Interview — Douglas Kaine McKelvey, Creator Of Every Moment Holy 

The arts have seen a growing importance among Christians in the past decade. As the culture shifts ever further from Christianity, large sections of the faith have begun to realize just how important art is in speaking to the issues of modernity. Tremendous efforts are currently being made to regain ground by fostering quality art — shying away from historic efforts like Bibleman and God’s NOT Dead in favor of art that can impress secular and religious viewers alike.

One such effort has come in the form of The Rabbit Room — a growing Christian organization founded in the suburbs of Nashville, Tennessee by musician and author Andrew Peterson. The collective — which now comprises a coffee room, book press, networking space, event center, and annual conference — is focused on fostering a Christ-centered community through arts and storytelling. It began as a modest online blog but has spread into a global online community through word-of-mouth into a space for Christians to talk and share ideas — helping sponsor projects like books, plays, and movies. 

Inspired by the Inklings — and named from the title of the backroom of the Eagle and Child English pub where books like Lord of the Rings and Narnia were first read and shared by Lewis and Tolkien — it was created by musician Andrew Peterson as an effort to foster a space where friendship and relationships could be bonded that could inspire great culture-shaping works of Christian art. It was an effort to reverse engineer that historic artistic dynamic and plant it outside of Nashville — in the heart of American Christendom. 

The first three volumes of Every Moment Holy
The first three volumes of Every Moment Holy

Thankfully, the years-long effort has already seen breakout success. In 2017, the publication released Every Moment Holy, the first in a multi-volume set of liturgical prayers written to provide whimsical and thoughtful prayers for elements of everyday life — from gardening to cooking, to grappling with doubt, sadness, hobbies, gratitude, and mundanity. The point of the project, as the title suggests, is every moment is holy. There is no time in life we ought not to consecrate to God, and the book helps orient everyday life to think in this way. 

The series was created by Douglas Kaine McKelvey, a Tennessee-based writer, content creator, musician, author, screenwriter, songwriter, and videographer who has been a loyal member of the Rabbit Room for years. His efforts have turned Every Moment Holy into a bestselling success, with the entire series selling more than 350,000 copies as of this summer. 

I spoke with McKelvey at the Rabbit Room headquarters at North Wind Manor in Antioch, Tennessee this past August, asking him how the project came about and what it has meant for the organization to have this success. As I wrote previously in my interview about the Anglican Office Book, liturgy writings are seeing a resurgence, but the success of his book has extended beyond Anglican and Catholic circles and broken out in the Evangelical world. I wanted to know what it meant for him.
Douglas Kaine McKelvey is the author of Every Moment Holy

What is your background as a Christian? 

I grew up in churches that would have looked very suspiciously at any sort of pre-written prayer. The words ‘liturgy’ and ‘liturgical’ have a spectrum of meanings, but if we think of them in a church context they have a formal organization and structure — such as the Book of Common Prayer — with set scripture readings and prayers. That was foreign to my experience growing up — as was any coherent theological framework. 

I attended a Methodist Church during the time of the Jesus Movement and later wound up in a Neo-Pentacostal Charismatic Personality Cult — very isolated, with no accountability, and ended up in a situation when the pastor demanded members sign ownership of their homes over to him. In college, all those weird ideas, frameworks, and baggage collapsed. None of it was right. I still believed God was real, but I didn’t know what was true beyond that. My college was teaching the Prosperity Gospel and so many ideas were being thrown at me that I shut down. Clearing the ground was necessary for a foundation to be built.

What did discovering Anglicanism and liturgy mean for your faith?  

When I read the Book of Common Prayer, I found these writings to be expressions of Biblical truth distilled from scripture and crafted over hundreds of years with generations of believers bearing witness to these things being true and accurate. It wasn’t one person spouting off that their feelings and thoughts were God speaking through them. It was more rooted. And there was something about the aesthetic forms — the beauty of the language and the flow of the words had an implicit depth of theology and the arts that were foundational to it.

When did you first decide to start writing Every Moment Holy

I had flirted for years with writing something liturgical. I was working on a science fiction novel in 2015 and I felt my wheels spinning, like I wasn’t getting anything done. I needed a prayer that would reorient my mind and heart with my creator and my stewardship of time and talents — so I wrote a prayer for fiction writers in a Liturgical Form. I spent four hours writing that and looked at it the next day. I thought it might be interesting to close a panel at [Rabbit Room’s Hutchmood Conference] with it. 

I shared it with Peterson and he said he loved it, but said he wished he had liturgies for his hobbies like beekeeping. The lightbulb went off — this wasn’t a one-off novelty prayer. There was something here that could serve the body of Christ. I immediately drafted a book proposal and the first volume would grow out of that burst of vision. We wanted this to exist in the world and we want it to be a gift from the Rabbit Room community to the broader church. It wasn’t a crowdfunding campaign, but people just donated nearly $60,000 to raise a first printing through community effort.

Every Moment Holy provides prayers for everyday life

What do you mean by “liturgical form” as you describe it?

