By Jason A. Smith
Hundreds of people representing a variety of religious faiths gathered recently as part of a local church's effort to promote Christian unity through song.
St. James the Apostle Catholic Church, at 1000 Ga. Highway 155 in McDonough, hosted its first interfaith concert Monday, featuring several Christian musicians. The event was designed to close out training seminars for worship leaders from varying faiths.
Diane Scarbrough, the music director at the church who organized the concert, said she felt a need to open the event to the community as a way to serve people.
"As a Catholic Christian Church, we feel that outreach to the community is very important," said Scarbrough. "Service is really big with the Catholic Church. That's what we pride ourselves on doing - serving other people as Jesus serves us. That's how community love is manifested. We have Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalian people and others coming together, because we all worship the same God."
Scarbrough said she hoped everyone in attendance received a "special blessing" by listening to each performance. "The songs that God has placed on these artists' hearts speak so much to our Christian traditions, the magnitude of the Lord and His mercy," she said.
Artists who performed during the concert included singer-songwriter Kelly Minter, the Michael Gungor Band and Brenton Brown. Brown, a Protestant/Catholic crossover singer who grew up in South Africa, described his brand of music as "rock worship," and said he is always lifted up, spiritually, by performing for an audience.
"The music we're playing and the lyrics we sing ... really, they are just prayers," said Brown. "To be able to do that with the body of Christ is encouraging. It works best when it's a participant sport, and everyone's involved in it. When it's a spectator sport is when it works worst."
Many in attendance Monday appeared to be full participants, raising their hands and their voices for much of the event.
Tony Walker of McDonough, who attends St. James, was one of nearly 400 people who purchased tickets for the performances, due largely to a love of praise and worship music. He said he and his wife, Joan, came to the concert with a desire to be blessed, and to interact with other Christians.
"We come to these kinds of events looking for the particular message it has for us, and for the people who are here," he said. "It affects people in different ways, so we try to be open to whatever the Lord has for us at that particular moment."
Chris Dayett of Wilmington, N.C., came to the concert after attending a previous conference through LifeTeen, a national Catholic youth ministry. Dayett, who recently accepted a position as a worship leader in a Methodist church, said he wanted to learn more about the connection between music and liturgy, or public worship.
One of the people Dayett said has helped him in the endeavor is Matt Maher, the headlining artist for Monday's concert.
"Matt does a great job of showing you how to incorporate contemporary Christian music into liturgy, but still make it meaningful for all participants," said Dayett.
Maher, 34, lives in Phoenix, Ariz., and has been involved in music ministry for 14 years. He said he enjoys singing at interfaith concerts because of the sense of spiritual oneness he sees at such events.
"In the world of Christianity of other denominations, music - especially within the context of Sunday morning - takes on a predominant role," said Maher. "There are opportunities to provide songs for denominations, where you have a chance to hear commonalities in theology and doctrine that you wouldn't necessarily have [otherwise]. It's a great opportunity to pursue unity."
Maher, who is Catholic, said the diversity represented by the musicians at the concert, and those who came to hear them, demonstrates the importance of identifying differences between faiths and learning from them. "We don't hide from our differences, or pretend they don't exist," he said. "We recognize they are there, but we do so in a spirit of fraternity."