The Secret of Shantigarh

There are several secrets to our success. 

Success is a relative term but we can state our interpretation simply:  The Church is full every Sunday except during Super Bowl and the Oscar Night.  Other than that, it's full.  If you are having trouble getting your contemporary/youth/young adult type service up to speed, don't despair.  Shantigarh had the best of all initial conditions for starting a liturgy.

First Secret:  We got to start a liturgy.  There was no 5:30 Mass before we started singing at it.  We had no existing congregation to appease.  The pews were empty.  And that, friends, is a good thing because there are no expectations and no community standards to meet.  Our job was to set the standards, to raise (or lower, in the estimation of detractors) the bar.  We were told it would take a year to fill the Church.  It took three.    That's the first secret.  You may not have this optimum initial condition and, if not, more power to you.  You have a harder road.

Second secret.  Youth Masses have, like certain Ford sedans, built-in obsolescence.   That is, the kids who might naturally be tapped for their passion and, well, their youth, get older, graduate, and move away.  The institutional memory of the group is constantly evaporating.   Our response has been to be age- inclusive while constantly recruiting from the Parish school and the "Comprehensive Youth Ministry," which is very active in our Church.  Our group membership is about 50 to 60% high school age.  But we rely on a cadre of "mentor members" who are in the 30's, 40's and 50's.  Naturally, we screen them regularly for uncoolness.  Uncoolness means they start telling the "children" how to behave or dress or sing or breathe.  Not okay.  The director alone to do that; otherwise the "mentor member" sticks to business and shares his music and, when some kid asks, his or her knowledge.

Third secret.  Be true to the concept.  Are you or are you not an "alternative" service? If you are, then don't get into the habit of kissing up to the liturgically conservative element which may occasionally drop by because they missed the other scheduled Masses.  Your job is to be an alternative.  How do we interpret this mission?  Long ago, when we started the 5:30 Mass, it was mentioned at a planning session that people, especially kids, should feel relaxed at Mass, perhaps even "at home."  Even though I enjoy dressing well for certain events, Church included, I make a point of dressing casually for this Mass.  We chat (far too much) with congregants before the liturgy in full view of everyone.  My training does not equip me for this level of casual behavior but it seems correct in context.  Kids are always happy to see each other.  But you must know the secret lines which are not to be crossed.  After a great solo, I wince in pain if one kid (or adult) gives a high five to another, or offers one to me after I've done the psalm at the ambo.  That's not "relaxed."  That's just wrong.  On the other hand, I would not hesitate to send a psalmist to the ambo with a guitar... or with two other people to perform three-part harmony.  Relaxed means the singers are smiling, perhaps exchanging a word or two off-mic and... sipping from a McDonald's paper cup?  If you recoiled in horror at the cup, good for you.  Most of our symbols of "casual behavior" have been thought out.  Here's one.  The sax player, Andy, in our group, has been given the signal to augment our communion hymn with a solo.  He's on fire.  That's a good thing.  I might walk over to Andy with a mic I have popped out of its stand, and hold it near the bell of his instrument, all for public consumption.  It adds, rather than detracts, to the "casual" spirit of the service.  It gives the congregation something else to look at.  Is that wrong?  Conventional answer:  Absolutely.  But the alternative answer:  Give their tired eyes something else to look at.  This is not a liturgical convention, it's a gathering of folks in the midst of some very hard times.  If it cheers an old man's heart to see somebody holding up a mic to Sax player, God's will has been done.

Last secret:  Ignore substantial portions of advice from traditional sources.  Their job is to be traditional and yours is not.  If you cannot hold this contradiction in your brain, you may not be the dude for an "alternative" service.  Their job is uphold with valor the simplicty of the rite while yours is to constantly celebrate the multiplicty of opportunities in song and in liturgy.  Theirs to constantly draw a distinction between entertainment and worship.  Yours is to fight boredom among your flock as if it were a mortal sin because they came to be stirred up.  Do not disappoint.  Be true to your concept and appreciative of those who go to a whole other church even though it shares the same address.  JB

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