Saturday, October 20, 2018
Jim Davis - Florida Catholic
Photography: Jim Davis
MIRAMAR | A half-hour before starting time, St. Stephen Church looks pretty much like a small-scale rock concert. Stagehands plug in computers, sound boards and video screens. Singers and musicians get level checks on drums, guitars and keyboard. Teenagers and twentysomethings take the seats up front. In the back, a table offers T-shirts for Heart & Soul, the band of the hour.
The event, like others by Heart & Soul, is meant to spread a spirit of worship in South Florida churches. The band has performed not only at St. Stephen, but at St. Jude Chapel at the Schott Communities in Cooper City, and at a retreat at Mary Help of Christians Church, Parkland, after the nearby student shootings. The group also helped lead a worship conference Sept. 11 at its home church, St. Boniface in Pembroke Pines.
During this evening at St. Stephen's, the 14-member group gets the crowd singing, clapping and occasionally laughing. Heart & Soul also leads them into songs, revival-style speaking, and eucharistic adoration.
Jeffrey Sodusta of Heart & Soul makes that clear from the start.
“We have one mission and one goal — his name is Jesus,” he tells his 250 listeners. “When Jesus is present, anything can happen.”
On this night, that includes a rousing sing-along with slides, and a video of St. Stephen Church itself, with Heart & Soul background music merging into live music by the onstage band. The group's original song “Mi Dios Está Vivo” (My God is Alive), is set to compelling merengue beat.
Lead singer-guitarist Gerard Calilung prods two sides of the audience to out-sing each other. “I know you’ve got more in you!” he says, smiling and cupping his hand over his ear.
Much of the music lyrics are standard chant-like praise and worship, and some of them pack a punch:
Your name is a light that the shadows can't deny
Your name cannot be overcome
Your name is alive forever lifted high
Your name cannot be overcome
Alejandro Arocha, the band's videographer, gives a brief testimony. He tells of several chapters in his life: gaining and losing friends, learning the need to give as well as receive.
“You can't be stuck in one chapter,” he concludes. “The gifts God gives you may not last forever. But they may leave something with you that will last forever.”
The room falls quiet as two women walk through the audience, one ringing bells, the other carrying a ciborium containing the consecrated host. The women then place the container on the altar.
Josh Aybar of Heart & Soul leads the listeners into a kind of contemplative prayer. At times, he talks in terms of breath; at others, he speaks of “being immersed in the fire of your love.”
“Think of all the gifts that Jesus has given you,” he says quietly, speaking from a pew to the right of the chancel. “Realize that you are loved. Realize that you are cherished by the Most High. Breathe in the spirit. Let each breath you take bring you closer to God.”
In response, people bow their heads and clasp their hands, some wiping away tears. Even among Heart & Soul, some of the singers sit on the floor, praying and singing with eyes closed.
Julissa Lopez of the host church gives a brief inspirational message. She paces in front of the chancel area like an evangelical preacher — one hand holding a mike, the other gesturing.
“You are here because the Lord has brought you here, not just because you support Heart & Soul,” she says. “The Lord is here. He's healing hearts. Some people have come sad. He's healing that sadness.”
After a short, brisk finale, the evening wraps up, but some of the audience stays behind for photos with the band. Among them are two sisters, former members of St. Boniface, Heart & Soul's home church. Although they now attend a Church of God, they say they wanted to show support for the band.
“I love seeing them play and seeing the young people, and doing praise and worship,” Shakira Ramirez says.
Sister Jackie, herself a former singer with Heart & Soul, agrees. “It's a break from everything you see on the news and social media. If it's for the glory of God, it's a good thing.”