A beautiful origin: FOCUS initiative seeks to evangelize through beauty

Aaron Lambert

A new initiative within the Fellowship of Catholic University Students is bringing beauty to the forefront of evangelization.

Dubbed simply as “A Beauty Initiative within FOCUS,” this initiative seeks to encourage the collective talents of FOCUS missionaries, especially those who are artists, and utilize them as a means of evangelization. Serving as the starting point for the initiative is Origin, an album of beautiful worship music performed by the FOCUS worship team.

The idea for Origin and the beauty initiative as a whole was planted at last year’s SEEK conference in Nashville. Shaun Garrison and Leah Sedlacek are among a group of musicians that lead worship for the conference each year, but they said last year in particular was especially powerful. They were a part of a great line up of musicians, not only in terms of musical ability, but also in prayerfulness and in the ability to trust and rely on one another. 

The FOCUS worship team released an album of worship music called Origin at the beginning of the year. The project is a piece of a greater beauty initiative within FOCUS that seeks to encourage artists to find ways to awaken their gifts within the context of the Catholic Church, as well as use beauty as a method of evangelization. (Photo provided)

The FOCUS worship team released an album of worship music called Origin at the beginning of the year. The project is a piece of a greater beauty initiative within FOCUS that seeks to encourage artists to find ways to awaken their gifts within the context of the Catholic Church, as well as use beauty as a method of evangelization. (Photo provided)

Sedlacek recalled taking out her in-ear monitors during their performance of “Be Thou My Vision” and being taken aback by the unity of worshipping voices. It was so beautiful, she said, that she was moved to tears.

“I just started crying. It was so beautiful, this intimacy of singing to Our Lord together,” she said. “I think there I felt the power of the Holy Spirit bonding the band together that was then helping people to be bonded together as the body of Christ to worship.”

“The Holy Spirit was just moving through the music in a way that none of us had experienced,” Garrison said. “All of us were amazed in that moment to be a part of it, but also saddened to think that the reality is we’re only together for seven days a year.”

Garrison and Sedlacek felt as though the Lord was stirring something in them to do more. They drafted a proposal for the beauty initiative, the first step of which was organizing a retreat with the FOCUS worship team and creating an album of music.

Garrison and Sedlacek, along with the rest of the worship team and a few kindhearted volunteers, retreated to a cabin in Buena Vista for five days and held the recording sessions for what would become Origin. The album consists of reinterpretations of old hymns, some modern worship songs as well as a couple of original songs written by some of the musicians involved.

Beauty is something that washes over a person and creeps into the cracks that need God’s presence. It’s a very soft way of evangelization, which then brings [people] to a point where they can open their heart and hear the truth.”

The late-night recording sessions and intense creative output made for an exhausting experience, they said, but one that was unforgettable. All of the musicians felt as though it was a dream come true, being holed up in a cabin for five days and creating music together, and the higher purpose of the project motivated and led them to create something special.

“It was for the Lord, it was for something greater, and I think that was an intangible thing that was present,” Sedlacek said.

Garrison and Sedlacek explained that the ultimate goal for Origin and everything else that falls within this beauty initiative in the future is two-fold: to reach people using beauty as a means of evangelization, and also to encourage other artists to awaken their unique gifts and talents and discover how they fit within the context of the Catholic Church.

“Evangelization is not a method; it’s not something you do. It’s who you are,” Garrison said. “Every single person has a unique calling. The main goal of any of this is not music, it’s to become saints. Music just happens to be the language with which we’re speaking of God’s goodness.”

Though it began with an album of worship music, the beauty initiative within FOCUS is not limited solely to musicians; it’s for any person who seeks to reach people and change hearts by means of beautiful things.

“You can’t help but be moved by beautiful things. They can make you pause and bring you into those deeper questions,” Sedlacek said. “Beauty is something that washes over a person and creeps into the cracks that need God’s presence. It’s a very soft way of evangelization, which then brings [people] to a point where they can open their heart and hear the truth.”

