At 27 years old, Jimmy Mitchell is part of the Millennial Generation, the largest generation in history (numbering 80 million) that everyone is trying to reach.
Mitchell is trying to reach his peers with the beauty of the Catholic Church through modern renditions of sacred music and contemporary music that draws them deeper into the meaning of life and the experience of God.
Mysterium Records, founded by Mitchell, is bringing together a growing collective of Catholic musicians in their early 20s and 30s who are congregating in Nashville, Tenn., to produce good music that is secular in style, but with positive, life-affirming messages that draw upon the concepts of theology of the body and other Catholic truths.
Many of these artists will perform at the second annual Glory Conference in Nashville this May, and they are featured on a new CD released by Mysterium called Shine, the Glory Collective, a live in-studio production of songs performed at last year’s Glory Conference. Some of the artists also perform at Mysterium’s Love Come Alive festival in partnership with 40 Days for Life (also available on CD at LoveGoodMusic.com).
"The Glory Conference is a deep exploration of the intersection between art and faith in the modern culture," said Mitchell.
Unlike the praise-and-worship music found at many high-school conferences, the Glory Conference presents a collection of traditional sacred hymns in a modern way. Artists also perform their own songs, which are influenced by blues, jazz and pop genres. The sacred liturgies at the conference include Gregorian chant, too.
Mitchell’s mission is motivated by his experience. "What I’m seeing in this generation that I’m part of is: We grew up at the beginning of a time of transition in the Church, a lot of mediocrity, nominal Catholicism, a lot of people who said they were Catholics but lived lives that contradicted their faith," he said. "In college, I was being challenged by evangelical Christians who thought I was crazy for being Catholic, but was part of a larger group of people who had no faith at all, believing that God did not exist. I’m seeing a great renewal of faith that sees through the counterfeits of our culture at large and the hypocrisies that we grew up with and that fervently desires lives of holiness."
Musician Greg Boudreaux, 27, who met Mitchell while working with Life Teen, believes Mitchell is answering a vocational call from God to make a space for artists to come together and influence the culture through the arts.
"He came up with the idea for Glory, and through the course of the conference, we figured out what the call was. It evolved in front of us — this idea that the culture needs beauty to be renewed, to see the face of God again," he said. "In a lot of ways, we as a culture have rejected the true and the good, but we still recognize what is beautiful — and that’s why people like music. Jimmy’s mission is to bring the world back to what is true, good and beautiful."
Boudreaux, who will be performing at Glory 2013, along with Chris Cole, Kevin Heider and others, presented an arrangement of Holy God We Praise Thy Name at last year’s conference that is featured on the CD, along with a jazzy version of When the Saints Go Marching In and his own song, Your Love Is Strong. He is currently working on an album with his wife, Lizzy, that witnesses to authentic love and marriage and faithfulness.
Boudreaux believes the challenge for Catholic musicians is to get a foothold with music that isn’t exclusively sacred in nature. Mysterium Records’ top-selling album is Marian Grace, a collection of sacred hymns recorded by Mitchell and Colleen Nixon, which is the easiest genre to market and distribute, Boudreaux said.
While it’s a challenge to get beyond strictly sacred music, it’s a worthy challenge, he said: "It’s worth the challenge — because there are people who won’t come to the faith in any other way."
Jesuit Father Patrick Hough helped Mitchell with the liturgical component of the first Glory Conference, training the artists in Gregorian chant and singing parts of the Mass in Latin.
Father Hough, who teaches at Jesuit High School in Tampa, Fla., is originally from Lancashire, England, and has a bachelor’s degree in sacred theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He also studied theology at the Pontifical Angelicum University. A musician trained in sacred liturgies, he has been restoring sacred elements to the Masses offered for youth at parishes and high schools where he has worked. His experience with sacred music has been an increasing number of people attending Mass and lingering afterwards, as well as a greater number going to confession and showing interest in vocations.
"Jimmy knew there was a component that he had to add, but he didn’t know what it was. Just going with a college version of Life Teen with praise-and worship-music wasn’t going to give them an interior disposition to be open to the sacred," Father Hough explained about adding chant to Masses last year.
Last year, the conference offered three Masses, adoration and the Divine Office. Exposure to these different forms of liturgical worship drew all present deeper into prayer. "Singing the chants of the Mass and having harmony, especially in English and Latin — it was incredible," recalled Father Hough. "We sometimes had more people in the choir loft than the benches. You could hear when they talked to you that they were at greater peace."
Of quality music, Boudreaux emphasized: "The Church needs it, and the world needs witnesses. One of the most natural ways to witness is through art."
Barb Ernster writes from
Glory Conference 2013