Hope still rises as minister with cancer features on flagship BBC programme

Filming for the BBC's Songs of Praise programme recently took place at Hope Baptist Church in Plymouth, with the resulting edition due to be broadcast on Sunday (December 10).

It all came about after the show's producers were moved by the story of minister Andrew Gardiner, 59. Andrew was diagnosed with bowel cancer in May last year, which had spread to his liver by the summer of 2016.

Andrew Gardiner at filming for Songs of Praise.

During his treatment he has experienced sudden bursts of creativity, writing numerous songs and poems testifying to his faith in God. He has developed a new ministry, called Rising Hope, which has resulted in two singles with a third due to be released in December.

The writing was also ignited by the visit of Songs of Praise: in the four days between receiving the initial call from the show and filming taking place Andrew was inspired to write an Advent poem.

He has arranged for the poem to be printed on bookmarks, which he is now encouraging churches to give to visitors and members at their festive services, and individuals to use as gifts for friends and family.

'The people making the show said it would be great if I had a poem about Advent, which I could read as part of the service,' Andrew said. 'At the time I didn't have one, but as soon as I came off the phone the words were forming in my head.

'I wrote the first two verses immediately, the next four not too long after. When I next spoke to them, I said "I now have a poem."'

It was in keeping with his experiences over the past 18 months. His songs, which have sold on iTunes and racked up several thousand views on Youtube, have all formed quickly. He believes they have been given to him from God.

'I cannot explain it any other way,' Andrew said. 'I don't sit down and think I'm going to write a song now. They've just come to me, and I've caught them.'

It's led to numerous opportunities. He's been featured regularly in the Plymouth Herald, while in March he was interviewed by Clare Balding for the Radio 2 Good Morning Sunday show, resulting in one of his songs being played just before Ed Sheeran. Now his story, his compositions and his congregation will be before a nationwide audience on Sunday.

'I still have a calling to proclaim Christ and spread the gospel,' Andrew said. 'Through all this God has given me a platform to speak about Christ.

'I can hardly believe that a section of the True Identity video (above) will end up being shown on BBC 1. Life is just a bit crazy!'

The Songs of Praise filming almost didn't happen. On the day Andrew woke up with temperature hitting 40 degrees. Just hours before filming he was due to begin he was covered in cold flannels and making prayer requests on Facebook. Gradually he became well enough to participate.

He was interviewed in his home at length, before his family was filmed as though it was already Christmas. The cameras then moved to the church for service. Many of the congregation had rallied at short notice to pack the building, which also included visitors interested in appearing in the programme. Carols and the poem were filmed, before Andrew, not wanting to miss an opportunity, preached a gospel message.

'A hundred and twenty people turned up, at three days' notice,' Andrew said. 'When they finished filming the band just carried on worshipping.

'It was fantastic, incredible.'

This story first appeared in The Baptist Times and is used by permission. 

 Songs of Praise is broadcast on December 10 on BBC1 at 3pm.