Wildcat Tracks: Riley Adkisson ’15

Some of us are born with a song in our hearts, even if we don’t hear it right away. “I actually did not grow up singing and playing music. I didn’t start singing at all until I was in 8th grade, but I quickly grew to love it and worked hard to constantly be better,” says a laughing Riley Adkisson. It’s a surprising admission coming from a current Worship and Creative Arts Pastor, not to mention songwriter and performer. “My dad was the lead pastor at Mosaic, which was a plant church. The congregation had about 60 people total. One Saturday in the summer, we were replacing the roof on our worship leader’s house. It happened to be the hottest day of the year: the shingles were melting straight off the roof, and they wouldn’t stick to the nails. We decided to come back the next day since it was just too hot. The next morning was Sunday and I woke up to my dad saying, ‘John (the worship leader) doesn’t have a roof and it’s raining! Can you lead worship today?’ I was half asleep and said ‘Yes.’ I sang for the first time, and everybody including myself was shocked that I could sing! A lot of times people ask if I thought I could sing before that. Maybe? All I know is that I had faith and God gave me the tools.”

Adkisson experienced more musical exposure after choosing to become a student at Westminster. “My family lived in downtown St. Louis. The city schools weren’t accredited by the state, so I ended up at WCA. I got to perform in the Variety Show my freshman year. The support I got from that really helped me build confidence and grow as a musician,” he recalls. “I sang ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley. I sat on a drum and kicked it while I sang. At the time, I was on the football team and they were crazy supportive of me. Those football guys really encouraged me, even the seniors, which was so cool!” Adkisson went on to play guitar and sing with the Westminster Chapel Band for three years. “That was one of the main reasons I came to Westminster and, without a doubt, it helped shape me into who I am now. While I was a Chapel Band leader my junior and senior years, we had some changes in leadership, which ended up being a learning opportunity. For me as a 17-year-old, learning to navigate tough stuff among the group was very beneficial for me.” The faculty as well as the music left a lasting impression. “Mr. Gall and Mrs. Rohlfing had a huge impact on me as teachers, and it has been awesome to see them step into larger roles at Westminster. What I remember about high school are the relationship-based experiences. That’s what sticks out: the teachers who poured into the students, who really cared about them. High school is not just about getting the grades. In my opinion, one of the big reasons Westminster is a success is teachers like that who took the time with their students. They’re great teachers!” Looking back, Adkisson is grateful. “I’m so thankful for Westminster. I was in a different position than many of my classmates. My dad was a pastor at a church plant that was struggling and I lived downtown. I was so grateful to be there—my experience was awesome!”

After high school, Adkisson attended Lipscomb University to study contemporary music for two years before deciding to try his luck as a performer in Nashville, TN. “Through a lot of connections, I signed with a group of guys to a small label, but didn’t love doing that. There were several reasons: it wasn’t Christian music and I hated the culture, the people showing up late, etc. That style of music is all about the vibe—it was so different,” Adkisson said. “During that time, I was coming back twice a month to lead worship at Hope Christian Church in Columbia, IL. For 1.5 years I traveled between Nashville and St. Louis. I was leading worship and loved it! Once our time at the music label was finished, I asked about getting on full time at Hope. I am glad I tried Nashville, but to me, I don’t miss it that much. The culture is people stepping on each other, just not my personality at all. I’m glad I did it because I had the experience. I learned a lot about what I like and don’t like.”

Today, Adkisson loves his role as a Worship and Creative Arts Pastor at Hope. “I am so at peace with life! I have a new song coming out called ‘Boundless’. I got inspiration from Colossians 3:2, ‘Set your hearts and minds on things above.’ My music is available everywhere under the name Riley Shane. I plan to release a new single about every month moving forward.”

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