There are a great number of churches in the Johnstown area, and while they may go about their services, events and outreach a bit differently, they all put a lot of time and effort into their worship. Some have both a contemporary and traditional service, others mix the two into one service, and some even write their own music, but all define worship as far more than just the music they sing on a Sunday morning—it is a way of life.
Rummel Church of the Brethren
Rummel Church of the Brethren in Windber believes that worship is not just a part of the service, but “it is the service.” Rummel has had a unique set-up for the last few years—a team pastorate, which is something new for their church. Pastors Ruby Mader and Abby Shaffer say, “We believe our weekly gatherings happen because people have come to worship God. Not because ‘we’re supposed to,’ or because ‘it’s what we do.’” They believe worship is something that can be a constant part of one’s life, saying “Anyone can have a worship experience anywhere and at any time, if you forget about yourself for a while and offer praise to God.”
The pastors at Rummel say they have an “interesting mix of formality and informality” in their services, and are glad that “many people have said they feel comfortable here.” This mix is reflected in the songs that they choose for their worship service, which includes both traditional and contemporary songs. Mader and Shaffer love the variety, saying “The congregation may sing a song written in the 1500s, followed by the choir singing an anthem we learned on K-LOVE radio (a nationwide Christian music radio service).
“Some of those old hymns are still very powerful when sung with understanding and energy.” In terms of instruments, there is always an accompanist on piano, sometimes a guitarist as well, and sometimes the Rummel congregation will sing along to an instrumental recording on a CD. Mader and Shaffer add that on occasion, they also like to sing a cappella.
The choir at Rummel, led by Becky Toath, is a crucial aspect to worship. Toath says that the choir picks songs “that resonate in us.” If the songs mean a lot to the choir members, the congregation is more likely to respond well. There are a lot of children and young families in the church, so they are also looking to start a children’s choir in the future.
Trinity Presbyterian Church
Trinity Presbyterian Church in Johnstown offers a different perspective on worship styles. Rev. Jared Havener is the senior pastor at Trinity Presbyterian, where he says they “intentionally avoid the distinction between traditional and contemporary worship,” because the style of worship being played is “secondary to quality content.” First and foremost, Trinity Presbyterian sings songs “saturated with the great truths of the Bible” and ones that are “aesthetically pleasing,” but Havener adds that style is “not a primary concern.” Additionally, while they use piano and guitar accompaniments, he says the accompaniment is secondary, because “God delights to hear his people sing.”
Similarly to Rummel, Trinity Presbyterian believes that worship is the essence of the whole service, with singing just being one aspect of worship. Havener says that “God addresses us through the reading and preaching of his word. We seek his face in prayer and sing to him in praise and lament. The whole experience is worship.”
The pastor has several guidelines for the worship service at Trinity Presbyterian. Most importantly, he cares that the worship is God-centered. He says that in planning worship services, Christians should ask not “What do we want to do?” but rather “What does God want us to do?” He says that the worship should be both joyful and reverent, adding that those two terms are not mutually exclusive. Reverence, he says, “is not a synonym for cold or unfeeling. True worship should be marked by joy and reverence.” In addition to bringing their burdens to church on a Sunday morning, he says that churchgoers should rejoice because “our joy is God himself—Father, Son and Spirit.”
Trinity Presbyterian also takes great care to make sure the worship is biblically-directed. “We want to approach and worship God God’s way,” Havener says. “We believe He gives us commands and principles which are to be followed for corporate worship.” Among these biblical principles that Trinity follows are prayer, praise and worship music, reading and preaching from the Bible, talking about faith, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper (communion).
Even though there are many components to the biblically-directed worship, Havener says that simplicity is still the key at Trinity Presbyterian, saying worship is “fundamentally a meeting of God with his people.” The singing is “not an elaborate concert,” and his preaching “is not a motivational speech.” He says that worship is as simple as responding to the words of God written in the Bible.
One thing unique about the worship at Trinity Presbyterian is the congregational singing of passages from the Old Testament book of Psalms. Havener calls the Psalms an “inspired (God-given) hymnbook” and says he has heard the psalms referred to as an “anatomy of the human soul.” Psalms runs the full gamut of human emotions in its 150 chapters, including many in-depth passages about grief and suffering. Havener says it would be “silencing a large portion” of his congregation to not sing psalms of grief, because there are always congregants going through “tremendous grief and pain in their lives.” In addition, he says Trinity chooses to sing the biblical psalms because they have been around for so long, yet are still as applicable today as when they were written. “These are the songs Jesus sang,” Havener says, “as he walked on this earth by faith and not by sight.” He hopes that the church will continue learning more of the biblical psalms in the future.
