Rev. Matt Kern picked up rap when he was in high school, his way of getting out some teenage angst.
“It was a very accessible music outlet. We rapped about school, girls, basketball. It was my way of venting or getting it out,” Kern said, who now serves as associate pastor at Saint Paul’s United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.
|"It's been really cool just to see what people think," said Matt Kern, associate pastor at Saint Paul's UMC in Tallahassee. Based on Scripture, recorded music has included: "Priceless," "Be Our Light" and "Brand New Feat." Click on the image above to preview the album.|
Kern found his calling for ministry while attending the University of Central Florida. He hadn’t been a very spiritual person growing up, he said, even though he attended church weekly.
“It wasn’t until my freshman year at UCF. I had a moment, a bit of a religious experience, where I felt absolutely overwhelmed by what I would call, now, the Holy Spirit,” he explained. “With that, I felt the call to discipleship and to leadership. It was a regular weekday, and I was just walking from my dorm to my car. Just in a moment, I was overwhelmed with a sense of jubilation and joy. I’ve thought a lot of about this. There were no lingering words or a sermon. It just happened.
“I heard something, not audibly, but it was a message clear as day: ‘Matthew, now it’s time to live for me.’ I can say definitively; I’ve had that type of experience one other time. But I didn’t need to have it repeatedly to know my calling.”
He acted on that, attending seminary at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He brought his rap along with him, though the Scripture changed it up.
Since becoming a minister, Kern has been asked to perform at a baptism and at the funeral of a woman who was in her 90s. Her daughter insisted her mom would love it. Occasionally, he even raps during Sunday services when he preaches.
But he first rapped at the pulpit when he was senior pastor at FUMC of Sanford, which had an older congregation.
“I did offer rap up once. I offered it appropriately, and it was well received. People, I find, are generally intrigued by it. They welcome it, especially the older generation. They are a bit surprised that what I offer can be considered rap.”
Now 33, married and with a 2-year-old, Kern introduced rap to his new congregation in Tallahassee during his second week on the job. “I did offer one of my tracks as a part of the sermon. It was appropriate for the lesson,” Kern said. “It went over very well. Some of the older members said that was really something.”
Then somebody called the press. Kern’s sermon went online and got thousands of hits.
“That was all new to me. It’s been really cool just to see what people think.” Kern said. “I’ve actually made a connection or two in town with people that wanted to talk to the rapping preacher about various initiatives.”
Kern bases his raps on Scripture.
“Obviously, it’s influenced greatly by my reading of Scripture and in my life lived in light of Scripture. It’s not all just nice and fluffy and flowery,” he said. “I like to speak to the parts of life in faith that are more difficult.
“There is a track I did on my last album, which was almost a decade ago, a song called Priceless. I had members of my extended family—women only—echo ‘I’m Priceless.’ It is a song about women’s rights in the midst of a culture that is still patriarchal and objectifies women,” he said.
Since Kern also heads the youth ministry at Saint Paul’s, he has introduced his brand of spiritual rap teens.
“As soon as you let on to kids that you rap, you cannot do anything else with them,” he said, laughing. “I tell them ‘if we get through this lesson, then I’ll rap.’ They like it. But as I continue to age, I’m starting to wonder if some of the kids think I’m cheesy.”
To hear Matt Kern rap as his alter ego, Prophacy (CQ), with songs like “Priceless,” “Be Our Light” and “Brand New Feat,” visit prophacy.bandcamp.com.
“Yes, prophecy is misspelled, which makes it cool,” Kerns said.
--Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico.