Raleigh Parish’s Music Celebrates the Eucharist

HNP Communications Around the Province

This is the latest in a continuing series on the music ministries throughout the Province. The last installment, in the Jan. 12 issue of HNP Today, featured the music ministry of St. Camillus Church in Silver Spring, Md. 

RALEIGH, N.C. — Jim Wahl has been the music coordinator at St. Francis of Assisi Church since last November and is well poised to take the parish’s exceptional music program to its next level.

The California native gives much of the credit for St. Francis’ music program to his predecessor, Gene Pipas, who directed the Raleigh parish’s program for 18 years before retiring last year.

Wahl came to Raleigh from the Cathedral of St. Simon and Jude in Phoenix, where he directed the music program for seven years. “St. Francis is a phenomenal parish,” he said. “It’s something I’ve been looking for for a long time.”

The parish, too, had been looking for someone like Wahl, who had a rich background in music ministry since his high school days and someone who could also compose. He not only directs music but is finishing his master’s degree in sacred composition and writes music.

Directing music at the fifth largest church in North Carolina isn’t a job he takes lightly, and Wahl is currently re-evaluating the direction of the program.

“We have a growing diversity — mostly African and Hispanic — and we’re looking to utilize more music of diversity and to pray in other languages. Going forward, I want to diversify the Masses more.”

Musical Diversity and Beauty
“I’m striving for a combination of diversity in music and being attentive to the beauty in music. If you are going to be diverse, make sure it’s delivered with quality and beauty. If you’re going to do it, do it well.”

Currently, the parish choir of approximately 50 members sings at two Masses. The children’s youth choir and youth and adult choirs often sing every other week. There’s also a Spanish-speaking choir. Two years ago the choirs produced a CD.

“Each Mass has it’s own particular personality,” said pastor Mark Reamer, OFM. “The challenge for Jim will be to reach out to those who come to us and engage them through a vibrant music program.”

Wahl plans to attract parishoners through music and to serve those who worship at St. Francis.

He sees this challenge as a thread that runs through all parish ministries. “Music runs the gamut of parish activity. Everything that you do as a community involves music in a parish. A music ministry needs to be reflective of not just the liturgical life, but all areas and all people,” said Wahl.

Mark agrees. “Music is vital to the liturgy. Hymns that a singable are needed to engage the community … from the very beginning, especially with the gathering hymn.”

Engaging the Community
Wahl also plans to have special concerts that will engage the community at large, and wants to collaborate with the local arts community to offer St. Francis choirs for arts events.

The church also has a Justice Theater Project, a non-profit offshoot of the JPIC program that gives theatrical expressions to social issues. Currently, it is working on a play about last year’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, for which Wahl is writing the score.

raleighrUsing theater to address certain issues, he said, is at the heart of the Franciscan mission.

Under Wahl’s leadership, Mark said, the music ministry of St. Francis will continue to celebrate the Eucharist.

“There are three essential qualities needed for faithful celebration of the Eucharist,” said Mark. “Richard Fragomeni (associate professor of liturgy and homiletics at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago) describes them as the three H’s — hymns, homilies and hospitality.”

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today.