Grammy-winning Catholic musician John Michael Talbot will come to Buffalo for a two-day ministry next month. The accomplished singer, author and television host will mix singing with preaching at St. Martin of Tours Parish in Buffalo May 16-17. Both days' events begin at 7 p.m.
Talbot, who is well known for his albums "Table of Plenty," "Light Eternal" and "City of God," serves as the general minister and spiritual father of the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, based in Eureka Springs, Ark. Since 2014, he has hosted "All Things are Possible" for the Church Channel. For the past several years, he has led an itinerant ministry, going from parish to parish, firing up the faith and renewing lives one at a time. His trip to Buffalo will be one of about 120 stops he will make this year.
"Basically, what we're doing is what in the old days would be called a mission," he told the Western New York Catholic from his hotel room in Jefferson City, Mo. "Nowadays, we just call them ministries. It's a combination of music and speaking. We're out there trying to fire up the Catholic faith in the United States. The Catholic Church is growing and is exploding in Africa. It's exploding in India and Asia. In Latin America it's barely holding its own, and here in the United States and Western Europe, the Church is going down fast. Mass attendance is down all across the country, probably about a third. I've checked with lots and lots of pastors about this. I go to parishes all across the United States. So, we need to fire the faith back up. We're preaching authentic Catholic revival."
The word "revival" usually conjures up images of 19th-century Protestant tent gatherings with fire and brimstone sermons, but the word comes from Ezekiel 37, when God breathed new life into dry bones. Talbot interprets this to mean the Church has everything it needs in our Catholic tradition, "but we need to raise it up, put it into place and then let the Lord breathe the Spirit into these things so we begin to enter fully into what we have."
"What I'm really out there preaching is what the pope has asked us for, and that is a personal encounter with Jesus Christ right now. And we do it through music and I do it when I preach," Talbot said.
During the first night at St. Martin's, Talbot will take a look at what is authentic Catholic revival. The second night, he will lead the audience in a walk through the Mass. Talbot said to improve the current state of the Church in the U. S., three things are needed at Mass - better singing, better preaching, and a more engaged congregation.
"You go to these countries where the Church is exploding and, man, they're singing churches. So we really need to learn to sing and worship and praise God again," Talbot said, noting that Hispanics who come from Latin America are often let down by the lack of enthusiasm that they are used to in Spanish parishes.
"Our preachers shouldn't just give us information or read things off a page, they need to fire our faith up, and they have faith or they wouldn't be priests and deacons," he said, adding, that people in the pews need to engage their pastors and priests when they give us these homilies. "They work hard on them and we need to give them attention and really affirm them."
"It's not complicated. It's not rocket science. But it does require conversion and change. The change is not so much about the form of things, it's about the real spirit of how we enter into these things," he said.
From his days on the road interacting with pastors, deacons and parishioners, and the research he has done, Talbot feels the lack of engagement is what drives people away from the Catholic Church.
Author Matthew Kelly said in his "Dynamic Catholic Institute Statistics," 17 percent of Catholics in America still come to church, 15 percent of young people come to church, there are 30 million non-practicing Catholics in America, and 50 percent of people attending mega-churches are Catholics.
"They go there because they find engagement," he said. "The problem with the mega-churches is they sometimes cross over from engagement into just entertainment. So, they don't end up with the richness and the depth that we have in our Catholic faith. And sometimes after four or five years there they just drop out entirely, and that's tragic.
"I see that pattern happening with our younger people, meaning people under 30, all around the country. The way we fix it is you have to make some changes. It's not just all on the music ministers' part. The people in the pews have to start singing. They have to learn what it is to worship God when they sing. We have to learn how to listen to the Word of God as it's proclaimed at every Mass. We have to learn how to really be present to our preachers and give our preachers affirmation and support. Smile at them, make eye contact, nod your head up and down. These are easy things that we can learn, and when we have that personal experience with Christ, things will begin to come more easily for us. We want to do them. We're not being made to do them. All things are possible with God. We need revival in America and we need revival in America. We can either repent, change and prosper, or we can keep doing the same thing we're doing and we'll perish," he said.
One thing Talbot has discovered is that while a lot of Catholics want revival, people basically want change without having to change themselves.
"It's a little scary. It's like walking out of the boat and walking on water. Sometimes we think, 'That can't happen in my parish. It's been like this for hundreds of years.' It takes faith to step out of the boat and walk on the water with Christ," Talbot said.
Musically, fans can expect a selection of what he calls his standards, "Holy is His Name" and "Come Worship the Lord."
"I have a lot of fun. I goof around with the audience. So, we go very deep and get very serious, but also, I keep it light, keep it very positive, and try to keep it very, very engaging for the congregation," he said, adding he plays some up-tempo music, but also plays his quiet contemplative music. "In today's world, especially in this election cycle, we're tired of people talking over each other and arguing with each other and shouting at each other. The music is very quiet and I think it's a very restful place, a contemplative place for people to come and know a full emersion in the real gentle spirit of Jesus."
A free-will will be accepted each evening to support the ministries of John Michael Talbot & the Brothers and Sisters of Charity. The suggested donation is $15 per person/per night.