ALLOUEZ — Have you ever wanted to sing along to a pastoral letter from your bishop? Now, people in the Diocese of Green Bay, who have heard about “Disciples on the Way,” Bishop David Ricken’s 2014 pastoral letter, can do just that.
The pastoral letter on the new evangelization process contains four parts, each explaining how missionary disciples “discover Jesus, follow Jesus, worship Jesus and share Jesus with others.” These words became part of the diocesan mission and vision statements, issued in August 2016.
They are simple words, but still not something that might come readily to mind. And certainly not something for a sing-a-long, right? Maybe, but you may think twice once you’ve heard a new song, “Discover Jesus,” based on these four points.
It was written by Mary Armbrust, a member of the diocesan Curia, and pastoral care and ministry coordinator for diocesan Catholic Charities.
Armbrust, a member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Green Bay, wrote the song in November 2017, while working with fellow curia member Barry Metzentine on the Parish Life Mission Team planning for fall parish sessions.
“The more I prayed on (parish planning) and thought on it, (the song) just really came to me,” she said. “So I went home and I sang it into my phone as it came to me. I just got the first part (the refrain) just like that. The next day I thought, ‘There should be something more.’ So the next day, at work, the rest of it got fleshed out.”
That led to a total of four verses, plus the refrain. When finished, Armbrust realized that it would soon be Bishop Ricken’s birthday on Nov. 9. So Armbrust called her daughter, Christine Bertrand, and asked her to sing it with her. ‘‘She came over with a guitar and we sang it and she recorded it on her phone. I sent it to Bishop in an email, saying ‘Happy Birthday.’”
Armbrust said that Bishop Ricken was “really excited” about the song and hoped that it “was really going to help people meditate on the mission and vision.”
Later, Armbrust, her daughter, and about a dozen other Curia members (who comprise an informal choir for certain occasions at St. Joseph Chapel on the dioesan campus) made a recording of “Discover Jesus” at Resurrection Church in Allouez “in case we couldn’t get live musicians” at parish sessions, she said.
About a month later, Michelle Becker, liturgist and director of music at Resurrection Parish, called Armbrust to tell her the parish would have the song performed by students at their first Communion.
“Just the thought of kids singing it was really exciting,” Armbrust said. That took her back to her roots of song writing. She first wrote a cantata, a narrative piece of music, while she served as a musician at Holy Family Parish in Marinette. When she served as a substitute choir teacher at Holy Family School (now St. Thomas Aquinas Academy), she started writing songs for the students to sing. She later taught at Aquinas.
“I started a cantor program for my kids at Catholic school,” she said, and found that “the psalms were not very sing-able for kids.” She started writing psalms. “I wrote about 10 or 11 of them,” she said.
For each song, the students focused on one psalm. That psalm would change every month.
“And they just learned them,” Armbrust said. “They were really simple songs and they could play them on their instruments. After I moved on, they kept using them. They are probably still using them.”
She believes that religious songs, when they relate to prayer and Scripture, should encourage singing and “the sound of it should match what the message is.” She noted that, for most people, a lot of the Scriptures they can best remember come from songs such as “On Eagles’ Wings” (Psalm 91) and “We are Called” (Micah 6:8).
“I have a heart for liturgy,” she said, “and I have a disdain for everything always sounding the same. I just help people’s hearts sing.”
When Bishop Ricken’s 10th anniversary Mass came up on Aug. 28, the song “Discover Jesus” surfaced again, sung by the curia choir. However, a new element was added: Armbrust had always wanted the song to be in both English and Spanish. So, another co-worker, Gabriella Chavez, translated the song to Spanish. The choir sang it, with the English verses and Spanish verses echoing each other. The assembly caught on to the simple tune quickly. Bishop Ricken sang along, too.
“He was really excited when he heard us all sing it,” Armbrust said. “He said, ‘Wow, that was really catchy and a lot of fun.’”
Armbrust has made the song available free to all the parishes in the diocese.
“I just hope that if parishes want to use it, (it will help them) meditate and reflect on and own the mission and vision a little more,” she said. “It’s my gift to bishop and to them.”
One thing Armbrust would like to see added to the song is a full score.
“What I don’t have is a full accompaniment,” she said. “I play almost all by ear. I can read music, but if someone wanted to look at that and be happy to (write an arrangement), super-duper.”
Editor’s note: For copies, contact Mary Armbrust at [email protected], or call (920) 272-8300.)