. “I was exposed to Pastor Tim (Grosshans) before anything else, and he just had this great personality: very easy to talk to and inviting. He said, ‘Hey, man, I’m preaching a message on hope; I love your song; and I’d love for you to come and sing it at the church just before the message.’ When I did, the people were so welcoming, hungry, teachable and open. I just enjoyed the experience and kept coming back.”
That song, “I Am Hope,” became available on iTunes as a single in April 2012. Felton described it as a soulful but happy and bright song, likening it to Jason Mraz.
“It’s very bouncy, happy-go-lucky, definitely the kind of song you want to play when the sun is shining,” Felton said. “The melody of it is very infectious and just has this easygoing tune — you could put a ukulele on that thing and have some fun with it. One of the cool things I like about it is, toward the second half of the song, I got some inner-city kids, and I brought them to the studio and had them sing on the record.”
A HOPE-LED JOURNEY
“I Am Hope” has been a big part of Felton’s journey as a worship leader, including his new position at First Baptist.
“After being a worship leader for so many years, I did some background singing for a few gospel artists here and there and released a project of my own in 2005,” he said. “I got off the road, got married, settled down, really started just focusing more so on family.”
One of Felton’s best friends, First Baptist Orlando Worship Pastor Doug Pierce, connected him with Willy Pete, a network of musicians that performs at U.S. armed forces stations around the world, including the Middle East.
“It’s our way of evangelizing at the same time, because we play all the songs that they want to hear,” Felton said. “It was pretty amazing to do that, and that kind of led to another friend with New Missions.”
New Missions personnel liked “I Am Hope” so much that they wanted to use it for Felton to sponsor a Haitian child, and for him to sing it at a vision night, he said.
“I went to that vision night and sang the song, and that’s the place where I met Pastor Tim,” Felton said. “Everything just led one thing to another; it’s an interesting storyline.”
Although “I Am Hope” was meant for the church Felton initially was part of, the team there did not use it, he said.
“I thought about shelving it,” he said. “At this particular point, I hadn’t even recorded. I just had played it for them on the piano. A good friend who’s the co-producer of that record, Derrick Harvin, a phenomenal jazz pianist here in the city, said, ‘Let’s just record it.’”
This led to the iTunes release in 2012 and Grosshans’ invitation to perform at First Baptist Church of Winter Garden and, last month, become part of the worship team.
The premise of the song is identity in actively spreading hope to others in the world, Felton said.
“One of the lyrics to the song is, ‘I am hope for the next generation; I’m making a difference; my love’s on display,’” he said. “That’s really what it’s all about: putting our love on display and just being hope.”
During performances, Felton enjoys seeing how easily people catch on and sing along, which particularly inspired him and the congregation at First Baptist within that message of hope, he said.
“The acronym I like to put behind hope is ‘Helping Open People’s Eyes,’” he said. “Even in some of the things I do, it’s not necessarily about me gaining a name for myself. Sometimes, I’ll just do things that will help boost another organization. If I’m doing a walk for Haiti, I don’t necessarily have to say Jarian’s doing a walk for Haiti. I’ll just say, ‘Hey, partnering with New Missions today, and they’re doing a walk for Haiti — check them out.’ It’s almost like pointing at other organizations that are already doing things.”
Felton grew up in a musical Georgian family: His mother and her sisters had a singing group, and his dad played bass and had a singing group with his brothers. But the biggest influence for Felton was his grandfather, he said.
“He passed a few years ago, full of life, but I could not walk into his house without the radio being on,” Felton said. “Either the radio was going to have gospel music playing from 1680 or some James Brown or Ray Charles, which was a heavy influence, that whole soulful era. Other than that, just growing up in the church, I started off playing drums at the age of 7 and just kept evolving and eventually ended up toying with my vocals.”
Extending that familial passion for music and worship in Winter Garden is an exciting future for Felton, whose wife, 4-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son appreciate Winter Garden’s charm, he said.
“I am at the moment still learning a lot about the culture,” Felton said. “I love the fact that First Baptist Winter Garden is a good representation of Winter Garden, which has a lot of the different cultures and ethnicities. I love the fact that I can look out and see different nations represented. That’s a beautiful thing. I know one of the things that I’m doing now is choosing a lot of songs that are very congregation-friendly, because it’s one thing to get up there and sing songs and tell stories and people don’t join in. The part it gets so much better is if you can make it so everyone gets involved.”
Felton credited fellow worship leaders, such as Tom Dale, Mark Byrd, Jim Gentry and Randy Nichols, with making the band a great sound and a melting pot reflective of the congregation. This is a theme Felton plans to magnify, splicing in everything from rap to hymns and works of established musicians such as Andrae Crouch, Chris Tomlin and Michael W. Smith, he said.
For now, Felton is performing primarily vocals for 9:45 a.m. services at the church’s south campus on Tilden Road, Foundation Worship, he said. He wants to form a worship team and a praise choir, to supplement a band that can go almost anywhere musically, he said.
“I would definitely say God has favored me to be a part of it,” Felton said. “I think it’s history in the making. We pride ourselves in knowing that we’re not just the First Baptist Church of Winter Garden but Winter Garden’s First Baptist Church, because we belong to the city that we’re in. I think that’s a key thing because I heard one guy say when God sees the Earth, He doesn’t see a city with a church in it. He sees a church with a city around it, because the church is the heart.”
Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].