Written by: April Vargo
Before I really get in the meat of this blog, I wanted to start with a brief disclaimer. This week's blog is in no way meant to try to persuade, convert, or push any religious views. I am a strong believer in people choosing what religion, if any, they participate in. This is simply detailing my recent experiences and thoughts on the matter. I hope you enjoy!
For several years now I have been "church shopping" in search of my vision of an ideal church and community. I've listened to people who rave about their churches, the awesome events they get to participate in, and the amazing people they meet. I have, for quite a while now, felt like maybe that doesn't exist in the religion that I practice, maybe I have to settle for what I have found. However, since I'm absolutely terrible at settling for anything short of what I want, my search has continued.
I've been looking for a place that's upbeat, able to relate to this generation, has a sense of community, and a fantastic music program. These attributes have been incredibly difficult to find.
I grew up in a religious household and have gone to church my whole life. The tradition of it was super comforting, however, I never found the priests to be super inspiring or incredibly relatable. Many of the stories seemed to recycle themselves, you were always expected to sit quietly and follow the rules, and the process became somewhat routine, something that I had to do.
The church I grew up in thought that religious retreats were a great way to bond, especially as you were going through confirmation. They always wanted to talk about problems and how God helped you through them. I didn't have any problems, I was happy with my life, and always got this look of disappointment that I didn't have anything to share....should I make something up to make you happy? Needless to say, I did what I was supposed to by attending the events but pretty much tried to avoid non-mandatory activities at all costs.
Sometimes they would get super excitable music directors and music would be upbeat and include various instrumental ensembles. However, much of the time would be very conservative and low key. I always wondered, if we were supposed to be praising God and getting pumped, why was it so offensive to get into the music and be upbeat? I actually always wished that mass could be like Sister Act, with a nun who came in and completely jazzed up the music, and breathed new life into the mass.....but I digress.....
It wasn't until college that the church was upbeat, relatable, and had fabulous music. I actually enjoyed going, and found myself present on Sundays because I wanted to be there. However, when graduation time came, I was basically back at square one.
As an adult, I have found churches with beautiful buildings, but the priests are less than inspiring, one actually lectured the congregation he hadn't received enough money that day - not cool! Another one, I fell in love with, however, they decided to turn homilies into political speeches, pushing their individual political beliefs. If I wanted to engage in political debates, I'd turn on the tv or get on Facebook, I don't need to sit hostage and listen to someone else's politics.
I've been even more adamant about finding an awesome church to join now that we're pregnant. I want our daughter to have a positive experience, make friends, engage, feel connected, and get to practice her faith.
I always start every one of my lessons with the question, "what did you do this week that was fun?" Last week, one of my students told me she had gone to a daddy-daughter dance with her dad and her sisters. I had it in my head that she must have gone through school because I hadn't heard of daddy-daughter dances outside of school. I asked her how her sisters were able to attend with her. She said it was through her church, her church does a lot of fun activities, and they had a blast!
This student happens to be relatively local, so I asked where she went, prepping myself for it to be a different religion. A total shock to me, it was the same religion and not too far of a drive. It was actually the church my sister-in-law is planning on getting married at. I realized I had to check it out, hoping this might be my answer.
It was fabulous, exactly what I've been looking for! My husband and I got there a little early, so I had the opportunity to meet people and get a feel for how they are. Everyone was so friendly, upbeat, and seemed genuinely happy to be there. They have an instrumental section - complete with strings and woodwinds, a choir, and the music is upbeat and fun! The priest is engaging, current, and relatable.
At one point, they call for the children to come forward and grab various instruments consisting of maracas, drums, tambourins, and claves - traditional general music instruments. Each child gets their own, processes through the church playing the instrument how they chose. The music teacher in me was absolutely ecstatic!
The priest was talking about how students participating in confirmation are taken to Steppenwolf Theater....no creepy retreats, but instead an opportunity to engage in the community and do something fun. The artist in me was beyond sold!
This whole experience got me thinking about how music, the arts, community and worship should absolutely go hand in hand. Why a barrier? Why not use these mediums as another form of expression, bonding, and praise?
Music and the arts in general, are incredibly important to me, the idea that these are just integrated into life, instead of separated is exactly how music was meant to be performed and enjoyed. My hope for my daughter is that she can experience these opportunities in more ways than just recitals and performances, but something that's always at her disposal. Something that she can lean on, turn to, and enjoy.
Music itself lifts people up, brings a smile to people's faces, and draws people together. When we try and regulate it or confine it to tradition and deem certain performance mediums or instruments inappropriate we take away some of it's essence, what makes it so special. Allowing different ideas and forms of music, also allows different people to participate in an ensemble and showcase their talents, creating a sense of community.
When individuals get to participate and share in something they find passion in, they grow and are able to give something back to someone else. Using your talents to inspire and move people is a gift that should be shared with others.
This experience just furthered my belief in pursuing what you want, not settling, and not giving up until you find exactly what you're looking for. What you want is out there, it might take time, however, once you find it it's well worth the wait. I hope whatever it is you're looking for, you find it. Be patient and keep moving forward.