Father Chris Skinner can claim that his love for music is definitely a God-given talent.
With 17 albums under his belt, and having opened for the likes of pop icons Barry Gibb and Carole King, the humble priest is as comfortable on the stage as he is behind the altar.
“It was never my intention to become a pop-star priest,” says Chris (54).
“When you make a choice about something, normally a door opens and another one closes. I’m a priest. I have that at the heart of what I do and my music is connected with that, so I’m not leading a double life.”
As a 19-year-old, the talented musician pursued his religious calling and joined the seminary to train for the priesthood.
Although Hamilton-raised Chris had a passion for music, his devotion to the Catholic Church took precedence.
“I was a shy child and music was a way for me to express myself. When I entered the seminary, I couldn’t change who I was.”
The partying and touring aspect of the music industry never appealed – to him, the true rock-stars were the priests that travelled the world doing charity work.
“I’ve never hungered for the limelight. It’s never been my desire. Priests were my heroes. It was a vocation that was encouraged within my family,” he admits.
The Auckland-based Marist priest has been writing songs since he was 16, but when he turned 30, he felt the urge to pursue another calling – making an album. With encouragement from a friend, the religious crooner flew to Australia to record his songs.
“People have these dreams to do things, but sometimes they never get off the ground. If I hadn’t become a priest, I wonder if I would have had this opportunity in music. I might have had a family, a regular job, things that might have stopped me from pursing what I’m doing now.”
Chris has shown his devotion to God and the church by taking a vow of celibacy, chastity and obedience, and initially the church had misgivings about his musical aspirations.
“I was a little on the outer. There were questions about if I was taking priesthood seriously, or whether I was going off on a tangent. But I’ve been here just over 30 years now. I’ve proven that I’m here for the long haul – they have me for life.”
Chris records many popular albums, with the sales from each financing the next one. He also regularly performs concerts, with his music and lyrics truly resonating with his fanbase.
“Songs come out of the experiences I have had with people, stories they have shared, and how I’ve reacted to life. The priesthood and the music go together.”
Chris felt like a real pop star last year, when he performed at the Mission Concert in Hawke’s Bay before Barry Gibb and Carole King, in front of more than 10,000 people.
“After I came off stage, people wanted photographs and were asking for my autograph. It gave me a real sense of pride.”
And thanks to taking Mass every day, Chris has a ready-made audience for his music.
“Sometimes in my sermons, I will share my thoughts on the scriptures and add a song that I have written to support what I’m talking about. Most of the time people remember the song and don’t remember the sermon. It’s supposed to be an extension of what I’m saying, rather than entertainment.”
Chris is scheduled to release a new album next year, entitled Reason to Believe, after teaming up with Christchurch soprano Janice Bateman. The two musicians have recorded many pop classics, such as Flying Without Wings, Smile and Bridge Over Troubled Water, with some originals written by Chris.
Although many artists have record producers to answer to, Chris says his almighty boss, who has far more worshippers than Beyoncé and Justin Bieber, will be happy with his efforts.
“God has given me a talent and expects me to use it. He doesn’t want me to push my own barrow, but use my music for others to enjoy.”