The seats were rattling. We could feel the pounding rhythms through our ribcages and even our hearts.
Around us, hundreds of people jumped up and down in time to the music. Most were teenagers and young adults, but the age range in the room spanned from septuagenarians to newborn babies.
That was quite a church service.
No, it wasn’t a typical church service. But then, the Savoy Theatre isn’t a typical church. And the bands playing in Glace Bay on the last Saturday night of the summer weren’t the choirs you’d see at your typical Sunday service.
The main event on this night was the Irish Christian band Rend Collective, kicking off the Nova Scotia leg of the group’s “Revival Anthem” tour. Several members of Port Hawkesbury’s Reach Church are Rend Collective fans, to the point that Cathy and I started singing one of their best-known songs, “My Lighthouse,” as part of our Sunday morning services this past spring. So, when we found out that Rend Collective was hitting the Savoy, the church leaders decided to make a road trip out of it, with a dozen of us criss-crossing Cape Breton to check it out.
Our Reach Church friends weren’t the only familiar faces in the audience that night. Moments before the curtain rose on the evening’s impressive opening act, the U.S.-based acoustic Christian duo Land and Color, I ran into my friend Tracy Small and got the chance to meet her teenage son Zach.
Long before Rend Collective even became a band, Tracy and I were used to energetic, out-of-the-box worship, even within the supposedly rigid framework of the Catholic Church. We met nearly three decades earlier, during the late-‘80s/early-‘90s wave of charismatic youth ministry that flowed through the Diocese of Antigonish at the time. Our churches were YMCA camps in the Boisdale area, gymnasiums and auditoriums at Cape Breton University and Dr. J.H. Gillis Regional High School, and Challenge weekends at the Villa Madonna Retreat House in Bras d’Or.
These buildings, and the activities that took place within them, weren’t necessarily a carbon copy of Sunday Mass, but they showcased Jesus’ love for all His children, treated us with respect, and delivered the basic joy of worshipping and simply gathering together.
While I was catching up with Tracy, my friends Shawn and Barb Bigley found me. Shawn was only a couple of hours removed from officiating his first Mass as an official Catholic deacon, at St. Anne’s Parish in Glace Bay. Cathy and I saw Shawn’s ordination less than 26 hours before we landed at the Savoy, as he joined seven other candidates – including four other Cape Bretoners – for the official ceremonies at St. Ninian’s Cathedral in Antigonish. That considerably-more-solemn ceremony belied the excitement felt by many in the room as the diocese welcomed its latest wave of deacons to assist a shrinking number of priests.
Out on the steps of St. Ninian’s on a sunny Friday afternoon, Shawn was grinning from ear-to-ear as he delivered another bit of great news; his new duties include overseeing youth ministry at his Glace Bay parish. They’re going to love him up there. That shouldn’t be much of a stretch – based on what I’ve seen from Shawn and Barb in the 16 years we’ve been friends, they’re already loved by many urban Cape Breton millennials.
Back in Port Hawkesbury the morning after our church trip to Glace Bay, I chugged a pot of coffee and headed over to St. Mark’s United Church to lead the choir and the music for their regular Sunday service. I’ve played this role regularly at St. Mark’s and at St. David’s United Church in Port Hastings since their long-time organist, Al Fougere, passed away in April.
This is not a post that I take lightly. That’s partly because I’m aware of what Al brought to local Christian worship over his decades of service, but mostly because I will never turn away when God requests my services to help His children praise His name. I still struggle with some of the new-to-me songs within the United Church hymnals, but I’ll always do what I can to make things smoother in this transition period.
Hours later, the Reach Church crew gathered for a spaghetti supper and a lively worship service. We didn’t have the fancy lighting or smoke machines that Rend Collective used in Glace Bay the previous night, but we felt the Holy Spirit moving through us the sun set on the last evening of summer.
And as the fall kicks in and I begin my 48th year on the planet, I’m grateful to God for leading me to a place where church is more than a building: It’s a community that sings, laughs, talks and prays together in His name.
Amen to that.