I’ve been someone who hates doing something just for the sake of doing it, but I realized over the past summer that this was exactly what I’d been doing with children’s choir. Throughout my involvement in music ministry in high school and college, the thing that impacted me the most was that I felt ministered to. It wasn’t just a show up, practice, and perform routine. Music ministry helped me to grow spiritually and come to know my gifts more; I discovered that music was a primary way I expressed prayer and connected with the Lord. At that point, the structure of preparing music for Mass facilitated that growth. However, over the course of the last 2 years, the structure of preparing a Mass once a month with the children’s choir didn’t seem to be having the same effect. I was still trying to implement prayer and talking about the meaning of the music, but time was limited and there were immense challenges working with a large group and vast age range.
The number one priority of any aspect of parish and liturgical life has to be glorifying God and connecting people to Him. Forcing 40-50 students through the mold of regular rehearsals and essentially cranking out more performances wasn’t achieving that goal. So now that we’ve had about 5 months of the new structure, I’d like to share some of the fruits of the students’ experiences.
For October-December, we focused on a different person of the Trinity each month. The goal was to help them encounter each Person specifically and to learn how to pray to each. It was truly amazing to have conversations with the students throughout this process. During our unit on the Father, I asked them to give me words or phrases that come to mind when they think of a father. A lot of them were good things, like “there for me,” “encouraging,” or “funny,” while some phrases like “strict,” or “gets mad at me” were reminders that no matter how good our earthly fathers are, they are not perfect. We talked about how sometimes we think that God the Father is just like our dads; he loves us but maybe he’s always watching to see when we do something wrong and to punish us for it. But God is a loving Father who guides us with love and mercy. After learning music for this unit, we had adoration where there were prayer teams available. These prayer teams prayed a short blessing over each student who wanted to receive prayer. The blessing was just simply thanking God for the student by name and praying that He would show them His love for them.
After each time of Eucharistic adoration, we talk about what we experienced. Nearly all of the students have received prayer from a team, and their feedback has been so encouraging: “I don’t feel so scared of God anymore,” “I really felt God’s love for me,” and “I felt peaceful” were just a few of their responses.
The music we sing has been the catalysts for these discussions. I’ve spent planning time praying about what the Lord wants to say to the students, and select songs that support those words. In February, I felt like the Lord was saying that He wanted to share the truth about who He is, and who we are because of that. We know we’re made in God’s image, but in order to know and love ourselves better, we’ve got to have the right image of God in mind. So at rehearsals, we went through each song and I asked them to point out words or phrases and tell me what they said about God. We made a big list together, and after working on the music, I picked a few and asked them to close their eyes and raise their hands if they had a hard time believing specific ones.
All of us fall into certain pitfalls of lies about who God is and who we are. Common ones are that we don’t believe God has our best interests in mind, that he’ll take care of us, that we’re truly good enough or that God loves us as much as He loves others who seem more blessed. In these situations, it’s important to declare the truth in prayer. So I led the students in declarations formatted like this "In the name of Jesus I believe and I declare that [God loves me, I am smart and capable, etc.]"
Questions about who God is and doubts about His love for us start a lot earlier than we like to admit, but God is just waiting to shower his love and truth over us. We just have to provide the space for Him to do it. I know that most of you reading this are not affiliated with music ministry in any way, but I do believe that these fundamental concepts of understanding God’s fundamental love for us and expressing our doubt, questioning, thanksgiving and love to Him are universally important. In whichever way you best receive and express communication with God, He wants to meet you where you are and tell you the truth about Himself. I am excited to watch the children’s choir, and really the parish as a whole, continue to journey toward that truth.