Origin is available for purchase digitally on iTunesAmazon or Bandcamp, or on CD at shopfocus.org

Origin musician line-up: Shaun Garrison - guitar, vocals Jessy Kaufman - vocals, bgv Leah Sedlacek - violin, bgv JohnMarc Skoch - guitar, vocals, bgv Sonny Fortunato - keyboard Kenny Kohlhaas - guitar, vocals Sarah Kroger - vocals, bgv James Rosenbloom - cello, banjo, mandolin Edwin Trahan - bass guitar Tom Veitch - drums, percussion Produced and engineered by Shawn Williams

Origin musician line-up:
Shaun Garrison – guitar, vocals
Jessy Kaufman – vocals, bgv
Leah Sedlacek – violin, bgv
JohnMarc Skoch – guitar, vocals, bgv
Sonny Fortunato – keyboard
Kenny Kohlhaas – guitar, vocals
Sarah Kroger – vocals, bgv
James Rosenbloom – cello, banjo, mandolin
Edwin Trahan – bass guitar
Tom Veitch – drums, percussion
Produced and engineered by Shawn Williams

FOCUS Origin

Watch a video about how Origin came to be: http://focus.org/origin

To learn more about the mission of FOCUS, visit http://focus.org

COMING UP: Luke Spehar: An exclusive studio session

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Singer-songwriter Luke Spehar stopped by Denver Catholic for an exclusive studio session during his All Is Gift Tour, and is offering free music downloads to Denver Catholic readers (see bottom of story).

Spehar is a Minnesota native and cradle Catholic. He said that while his faith has always influenced his music, he was never drawn to produce “corporate” praise and worship songs. Instead, he wanted to emulate his musical heroes, most of whom are acoustic performers.

“When I started picking up the guitar, for me it was more interesting to play finger style and learn early folk musicians,” Spehar said. “That was just more interesting to me, and so, musically, that’s just the direction I pursued.”

All of Spehar’s songs flow from personal reflections. For example, “Sweet Memories” explores his relationship with his siblings and their shared experiences growing up in Minnesota.

“That’s ultimately what inspired this song: the beauty and the gift of family, and just the sweet memories that you form, even at such a young age, that are a part of you and you keep with you as you grow up,” Spehar said.

Spehar joined the seminary after high school, which he said was a tremendous gift. Another of his songs, “An Explanation,” deals with his emotions surrounding a breakup before he entered.

“[It’s about] that struggle of moving from my plan to the Lord’s plan, and the pain that can cause. It was a really honest song for where I was in my life,” he said.

Spehar was in seminary for four years before he said he felt the Lord call him out. He said he spent those years praying that God would set him on fire for his next move. It was during his last year of college seminary that he released his first album, “Be Still.” Spehar said the release party was a success, with a few hundred people in attendance.

“I was in a different place of joy, and I really hit a stride,” Spehar said.

He prayed, and said he became assured that God wanted him to pursue him through music.

“I think that’s one of the most exciting things about being extreme in your faith,” Spehar said. “I made an extreme move in faith to think about being a priest… The Lord rewarded me by showing me what I wanted. I think that’s the biggest thing, is he showed me what I wanted and then he gave it to me.”

Spehar is now married, with a baby on the way. He and his wife blog about their adventures as a newly-married couple on tour at www.lukespehar.com. He continues to write music and practices relentlessly, especially his more technically difficult songs, such as one about St. Michael.

He said “To St. Michael” flowed from a feeling of gratitude for the angels that protect us. His song mimics the anxiety of a spiritual attack—beginning with slow picks and crescendo into a multi-layered rhythm of rapid chords.

“It’s a very challenging song,” Spehar said.

Spehar is offering free downloads of three of his songs to Denver Catholic readers. You can download Sweet Memories” here, “An Explanation” here, and “To St. Michael” here. He offers an additional song at his website, www.lukespehar.com.