Catholic Musician Seph Schlueter Finds a Home in Nashville

“I’m going to love you and relate to you, but at the same time show you why I believe what I believe.”

Seph Schlueter
Seph Schlueter (photo: Photo Provided)

The maxim that music is a unifier is playing out in the life of a young Catholic whose artistic path has taken him into a world dominated by evangelical Protestants.

Seph Schlueter, worship coordinator at Damascus Catholic Mission Campus in Centerburg, Ohio, recently released “Rest in Peace,” a song he wrote with Protestants Carter Frodge and Mitch Wong. The song emerged from sessions with set up by the representative of a Christian music label Schlueter had reached out to via Instagram.

“It’s a long shot to send someone DMs and get a response,” Schlueter said. But Jon Sell, director of Artists & Repertoire for Capitol Christian Music Group, did respond, and he invited Schlueter to Nashville to work with other songwriters. After seven sessions over three days with a dozen different people, Schlueter left with seven songs, including “Rest in Peace,” his third solo release. 

Apart from Matt Maher and a few others, including the tour manager for TobyMac, Schlueter said almost all of Nashville’s Christian music scene is non-Catholic. “It’s not anti-Catholic per se, but there are not really Catholic musicians in that place.” 

He attributes this to a hesitancy on the part of Catholic artists to be on stages. “There’s a good heart behind that. We don’t want to inflate or puff ourselves up, but we’re also missing a call to be influencers in the world.” Catholic artists, Schlueter said, often will say they want to make Christ’s name — not their own — known. “But we make his name known by wider stages.”

Even as he has been writing, recording and performing Catholic worship music at Damascus, where he and other staff members released the album “Awake My Soul” last June, Schlueter has been trying to break into the Christian music industry. He has been both surprised and pleased to discover that, despite some initial discomfort, the Protestants he has met have been largely receptive to and even interested in his Catholic identity. Schlueter understands their reluctance, which he said is often based on misconceptions about the Church, less-than-stellar experiences with Catholics or the impression that most Catholics are just going through the motions of their faith. But his zeal for bringing revival to Catholic music and the Catholic world has clearly been a bridge-builder.

“Nine times out of ten, they’re really intrigued. So many of them say they didn’t know there are Catholics like that. They’ll say, ‘You mean you’re Catholic and you love Jesus and you talk about a relationship with him?’” Often, he said, their questions lead to conversations.

For example, when Schlueter sat down to dinner with the heads of a top Christian label, one of the first questions he was asked was, “What do you think about Mary?” Schlueter explained that she is an intercessor with a special connection to the Lord and that Catholics ask her to pray for them.” The response: “That actually makes sense.” 

Recently, before he was to open for Christian artist Phil Wickham’s first concert since the COVID-19 lockdowns, Wickham engaged him backstage and asked about his work at Damascus.

“Even though I was opening for him, he came onstage to introduce me and specifically mentioned, ‘Seph is a Catholic and doing mission in the Catholic Church.’”

When the audience responded favorably, Schlueter said, “It was such a beautiful show of unity. This is one of the huge reasons why I felt called to not just pursue stuff with Damascus Worship, but to be able to reach a wider audience and show people the Catholic Church is alive and we’re brothers and sisters with these people. Yeah, we have differences, but the thing that unites us is love of Jesus and music is such a beautiful way to capture that.”

Schlueter said he also saw music bring Protestants and Catholics together during a songwriting conference at Damascus that Protestants Michael and Meredith Mauldin of the UpperRoom worship movement helped lead. The 85 attendees included both Catholics and Protestants, but Schlueter said, “We were not shy about our Catholic identity.”

For example, he said, before a Mass on the feast of St. Joseph, “We had someone explain the Mass and people came and stayed for Mass and were moved by it: the homily and the reverence and the fact that they were with a group of people entering into it.” The conference closed with a worship night led by Damascus and Protestant worship leaders. 

“There were testimonies of people who said the weekend was transformative. Some never knew Catholics could be like this and they didn’t know Catholics worshiped like this. Others didn’t know Protestants could be like this.” 

Growing up, Schlueter said, he learned to appreciate Protestants who are living their faith and who regard it as more than an accessory to use on Sunday. However, he added, “I was blessed with an amazing Catholic formation, so even in the midst of being involved in Protestant things and getting to know their bands and preachers, I never thought of leaving the Church.” In all his encounters with Protestants, Schlueter said he holds to an uncompromising view of the truth and tries to express it while still loving people.

“I’m going to love you and relate to you, but at the same time show you why I believe what I believe.”