In 1975, Pope St Paul VI wrote that the Church exists "in order to evangelise". This frightened many Catholics, including me! The word “evangelisation” conjures up images of door-knocking, handing out leaflets or preaching on street corners. While these “out there” methods can be part of evangelisation for some, there are many other ways to evangelise. Mine is through music.
As a music teacher in Brisbane Catholic primary schools from 1984 -1999, I was aware of the power of music to involve students in RE classes and school liturgies. However, I realised that while the children were engaged by the melodies and rhythms, many of the song texts were often lacking in scriptural or theological content. While this repertoire didn’t do any harm, it also probably didn’t do much good either! This was the reason I started writing liturgical and religious music, initially for children.
My motivation was to compose songs that had lyrics with liturgical and theological merit and were still musically accessible for children and encouraged participation. I believe that these basic principles are also true for the wider Church: parishes, youth groups, retreats, sacramental preparation etc. Music must have musical, theological and liturgical merit, but must also be relevant in the pastoral context, and meaningful to the people with whom we are celebrating.
The basic premise of evangelisation is to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world. Music is a powerful way to share this Good News. Song texts can put Scripture into people’s mouths and minds. When these texts are melded with melody, rhythm and harmony, a deeper connection and aesthetic response can help make connections with people’s hearts. Singing of Jesus’ core messages of love, peace, forgiveness, joy and justice helps embed them into people’s lives.
Evangelisation tends to make us think of reaching people “out there”, beyond our parish community. However, we are also called to evangelise those who are inside our church walls. We are gifted many opportunities at celebrations such as First Communion, Confirmation, Baptism, Christmas and Easter to evangelise people who may be on the margins, or loosely connected with the Church. There are also people with whom we regularly gather Sunday by Sunday who may need to be “re-evangelised” from time to time. (Don’t we all!) I am constantly reminded by people’s comments and feedback about the central place music plays in this evangelisation.
My primary work/ministry is composing liturgical music and leading sung prayer in parish liturgy. The opportunities for evangelisation mentioned above are all found primarily within the context of liturgy. Therefore, it is vital that we are aware of the place of music in this evangelisation. We must be intentional in our repertoire choices and in the way we prioritise the voice of the assembly as we lead music in liturgy.
Seekers, and those who have lost contact with the Church, want to feel part of something, like they belong somewhere. Consequently, an evangelising community must be welcoming and inclusive — certainly with a welcome and smile at the front door, but also within the celebration itself. A crucial part of this welcome and inclusivity is well-chosen, well-led, vibrant and engaging music — music that invites and enables all present to join their voices together in praise and “be community” right then and there. What a powerful witness and experience for a seeker!
I am blessed to have been able to commit to this ministry for the last 30 years in both professional and volunteer roles. Professionally, I have composed and published over 250 pieces used in liturgy and religious education nationally and internationally. I tour widely, performing interactive religious music concerts for thousands of school students each year to help bring the message of Jesus alive for them. Presenting workshops to teachers and parish music and liturgy teams at conferences and events throughout Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States allows me to share my passion with others.
Alongside my professional life, I have a number of volunteer roles. I have had the honour of leading the music ministry team in my parish at All Saints Albany Creek (Brisbane) for over 30 years. Enabling the song of the Assembly at 9am Mass each Sunday is one of my favourite things and I miss my parish community when I am on tour across a weekend. I have also worked with another volunteer group - the Australian Pastoral Musicians Network - for the past 10 years, the last five as national chair. This group is committed to the support and education of all involved in pastoral music ministry, to help all of us become the best leaders of sung prayer that we can be.
It is said that those who sing once, pray twice. I hope that those who write the songs are credited with praying thrice, or more! And I pray that the music I have written, and the way that I lead, engages, evangelises and helps to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.
Words & Images:
Director: Litmus Productions
National Chair: Australian Pastoral Musicians Network (APMN)
Board Member: Pastoral Liturgy Journal
Member: Australian Academy of Liturgy
Leader of Music Ministry: All Saints Catholic Parish, Albany Creek, Australia.