PHOTOS COURTESY OF JEANNIE DOWNEY-VANOVER

Teenagers from the St. Rose of Lima “Teens Love Christ” choir traveled to Cincinnati to participate in the Youth Music Ministry Institute from July 10-13. At back, from left to right, is T.J. Ofugara, Emily Kaminski, Shelby Rose-Wilson, T.J. Hughes, and Msgr. Ray East, the pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Washington, who also attended the convention. At front, from left to right, is Seren Avenilla, Pia Tanhueco, Josepha Komeka, and Alex Makori.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF JEANNIE DOWNEY-VANOVER Teenagers from the St. Rose of Lima “Teens Love Christ” choir traveled to Cincinnati to participate in the Youth Music Ministry Institute from July 10-13. At back, from left to right, is T.J. Ofugara, Emily Kaminski, Shelby Rose-Wilson, T.J. Hughes, and Msgr. Ray East, the pastor of St. Teresa of Avila Parish in Washington, who also attended the convention. At front, from left to right, is Seren Avenilla, Pia Tanhueco, Josepha Komeka, and Alex Makori.
This past summer, eight teens from St. Rose of Lima Parish in Gaithersburg traveled to Cincinnati to participate in the Youth Music Ministry Institute during the National Association of Pastoral Musicians’ annual convention.

The “Teens Love Christ” choir at St. Rose includes about 30 teens in eighth grade through high school, and they sing every third Sunday at the parish’s 11 a.m. Mass. Every year there are several internship positions within the ministry that teenagers can fill, where they help run rehearsals and assume any leadership role that is necessary.

“We help the congregation to enjoy the Mass more,” said TJ Ofugara, a junior at Clarksburg High School. “When you add music to the Mass it helps us all come together so we can worship the Lord together.”

“I like to sing so being able to do that and serve God at the same time is great,” said Josepha Komeka, a junior at Northwest High School in Germantown.

Several of the teens that attended the convention have been participating in the music ministry since they were in the children’s “celebration choir,” which is for kids in kindergarten through first grade.

“When I was younger, I used to look up to the teen choir and say, ‘I want to be one of them’,” said Ofugara, who has participated in the music ministry there since second grade. “Now, when I look down, we’re inspiring them to continue with music [and] faith.”

Ofugara remembers that as a kid, it is hard to sit still and pray for a long time, but “when you’re singing, you’re having fun with it and it helps you with your faith.”

“Singing makes you connect with God,” said Pia Tanhueco, a senior at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. “When I first came to this church and saw the choir, I was amazed at how they delivered to the church and unified them.”

TJ Hughes, who is now a freshman at the University of Maryland in College Park, said one of the things he has always liked about the St. Rose choir is that they don’t sing in a loft.

“You’re more in touch with the community,” he said. “Especially in a church that is growing so quickly, we’re the glue holding everything together.”

This is the first year that teenagers were invited to participate in the National Association of Pastoral Musicians’ convention, which included more than 1,000 people. While they heard several of the guest speakers from the convention, the teenagers had their own program and were housed at Xavier University. While they were there, they had three days to learn a variety of different types of music, and on the last day had a concert in the Cathedral of St. Peter in Chains in Cincinnati.

The theme for the year’s convention was “Formed as one: Unity of Voice and Unity of Hearts.” Shelby Rose-Wilson, a sophomore at the Academy of the Holy Cross in Kensington, said the theme was designed to “unify voices from the beginning of the Church to the present day Catholic Church.” In doing so, the group learned everything from chants to modern worship songs.

“When I heard other people singing, they weren’t just singing words,” said Rose-Wilson, who added that the convention taught her, “you’re supposed to deliver faith and soul and put it into words. You’re supposed to show your faith in God and put it in song.”

Many of the teens said the trip challenged them to test their vocal limits, and gave them the freedom to explore their range.

“It really inspired me to get better so I could bring all the talent I built there back to our parish,” said Alex Makori, a junior at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville.

Every night at the convention, the teens had an evening prayer with the whole Youth Institute, and on Tuesday night, the teens from St. Rose had the opportunity to lead it.

“That week I really put my faith towards my music,” said Rose-Wilson. “I really felt the presence and energy of the Holy Spirit.”

Jeannie Downey-Vanover, the director of music ministry for youth at St. Rose, said whenever the Youth Music Ministry Institute attendees would walk into the room with the rest of the convention participants, “all of a sudden there was this energy that young people bring into the room.”

“It takes courage to be in ministry, especially in high school,” said Downey-Vanover. “The world pulls you in so many directions. What we do here is counter-cultural.”

Just as their different voices came together to create a harmony, the teens’ different backgrounds melded together to form a cohesive group. Makori said he “really felt the strength of the community,” even though he was singing with people he had just met, and he “got closer to God through other people.”

“I really liked how we are all from different backgrounds, but we all clicked together,” said Ofugara, who added he has been to other camps where that hasn’t been the case. He thinks it was because everyone knew, “we’re here for one purpose: to serve God. We all got along together, I feel like it’s because we’re all part of one Church.”