“God doesn’t happen unless we’re all participating in God together.”

For the Reverend Vince Anderson, the stage is his altar. He is not your regular pastor. He drinks. He swears. He’s a gutbucket blues singer. “People forget that gospel came out of the blues and not the other way around,” Vince explains as to why he believes blues singers were the first American preachers. Always perched behind a keyboard, sporting a weathered fedora, Vince has a raspy lisped voice, which demands your attention and adds weight to his words. A shaggy salt-and-pepper goatee and dark-circled eyes make him appear older than his 43 years, like rings on a tree signifying a life well lived.

The Reverend.

Vince describes himself as an apostolic preacher, in that he is involved in more than one church; his roles in each flip from pastoral to musical and his parishioners vary from buggy-pushing couples to late-night, rowdy revelers. The lines between sermon and show blur as he goes from propagating scripture to fronting his “dirty gospel” band, but his message remains the same. For nearly 20 years, Vince has been preaching to his loyal congregations in bars and churches around Brooklyn’s Williamsburg, a neighborhood more renowned for being hip than holy. In an area that has witnessed remarkable transformation in that time, Vince remains a fixture, like a stubborn rock that won’t be shifted by changing tides.

The Reverend.
Vince, with his band the Love Choir, perform to his “Monday night congregation” at Brooklyn’s Union Pool.

From the outset, Vince’s life has been a mixture of religion and music. At just 12 years old he became the musical director of a storefront church in Fresno, California. He earned his stripes playing the organ and leading the choir and has been a musical director of a church ever since. When he was growing up Vince always felt inferior among his congregation because of his role as the musician. “I felt the church trivialized me because I was an artist.” He wanted to prove his worth by becoming ordained as a pastor. After university, he packed his bags and flew 5,000 miles to attend Union Theological Seminary in New York City. But something didn’t feel right and he gave it up after only a few months. “God called me into the seminary and then God called me out of it.” He started performing in bars but couldn’t shake the religious slant of his musical style. Instead, his performance morphed in to a hybrid of nightlife and church life, where he remains to this day.

The Reverend.
Preaching at Revolution Church in Williamsburg.

From the outset, Vince’s life has been a mixture of religion and music. At just 12 years old he became the musical director of a storefront church in Fresno, California. He earned his stripes playing the organ and leading the choir and has been a musical director of a church ever since. When he was growing up Vince always felt inferior among his congregation because of his role as the musician. “I felt the church trivialized me because I was an artist.” He wanted to prove his worth by becoming ordained as a pastor. After university, he packed his bags and flew 5,000 miles to attend Union Theological Seminary in New York City. But something didn’t feel right and he gave it up after only a few months. “God called me into the seminary and then God called me out of it.” He started performing in bars but couldn’t shake the religious slant of his musical style. Instead, his performance morphed in to a hybrid of nightlife and church life, where he remains to this day.

“When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he’s fighting bees”
- Abraham Lincoln

The preacher is a uniquely American figure. Preaching helped form and spread the collective experience of being “American”, melding together the disparate colonial communities to form one identity. Sermons played a large part in bringing about social change and political reform and shaping the psyche of the American. Martin Luther King’s orations personified Black preaching and were central to his fight for freedom. Abraham Lincoln said: “When I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he’s fighting bees.” From itinerant frontier preachers to modern-day televangelists, the preacher has always been above all else an entertainer. Vince carries the flame of this tradition in his performances. “If we don’t engage then I don’t think we can make a journey of transformation together.” He draws you in with the fanfare and then pierces you with a thought or idea that snaps you out of yourself and demands reflection.

The Reverend.

Storytelling is a key tool for any pastor or songwriter. Vince’s songs, which swing from joy to despair, are steeped in his personal experiences. Their emotional depth is a sign of a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. In “Ring in my Pocket”, a song about every break-up, Vince describes how his girlfriend broke up with him around Valentine’s Day when he was about to propose: “I had a ring in my pocket. She had leaving on her heart.” The pauses between sentences propel an audience to silence, no mean feat for a rowdy, liquored crowd. Vince will shatter what feels like an infinite silence with a joke. “Have you ever tried selling an engagement ring on Craigslist?” Before long, he will have whipped the audience into another frenzy with time changes, call and refrain and big-band solos. As quick as you can say Amen, you are back dancing and praising life. Vince demands to bring you on this emotional rollercoaster to remind you that life is about these ups and downs and to celebrate that fact.

The Reverend.
Vince preaches at Citylights, a Manhattan-based Christian community for whom he is liturgical co-ordinator.

While Vince’s methods seem far removed from normal religious conventions, his morals are steeped in Christian values. “Live life and live it fully but make sure that when you’re doing it everyone comes along with you.” Vince grew up in the more traditional Lutheran faith and still abides by a lot its practices. Lent is a time of religious observance to commemorate the 40 days Christ fasted in the desert. In the day-to-day life of a Christian, this normally involves giving up a vice. Vince, ever going against the orthodox grain, normally takes up a habit instead. A few years ago for Lent, he decided to give money to any homeless person who asked, a demanding task in New York City. He used to ride the subway with pockets of change and would ritually oblige anyone who asked him to spare some change. He began to get to know the homeless people by name and they struck up strong connections. To this day, he’s still friendly with them and every year they still ask him hopefully what he’s doing for Lent. This year, Vince gave up complaining. When asked how it was going, he answered with a cheeky smirk: “It sucks”.

The Reverend.
The congregation share a drink after the Revolution sermon

Vince describes himself as somewhere between “a pastor, a preacher and a prophet”. He rejects the notion of a prophet being someone who tells the future. Instead, he defines it as “someone who notices the truth and speaks about the spiritual and emotional ramifications of that.” Dirty gospel is the term Vince uses to describe his music, which is heavily influenced by the music of the Mississippi River from the Delta to Chicago. “The stuff that rolls around in the mud and reaches a little deeper.” But the term also describes his theology, that of an earthier, more humane gospel, which he believes Jesus was more about. You won’t hear him preaching about heaven or hell, but rather that we only make hell for each other and we are living in our heaven now. “If there’s a commonwealth of the divine, this is it.”