Ultimately, Havener emphasizes the unity of the group that makes up Trinity Presbyterian. “Our church is made up of a bunch of sinners saved by God’s grace,” he says. “Our entire congregation is the worship team.” There are worship leaders in the church sure, but he says that the true worship leader is Jesus. St. Benedict Catholic Church on Bedford Street in Geistown is a vibrant parish with five masses each weekend. From as early as 1985, multiple adult and children’s choirs have played an important part in leading worship in the parish where good liturgy and good music go hand in hand. Under the leadership of Fr. David Peles, pastor since 2009, this tradition continues today.
Saint Benedict Roman Catholic Church
Director of Music and Liturgy at Saint Benedict Church in Johnstown since 1983, Joseph Gaunt, has enlarged the music program from a single adult choir to its present form.
The liturgical choir (initially started to sing traditional hymns) sings at 9:30 a.m. Mass on Sundays, the contemporary choir (formed to accommodate acoustic, contemporary music), sings at 5 a.m. Mass on Saturdays, the Schola Cantorum (founded in 1995 to specialize in a cappella Renaissance and Baroque music), sings once per month at various Masses, and the Resurrection Choir sings at all parish funerals. The two children’s choirs (Alpha, grades 4,5 and 6 and Omega, grade 3) sing at all the liturgies for Divine Mercy Catholic Academy East (formerly the St. Benedict elementary school). Supported by an instrumental ensemble (strings, flute, clarinets); a contemporary ensemble (guitars, flute, percussion); and a bell choir, the vocal choirs lead the congregation in a wide variety of traditional and contemporary sacred songs.
While, in the past, each choir had a distinctive style and repertoire, all the choirs now essentially share a common repertoire, differing only in stylistic presentation. Worshipping with diverse music from Bach, Handel and Vivaldi to contemporary composer such as Bernadette Farrell, Tom Kendzia and Steve Angrisano, Gaunt says the parish uses the best of every era in an amalgam that crosses all genres and styles.
Since the Second Vatican Council (1963) the emphasis in Catholic music has shifted from the tradition of “choir as performer with congregation as audience,” to the current model of “congregation as full, conscious, active participants, with choirs as leaders and facilitators rather than performers.” It is the exception rather than the rule to have the choirs sing without some role for the assembly.
The 100th anniversary of the parish in 2011 was commemorated with the commissioning of the song “Give Us, O Lord,” by liturgical composer Bob Hurd. This work now appears in the “Breaking Bread” worship aid published by Oregan Catholic Press.
Gaunt, who did his undergraduate studies at IUP and graduate studies at Duquesne, is assisted by two other organists Kathy Novak and Beth Foor and instrumental teacher/arranger and music librarian Jerene Philibin.
New Hope Community Church
Every Saturday night, New Hope Community Church gathers in Moxham. Josiah Smith, the pastor at New Hope, agrees with the idea that worship is “much more than just a time of music during our service,” saying it is “the way we live, laying down our lives for the sake of Christ.” He adds that it is also “recognizing the beauty of God’s creation, acknowledging the brilliance of God’s design, delighting in His ways, and enjoying His presence.”
Services at New Hope will usually begin with an opening song to put everyone in the right state of mind for worship. Smith says this helps the church focus their attention directly on Jesus— “our reason for gathering.” He says that everything else, including “praising God together, caring for one another, and encouraging one another” all points back to “the good news that while we were sinners, Jesus came and died for us, paying our penalty for sin and inviting us back into relationship with God through repentance and faith in Christ.”
At a later point in the New Hope service, there is a longer period of praise and worship, usually consisting of three to five songs with prayer in the middle. The church encourages everyone to “see worship as a response to God,” and Smith says that the prayer is put in the middle of praise and worship as a reminder of who God is, that he cares for everyone, and that through him “nothing is impossible.”