What I would’ve meant initially is a prayer organized for a leader to speak and for people to respond. In a liturgical church, a lot of prayers are organized that way. What appealed to me about that was it was a poetic expression in the way of communicating the idea of the sacred amongst a community of people — that there is something sacred in these words spoken in each other’s presence. There’s also the dynamic that the poem also becomes theater — voiced by multiple people — and it impacts how you read it in your imagination.

But there’s also a broader view of liturgy that I looked through in terms of its ability to shape our worship and sanctification in our relationship with Christ. But there are prayers like the diaper changing liturgy parents print out and post over their diaper station, where they will pray through it multiple times a day to reorient their hearts to the truth that this small act of service does matter in the kingdom of God — even if it feels like an endless drudgery. It has eternal significance.  

The first volume is very whimsical and the second volume is about death and grief — where does the series go from here?

The third volume is very topically broad like volume one. It is subtitled The Work Of the People, and what makes it unique is I invited dozens of authors — nearly 60 — to write prayers for it. There are also some ancient early church prayers. We also brought on six new illustrators to work and participate in it. It was a different process, but it welcomed new voices into the prayer writing.  

I am also working on another book that would be more specifically focused on a particular season of life, and I have other ideas in mind for sequel projects that are topically focused. There seems to be no end in sight for topics to write prayers for. I anticipate it will continue for a while. We are also publishing an Every Moment Holy Prayer Journal next year.

The book is illustrated by Ned Bustard.

Was it a difficult process to pull that first volume together? 

It took a difficult year to write volume one — wrestling with those topics. I was in a difficult season of life, with a lot of fear of failure and anxieties reflected in the published book. Some of those things were real-time wrestlings I was going through. I don’t like easy answers. I find them unsatisfying. The characters I write in my fiction go through harrowing journeys. I want my stories to be a laboratory for my ideas. If I believe God is good, what does that mean in the fact of the worst of human experience? The redemption has to surprise me as I’m writing it.

For most of my life, I never felt connected to the Psalms and I didn’t feel connected to them until the last decade of my life when I faced the hardest parts of my life. Only in walking through one thing after another, accumulating experiences, that I begin to feel connected to the Psalmists and Job — feeling like I understand where those questions come from and how they reflect what our relationship with God should be. He is not afraid of these questions and expressions of our pain — he wants us to come to him in the honesty of that pain and confusion. That process creates reorientation. 

I can choose to believe his promises again — to believe He is faithful. Learning to write liturgy has meant learning to come to that orientation. I need the ability to articulate what the ongoing story of God redeeming his people means through these writings — that attempt to start with abstract theological truths and unpack them in the context of real life; in this moment and that moment in the context of eternity.

Why was it a difficult year? 

As I was writing volume one, I realized so many of my life efforts had not built up to a sizable career. They were barely paying bills. I had two daughters about to get married and two kids in college, and I was scrambling to pay the monthly bills. My home equity line wasn’t looking good. I was driving Uber late at night driving around drunk people in Nashville until 3 am to pay the electric bill.

The wheels were falling off in every part of my life. I was about to turn 50 years old and felt like nothing I’d ever tried doing had worked out. But working through that, I realized God’s faithfulness wasn’t tied to my financial stability. His goodness did not depend on that. So I asked, if I have to spend the rest of my life doing this, what does faithful stewardship of this calling look like? There are things I feel like I should be writing. Am I willing to do that if I never receive recognition in my lifetime? I realized the answer was yes.

What has the reaction to the book been? how have you felt? 

Because we had offered several of these prayers to the Rabbit Room community and prayed them corporately at the conference — receiving enthusiastic responses — I had a sense the book would serve that community well. But I turned in the manuscript and felt numbed by the experience. The books arrived and I struggled to feel anything holding my completed book — after it beat me up for a year. It was only after many months and seeing how others interact with the book that I was able to warm up to it.

It had immediate resonance in the Rabbit Room, but what was unexpected was that the community amplified it. They embraced it and bought copies to give away. It continued rapidly and that magnification rippled. We didn’t anticipate that we wouldn’t be able to keep the book in stock for the first year and a half. We ordered 5,000 at one point when we needed 15,000 copies. Now I have a warmer relationship with the book — but it took a process of seeing that it mattered and spoke meaningful things to other people. I needed to see it through their eyes.

The first two volumes of Every Moment HolyVolume 1: New Liturgies For Everyday Life and Volume 2: Death, Grief, & Hope—are already widely available. The third volume is set for release on November 3 from Rabbit Room Press.

Tyler Hummel

Born into the unexplored residential backwater of Chicago, Tyler Hummel is a graduate of Tribeca Flashpoint College where he studied Sound Design for Film and Interactive Media. When he isn't hosting his public access talk show The Fox Valley Film Critics or collecting DragonBall Z figurines, he enjoys writing and directing short films. As with Rick from Casablanca, "he's a man like any other man, just more so!"

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