When worship artist Darlene Zschech left Hillsong in 2010, the church that launched her international music profile, many wondered where she would end up next. Some even criticised her move.
But Darlene, with her husband Mark, ignored critics and followed what she believed to be the call of God. She went on to pastor a growing network of churches on the NSW Central Coast, released new albums, and last year even sang for the Pope in Rome.
In a wide-ranging video interview with Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings (watch below), the singer-pastor described what it was like to meet Pope Francis, and responded to her critics.
An Email From The Pope’s Office
Darlene’s connection with Rome began with an unexpected invitation.
“I got an email from the Vatican,” she said, “which was incredible – saying, “we’re really praying for a move of the Holy Spirit, and the Charismatic Catholics have invited the heads of different parts of the church from all over the world to come together in Rome, to pray for a move of the Holy Spirit across the earth”.
The event in question was a gathering called Voices In Prayer, where believers would pray for the persecuted church, led by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.
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It was part of an annual gathering of a movement within the Catholic Church known as Catholic Charismatic Renewal, or Renewal In The Holy Spirit (Rinnovamento nello Spirito Santo).
“I was going to say no,” Darlene said. “I say no to most things.”
But God, it seems, had other plans. “My PA said to me, “you should probably have a look at this”. So before I knew it, we were on a plane to Rome.”
Surprised By The Passion Of The Catholic Church
Watch: Darlene Zschech chats to Hope 103.2’s Emma Mullings about her visit to The Vatican.
During her time at the Vatican City, Darlene met with dozens of international church leaders and was surprised by their great desire to see God move.
“I got to spend a few days with all these heads of churches, men wearing their beautiful gowns and their beautiful tradition,” she said, “but when you got talking to them, they’re men who are just desperate for a move of the Holy Spirit across the earth, and for unity among the churches.
“All these beautiful young people in the orchestra were saying, “could you pray with us, we’ve got the fire!”
“To meet the Pope and to be there while he preached a message of salvation, and no talk of Mary – no disrespect meant by that, but three times he says, “Jesus is Lord, say it louder, Jesus is Lord” – the whole time I could just sense it was like heaven was smiling.”
Darlene said that singing with internationally renowned Andrea Bocelli – “who gets to do that?” – was a very special experience, as was meeting a troupe of Catholic musicians in Rome eager to do great things for God.
“All these beautiful young people in the orchestra were saying, “could you pray with us, we’ve got the fire!” We were talking about the Holy Spirit and they wanted to know how to be in a structured worship environment, while being filled with the spirit,” she said. “Being able to have those conversations and encourage them, felt like a real privilege. It felt like I was on Holy ground.”
An Explosion Of Prayer And A Double Rainbow
The day of prayer and worship ended in a remarkable way, says Darlene.
“We’d stopped singing and the people would just start to erupt in prayer and freedom, and you’d see them holding hands and praying for each other,” Darlene recalled. “You could just sense that God was doing something very sacred in the lives of thousands and thousands of people and in these leaders.
“Right at the end this double rainbow appears over Vatican City. That was just too much for me.”
“These men of God held hands and prayed and prayed and prayed, and we all sat at tables for days, just talking about what God was doing. And right at the end this double rainbow appears over Vatican City. That was just too much for me. Louie Giglio [the international preacher] was there, and his wife Shelley, and we were all messaging each other saying, “can you even believe this!”
She said the entire experience reminded her of Biblical scripture that says God can do “more than anything we could ever dream or ask or even imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
Criticism From Evangelical Christians
Despite the remarkable sense of God’s presence at the prayer event, Darlene said she faced “a terrible beat-up” from non-Catholic Christians on social media, after posting a picture on Instagram of the moment she met the Pope.
“Within two hours I’d received some terrible, terrible things… so much so that I took the post down, which I never do, because I hate it when haters win,” she said.
“About a week later when I had time to explain why I was there and what I felt, I put it back up. I thought, “You have no idea what you’re criticising here”. In the church, we kind of do the enemy out of a job some days while we criticise and tear down each other.”
She said she was able to move on from the experience by praying for those who spoke out against her.
Coming Home To Woy Woy
After having such a rare experience, was returning to the NSW Central Coast to be a disappointment? Not for Darlene. Having stared death in the face during her bout with breast cancer, she said any ministry is good ministry.
“I get to be at things like that, and then I come home to our Woy Woy campus which is a small campus and just preach the word,” she said, “and I can honestly say I feel blessed.”
“It’s a blessing to be alive, it’s a blessing to serve God. Really, I don’t mind where God sends me. I could be with the Pope or I can be in the Peninsula on the Central Coast with just a few people. I feel really good in all of those spaces.
“You know when you are right where you feel like God wants you to be. You’re not striving, you’re not worried.”