Music ministry helps religious education program reach youth

"Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." (Psalm 95:1-2)

At St. Theresa Parish in North Reading, these words of Psalm 95 have inspired a music ministry of the same name, or “PS 95” for short. The music ministry, described as a contemporary Christian band by its founder Peter Allen, is part of the religious education-youth ministry programs at St. Theresa Parish.

Ministries such as PS 95 and other religious education programs are supported by the Office of Religious Education of the Archdiocese of Boston, which is funded by donations made to the Annual Catholic Appeal.

By making its special brand of inspirational music accessible to young people, PS 95 is helping to further the main objective of St. Theresa Parish’s religious education program — to make religion a permanent part of the lives of children and adolescents in a fast-changing world.

As an addition to the religious education curriculums used at St. Theresa Parish (“Christ Jesus the Way” for grades one through six and “Living Our Faith” for grades seven and eight), PS 95 seeks to support catechists in their quest to extend the parents’ role in passing on the faith to their children. Those participating in PS 95 elect to do so in addition to taking part in their traditional religious education studies.

More and more young people at St. Theresa Parish are becoming involved in passing on their knowledge and love of their faith to younger children. They are doing so by serving as catechists or — more recently — by joining PS 95. The music ministry, which was established in November 2003, currently numbers 15 and recruits mostly through religious education classes. The band is open to students of all ages.

"Music introduces students to our faith in a way that is meaningful to them," says Bridget Rao, religious education coordinator for grades one through eight at St. Theresa Parish.

"We use an avenue that they are familiar with -- contemporary music."

PS 95 has developed an ambitious repertoire of inspirational songs with titles such as “Above All,” “Awesome God,” “Draw Me Close,” “Forever,” “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus” and “You Are The Lord.”

"Seeing the love for praising the Lord on the faces of our young people is very rewarding. They are so enthused. They are feeling something even if they are not sure what it is," Rao comments. "They join PS 95 not because of their parents, but because they want to."

"If our young people want to be here, we will find a place for them," promises Allen, PS 95's director. "The more people who participate, the better our band sounds."

According to Allen, PS 95 is exploring an untapped style of music as far as Christian worship is concerned and is an outreach of the parish’s youth ministry program. “It is a way for young people to express God’s love,” he suggests. “A lot of kids out there are attracted to this.”

"All of us are a group of young people who get together to express music," says Gabrielle Ravioli, who is a member of PS 95.

"Music is another way to express God's love," Matt Lorton, another PS 95 member, adds.

"I like to sing. I like to express my singing to God. It's a great thing," agrees fellow band member Patrick Welch.

And what does the future hold for PS 95?

"The kids are extremely loyal. They meet for extra rehearsals before a performance. They want their music to be good before they debut it. From this, we may be evolving into other music ministries. There are no bounds to what we can do."

To learn more about PS 95 and other religious education programs at St. Theresa Parish, call Bridget Rao, religious education coordinator, at 978-664-2962. For more information on this year’s Catholic Appeal, which began May 1 and 2, call Damien DeVasto, director of the Catholic Appeal Office, at 617-746-5628.