The worship style at New Hope is mostly acoustic with guitars and keyboards, with percussion from pre-recorded drum loops or a cajon (a box-shaped percussion instrument the player sits on.). On occasion, they will also use a full electric band with drums, guitar and bass. Smith says that the church is aiming to use more electric instruments in the future, and appreciates that worship styles change over time. “In David’s day, the harp was a big thing,” Smith says, referencing the king of Israel who is credited with writing much of the book of Psalms. “Now we’re seeing a lot of synthesizer.” He says that both are good for worship, but acknowledges that a harp would not go over as well today.
For the most part, New Hope sings modern worship songs, including those from Israel Houghton, Hillsong, Bethel Music, and United Pursuit. In addition, they occasionally will throw in an older hymn or worship chorus as well. Smith hopes that New Hope will continue to “expand its creativity” in regards to worship and will use that creativity “as a way to express its love and awe of Jesus.”
Smith says that one’s physical response to worship directly reflects “their heart’s response.” For example, he says that kneeling during worship can represent “acknowledgement of awe and respect,” lifting one’s hands is a “sign of longing or surrender” and clapping is “a way of applauding God and enjoying the excitement of knowing him.”
Oakland United Methodist Church
Oakland United Methodist Church in Johnstown has a large worship program led by Joshua Watts, who has had a passion for worship for most of his life.
Watts has been involved with worship music for 15 years and has worked as a worship pastor for almost 10 of those years. He also is a licensed minister.
Watts says that worship “is the key to the culture at Oakland Church,” adding that worship is “non-negotiable to the life of the Christian.” He agrees with other pastors that “there’s not clear dichotomy between the sermon and the music,” and appreciates that Oakland was practicing that belief for over 100 years before he was involved. Oakland’s worship is not a “mere prelude to the message” that the pastor gives, nor is it a “neatly ironed-out presentation,” but rather an “intentional, meaningful connection with God.”
Watts describes Oakland’s worship as creating “an atmosphere that brings the culture of Heaven down to us.” He says that he regularly hears of people “meaningfully encountering God, interacting with the Holy Spirit, reaching personal breakthrough and getting set free” of personal struggles during their worship services. Watts rejects the idea that worship should be solemn or formulaic, saying “I know that when I am faced with my Maker, all limitations and boxes go out the window.” He praises Oakland’s “freedom of expression” during worship, which leads to outward expression like lifting of hands, bowing down and more.
Like many large churches, Oakland United Methodist has both a traditional and a contemporary worship service. “Our 8:30 a.m. service is a blended service,” Watts says. “We use an organist and have a robbed choir and is directed by Angela Lyons.” Songs range from hymns to more mellow worship songs by artists like Chris Tomlin. The contemporary service features a larger electric band with guitars, keyboards, drums, bass and more. This service features a wide variety of hymns, choruses, modern songs and even original songs from Oakland. On occasion, they will also feature non-traditional instruments like accordion, cello and harmonica as well.
While one might believe only the older congragants attend the more traditional service, Watts says that is not necessarily true. “Something that I have observed is that a growing part of the congregation is younger folks with families.” Watts says. “They have grown up in a world where everything is fluid and there is something appealing in singing songs that have been around for hundreds of years. It is kind of like a rock in a world that is shifting all the time.
“I think the pendulum kind of swings when it comes to church music. For a while it was very modern, but I think it is a little bit more in the middle now. I think people are looking for the new songs of faith, but there is something about songs that have been around for centuries that is appealing to this generation.”
In addition to playing at the church, Watts has had many opportunities to play at events both near and far, saying he loves having the Oakland team along when he can. He says the team does not aim to “get ourselves out there,” and he does not search for opportunities. However, if something comes up, he is glad to walk through a door that God has opened for him. No matter the venue, it is never about “throwing concerts,” but rather making disciples.
All of the churches featured in this article have websites with easy ways to reach out if you would like more information. Rummel Church of the Brethren meets at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays at 3432 Graham Avenue, Windber, and can be found at rummelcob.org. Trinity Presbyterian Church meets at 10:45 a.m. on Sundays at 268 Hostetler Road, Johnstown, and can be found at trinityjohnstown.com. New Hope Community Church meets on Saturday evenings at 6 at 200 Ohio Street, Johnstown, and can be reached at newhopecommunitychurch.cc. Oakland United Methodist Church, located at 1504 Bedford Street, Johnstown, has their blended (traditional) worship service at 8:30 a.m. on Sundays and a contemporary service at 11:00 a.m. The website is oaklandonline.org. Saint Benedict Church is located at 2310 Bedford St., Johnstown. The website is stbenedictchurch.org