Sanctus Real has provided the soundtrack for a generation of church-goers. Forming 20 years ago, their 2002 version of U2’s “Beautiful Day” catapulted the Ohio garage band into the limelight.
“We were just guys [who] were learning how to play music, learning how to play guitar, [who] really wanted to find a way to plug in our love for music, and share faith through music,” says lead guitarist Chris Rohman.
The core lineup of Matt Hammitt (Lead vocals), Mark Graalam (Drums), and Rohman have kept the band going strong over the course of a career spanning eight No. 1 singles on Christian radio, a Dove Award, and two GRAMMY nominations. Current members Jake Rye (Bass guitar) and Seth Huff (Keys/Guitar) round out the five-piece, and on the back of the band’s seventh studio album The Dream, further success seemed inevitable.
Therefore, Sanctus fans were shocked when it was announced mid-year that frontman Hammitt would be leaving the band in December. In a statement, Hammitt opened up about the calling God had now placed on his life.
“I’ve always struggled to reconcile my life on the road away from Sarah and the kids, but after all these years I’m now confident that my calling is to be at home more, consistently making God and family my ultimate priority,” Hammitt wrote. “My primary gifting as a communicator is simply sharing my life and heart with people, and they’re going to get the best of that.”
Wrapping up this chapter of Sanctus Real with a Farewell To A Friend Tour, Rohman says the transition is akin to living “in two different worlds”: “Matt and I started the band when we were 16, so it is surreal.
“I think it is an amazing opportunity that we have for us to take what God has given us already as Sanctus Real, and to just give it back to Him, and say, ‘I am humbled to think that You would even allow us to go out there with this renewed sense of passion.'”
At the same time, we are looking ahead at what comes next for the band … It’s all sorts of emotions all at once. At the heart of it, I am just really grateful for the opportunity to be playing shows on a tour like this and that people care enough to come out and honor this ministry that God has given us.”
While news about his departure only went public in July, Hammitt shared his decision with the tight-knit group last December.
“The whole story started to unfold on a tour that we were on for Christmas last year, in December,” Rohman says. “That was when Matt really felt he should share with us the restlessness he was battling with being away from home.”
Rohman says the balance between family and touring has always been a challenge for the group, particularly for the lead singer, whose son Bowen was born with a heart defect. This led Hammitt and his wife to form the non-profit, Whole Hearts Foundation.
“When he first told us, it completely made sense,” Rohman explains. “It was not a shock to us. It was something that we have seen for a while. At that point it was not really a matter of us freaking out or trying to immediately get to a place where we could figure out how to go on, or if we would go on.
“There were really no decisions that could be made, or that we felt should be made in that moment – for months honestly,” Rohman continues. “It was January, February, March of this year, just really praying, letting things cool off and accepting the fact that this could be it. It might be over for good.”
Offering up the future of the Grammy-nominated band to God, Rohman and the group feel like they are about to start a new chapter of their ministry.
“I honestly feel that this is such a full-stopper moment, where I am reliving so much of that from my youth,” Rohman says. “I was 16, and I am 35 now, and I feel like I have this crazy opportunity to re-dream this whole thing up again. I think it is an amazing opportunity that we have for us to take what God has given us already as Sanctus Real, and to just give it back to Him, and say, ‘I am humbled to think that You would even allow us to go out there with this renewed sense of passion.'”
Sending out their friend with the gusto of the tour and the release of a Greatest Hits album, they recorded one final track with Hammitt called “Longer Than a Lifetime.”
Explains Rohman, “We tried to write a handful of songs that could sum up this journey that we have been on, and I think this one really struck a chord, because at the heart of it, it’s just telling the eternal story, that in heaven there are no goodbyes.
“That is where our faith is. We have faith in Christ, and that He is making all things new, and … we now live eternally with Him. There are no goodbyes, and I think we can relate that to where we are at here on earth, and in this little band that we have.”
So what lies ahead for Sanctus Real? While many details remain unknown, even for Rohman and the group, they have already started recording new material.
“[God has bought] somebody to us [who] we really feel a strong bond with already creatively … we are hoping to make that public in the months to come,” Rohman says.
Despite the huge success of a band that began as a group of teens in Toledo, Ohio, at their core, the members of Sanctus Real know what truly matters in life: family, their relationship with God and their commitment to Him.
“I think I am getting to the point where I realize it does not matter how popular you might be to the public, or ‘success’ is not what we are striving for,” Rohman says. “I think it is important for me to go out, be a voice that can be relevant to our culture and just be real to people.
“It is where we started, that is why we put [it in] the name. Thinking back to how far we have already gone, I really hope that it can continue, and that people all over the world will continue to hear our hearts through our music.”
Sanctus Real’s Greatest Hits album is available now.