We are blessed in the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston with countless parishioners who share their musical talents each week at Mass. Since we are in the midst of a pandemic their voices and instruments have nearly been silenced. However, more than 40 faithful from around the state believe that when you are given a gift from God you know you need to share that gift no matter what. They collaborated with Bishop Mark Brennan to “sing and make music from the heart to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19).”
This gift of song was presented as a Christmas message video to all the faithful in West Virginia. These individuals and all those who they represent in the music ministries in our parishes epitomize FaithInWV!
“Despite all the challenges everyone has faced this past year, our faith is still strong among Catholics in WV,” Katie Shaffer, of St. Paul Parish in Weirton said. “Being able to ‘come together’ in the Christmas video from all over the state, representing different parishes and age groups, proves we are not alone on this faith journey, even though physical distancing has kept us apart. We are stronger together even if virtually. This year some of us may not be able to perform in parishes like we normally do, as cantors or instrumentalists due to the COVID-19 parish restrictions, but we found a way to make to make beautiful music together despite the pandemic. We are open to new ways of celebrating our faith and not losing faith during difficult times.”
Mark Haas, who helped orchestrate the production and played the timpani (kettle drum), said all who participated were eager to do so for their fellow parishioners, the state, and Bishop Brennan.
“This video vividly shows the assembly of God’s people – from every walk of life – under the humble leadership of His earthly shepherd, Bishop Brennan,” said Haas, who also serves as the director of music for the Co-Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in Charleston. “My hope is that this video might kindle a fire in many hearts, and perhaps bring some sheep back home.”
He said the video was a chance to live out what God teaches us, especially in Psalm 100: We are His people, the sheep of His flock.
“It’s hard to be Christian in today’s world,” Haas said. “Sometimes I feel like the only one ‘plowing the field.’ This video is a reminder to me that the Church of God has many members, but one body. The eye or the hand can’t say to the body, ‘I don’t need you!’ We need each other. And this video, which demonstrates the active faith in West Virginia, is something we all needed to see this Christmas. Hallelujah!”
Haas’s wife, a music teacher at Sacred Heart Grade School in Charleston, eagerly shared her gift of song with the faithful in West Virginia.
“The song is about the story of Jesus coming at Christmas time to bring a renewed hope to the world and how we can give praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of his Son,” she said. “My faith has always been the most important thing in my life. I was brought up in the Church and began singing when I was nine years old at the Cathedral of St. Joseph, Wheeling. It was there that I started ministering through music which has allowed me to pray openly to my community that I belong to. Just like I tell my students at school using the words of St. Augustine, ‘When you sing you pray twice.’ That has always rung true for me.”
She said making time to be part of the production was important to her to not only bring joy to people in the season of Christmas, but also to encourage them to live like Christ taught us.
“I also believe that as I have become a mother to now five children I have had to lean on God through my ministry to my children. ‘Hallelujah’ is Hebrew for “Praise God.” The song describes the coming Joy and Love that is God himself. ‘With every breath I’m singing, Hallelujah,’ is an action I hope to inspire my own children to take every day of their lives.”
Stephen Pishner, music director for All Saints Parish in Bridgeport, said those I the music ministry take pride in bringing a heightened message from Christ to the people through song during the Mass and special performances outside the Mass.
“We have a unique role to help people and (through this and our parish videos) give them hope,” he said. “It’s a humbling experience. It is our gift to people and God.”
Sharing the gift of music is always special, but in this case, it was a spiritually moving experience, according to Shaffer.
“To be able to collaborate with musicians from across the state who I don’t get to perform with regularly was a great experience and I was happy to be asked to be a part of it,” she said. “I’ve been playing flute for Masses since I was in grade school. Sadly, this was the first year since grade school which I haven’t been able to play at Mass (due to the pandemic), so to be able to come together this way and share my talent in this video was uplifting to me.
“The video illustrates that we are all one in God’s eyes,” she said and added. “From Bishop Brennan playing the piano to the children singing, we are all children of God, no matter what our earthly status is. We are all on this journey of faith together.”
Shaffer’s thoughts may summarize the spirit of all those involved, when she said, “Even though the ‘world’ may have stopped this year….our faith never stops. God never stops being there for us no matter what we are experiencing. Even though some feel there isn’t much to celebrate about this past year, this video reminds me to not lose faith, especially during the difficult times, and to focus on the positive things that have happened in my life as a result of the pandemic.”
Those involved in the video include: Mark Haas (Cross Lanes), Chris Cendana (Ona), Joey Carter (Wheeling), Robert Phipps (Morgantown), Audrey Blust (Huntington), children from Sacred Heart Grade School (Charleston), Hannah Dieffenbaugher (Wheeling), Patty Frame (South Charleston), Carla Guthrie (Charleston), Renae Haas (Cross Lanes), Kevin Harris (Shepherdstown), Brian Kaltenbaugh (Martinsburg), Brandon Leroy (Bridgeport), Nancy McLaughlin (South Charleston), Mary Odin (South Charleston), Carrie Oliver-Shultz (Weirton), Gabby Payne (Wheeling), Stephen Pishner (Bridgeport), Jeanie Walter (South Charleston), Bishop Mark Brennan (Wheeling), Matthew Berher (Wheeling), Chad Carter (Wheeling), John Dever (South Charleston), Ashley Driscoll (Bridgeport), Christine Hummer (Beckley), Phil Wyatt (Stonewood), Tim Bishop (Wheeling), Julia Pinn (Morgantown), and the St. Francis De Sales Parish Handbell Choir (Morgantown), which includes Pinn, Donna Kinsey, Nicholas Blumish, Natalie Buckley, Mary Hayward, Emily Raque, Maggie Raque, Steve Raque, Diane Raque, Ariana Romito, Andreas Schmid, and Karen Stratton.
The video can be viewed on the diocesan website (https://dwc.org), and social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram).