by Len Lear
To call Wyndmoor author, musician and counselor Jennifer Jill Schwirzer prolific would be like calling Meryl Streep a fairly good actress. Some Chestnut Hill area residents will no doubt remember Jennifer, 59, as the chef and manager of Expressly Vegetarian Café, formerly located in the rear of the Chestnut Hill Seventh Day Adventist Church, 8700 Germantown Ave.
But to date, Jennifer has also written or co-written 10 published books, including “Testimony of a Seeker” (Pacific Press, 1999), “A Deep But Dazzling Darkness” (Amazing Facts Publishers, 2004), “Dying to be Beautiful” (Review and Herald, 2005) and “13 Weeks to Love” (Pacific Press, 2015). In addition, she has written countless articles that have been published in magazines such as the Adventist Review and Liberty Magazine.
Over the last 30 years, Jennifer has also recorded over 150 original songs. She has several professional CDs of adult and children’s music to her credit and is known for her profound, theologically sound, emotionally resonant lyrics and well-crafted melodies.
But on Saturday, Nov. 12, 7 p.m., Jennifer, a Hill area resident for 15 years, will perform at the Chestnut Hill Adventist Church with a group she is in called The Lesser Light Collective (TLLC) that at first would seem about as likely as Donald Trump joining the Mexican-American Chamber of Commerce.
That’s because Jennifer’s books and music all have a Christian faith-oriented message, while the other two members of the Lesser Light trio, Central High School graduates Lee Givhan and Delon Lawrence (“Lee G and Delon,” as they were known by their following around Philadelphia), formerly performed as a duo with Lee rapping and Delon beatboxing, or “making beats” in his recording studio.
How is is that Jennifer formed a musical group with two rappers since rap music is generally thought of as the antithesis of Christian morality, often including lyrics laced with profanity, misogyny, hated for police and other authority figures, blatant sexuality and racial slurs?
“‘Lee G and Delon’ had become quite popular as a rapper/beatboxer duo at Central High,” Jennifer explained last week “A couple years later my daughter recruited them for a church-sponsored summer program, and we met. They loved my folk style music and started sampling it and rapping over it, as is often done in hip-hop music.
“I’d wanted to record a cantata based on the Book of Revelation for a while before I met them but couldn’t find artists to partner with me. When I met Lee and Delon, I felt impressed that they’d be a great fit for the edgy content of the book. Plus, Lee had a gift for lyrics. I asked them, and they, being young and trying to break into church music, immediately said yes.”
Jennifer and the two young hip-hop artists, who have now been together for six years, ended up forming a group called The Lesser Light Collective, which at this point has released two full CDs, a documentary and several other products. “The Lamb Wins” was the first CD TLLC released in 2013, based on the Book of Revelation, and in March of this year they released “The King Dreams,” based on the Book of Daniel.
The “Collective” has also expanded and now includes about 30 different artists.
“So obviously it’s not just me, Lee and Delon anymore,” said Jennifer. Various combinations of the group have performed about 100 concerts at this point, all over the Greater Philadelphia/Delaware/New Jersey area, as well as in Florida, Texas, California and many other locales. Some members of TLLC are going to Australia in the spring.
“Doors are flying open,” said Jennifer, pointing out that the name of the Collective “signifies that we are trying to shine a light on the great Light … We exist for two main purposes: To raise awareness of the prophetic books of the bible and to support artists in the context of that endeavor. So we’re about getting the word out but also helping the artists who get the word out.”
As if she were not busy enough with her books and music, Jennifer also runs a non-profit organization called Michael Ministries, an umbrella organization over TLLC, and a counseling network called Abide Counseling. She also does a lot of public speaking. And Jennifer is currently working on the first solo release she has recorded in almost 15 years.
Schwirzer grew up in Milwaukee. Her grandfather, of Swedish descent, was an auto mechanic whose family “was so poor that dad remembers eating nothing for supper but white bread soaked with milk and sprinkled with sugar.” As she explained in her book, “Dying to be Beautiful,” Jennifer was a normal-sized teenager, but when she was 19, she dropped out of college and moved to a Christian commune in Michigan.
Jennifer became anorexic because of a religious belief in the purity of self denial. “I felt that denying myself the pleasure of food would make me more spiritual,” said Jennifer, who was anorexic for almost three years and at age 21 weighed a mere 85 pounds (at 5-foot-6), down from 120.
She then got married, which turned out to be the beginning of the end of her eating disorder. Within six months, she gained 25 pounds. “It had been easy to hurt people that I wasn’t married to,” she writes in her book, “but living in holy matrimony while indulging supreme selfishness was tougher … To Mike’s delight, I started to gain both weight and strength. Watching the fat accumulate on my body, burying my beloved bones, took a self-restraint and resignation that few can appreciate … ”
Jennifer obtained a masters degree in mental health counseling from Capella University in Minneapolis in 2008. She obtained her Pennsylvania state counseling license in 2010.
“I draw mostly Christian clients (in her counseling practice) because I’ve been speaking and publishing in a church context for years,” said Jennifer. “So I try to counsel people from a biblical perspective, and I pray with clients if they’re comfortable with that. But I’m professionally trained and graduate degreed, so I include a lot of scientifically validated methods, too.”
Who are Jennifer’s favorite musicians and composers? “I love the classical greats — Handel, Bach and Beethoven. If I’d been given the vocal chops, I’d have spent my life singing classically. I love James Taylor, Bob Dylan and other well-known folk artists of my generation.”
If she could live anywhere in the world, where would it be? “In a castle in Scotland by the ocean.”
If she could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, who would it be? “I’m not a celebrity-oriented person, but if I had to choose someone less familiar, it would be Joni Mitchell. I idolized her as a young girl. I’d like to just sit and chat with her about how she impacted me.”
For more information, call 215-247-7022 or visit chestnuthillsda.org or jenniferjill.net. Jennifer will soon be moving to Orlando, Florida, for personal reasons and to start a kind of spiritual retreat/healing center.