Glorious Sound of Gospel Celebrant Singers present music ministry at St. Stephen’s Church

By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
When The Celebrant Singers visit St. Stephen’s Church in Phoenix, they will be looking to increase the parishioners’ faith and energy through contermporary Christian music. The Celebrant Singers are planning to hold a concert at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 26, as well as participate in the 5 p.m. Mass on Oct. 26 and the 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Masses on Sunday, Oct. 27.

“I had heard The Celebrant Singers play at Christ the King in Liverpool and at Immaculate Conception in Fulton, so I knew how uplifting they could be,” said Sue Shatrau, a parishioner of St. Stephen’s Church. “So I pursued it and once it was arranged, I started distributing the flyers.”

The Celebrant Singers, composed of 10 singers and a 12-piece orchestra, along with lighting and sound technicians, perform ecumenical music ministries. The Celebrant Singers, whose members are interdenominational, is headquartered in Visalia, Calif., and hold international auditions to create six identical missionary teams. Members of the traveling missionary team are not salaried, but rather are responsible for raising approximately half of the cost of their traveling expenses. The remainder is raised through concert appearances and record sales.

The Celebrant Singers, ranging between 18 and 40 years old, on a full-time tour travel for about two years at a time, while summer touring groups only travel for a period of three months. Summer touring groups present college students or those able to take only a short period of time off to still participate in presenting the Gospel through music ministry.

“We’re really excited about them coming. They’re going to take part in the liturgy by playing for times such as entrance and Communion hymns,” Shatrau said. “This way more people, everyone at the Masses, will get a chance to see and hear them.”

Proof of the group’s widespread Roman Catholic popularity is manifested in the fact that approximately 70 percent of the group’s performances in 2001 were at Catholic churches. Since 1977, Celebrant Singers have sung at more than 4,000 parishes throughout North America. They have also held performances at St. Peter’s Square in Rome during Easter week, at the 1984 International Youth Conference in Rome, and at the 1993 and 2002 World Youth Day Celebrations. In addition, The Celebrant Singers were honored with a private audience with Pope John Paul II in 1984, and have worked alongside Mother Teresa, including performing at her Nobel Peace Prize reception in 1979.

In their press release, The Celebrant Singers presented cite a comment by Mother Teresa about their ministry: “Jon Stemkoski and his Celebrant Singers have brought much peace, love, and joy into many hearts through their singing of God’s love, mercy and tenderness. They have made sacrifices to bring this joy everywhere they go.”

After being founded by Jon Stemkoski in 1977, The Celebrant Singers made their first major tour of the U.S., New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that summer. Since then they have traveled and developed extensive outreaches in Iran, India, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, Greece, Iceland, France, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Grenada, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Italy and Central America. Overall, Celebrant Singers have performed in all 50 states and 92 nations.

“Our president, Mr. Stemkoski, is a Catholic and he wanted to show people what God has done and how God touches lives,” said Emmanuelle Roufett, scheduling coordinator for The Celebrant Singers. “Most of the performances are general, but if a sponsor wants us to address a certain age group or cause we do alter some aspects.”

The Celebrant Singers have released 13 recordings to date, including cassettes and CDs in Spanish and French. Their latest release, entitled “Resting in His Love,” is distributed nationally in Christian bookstores.

The group’s performance includes a concert followed by individuals speaking on how God has affected their lives through personal witness. Afterwards, there usually is time for personal prayer or for audience members to ask for prayers or tell about their personal experiences.

“At the concerts I’ve been at they’ve all given wonderful testimonies about the way that God has touched their lives,” Shatrau said. “There’s such a warm feeling about them and the way that they perform their ministry. They carry such a wonderful message.”

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