CLERGY weren’t the only ones wearing “dog collars” as they led worship over the Easter weekend.
When 16,000 Christians gathered for a Resurrection Sunday service in Toowoomba, one of the fellows on the podium wore a dog collar to match his old black army boots and piercings.
Yet from the pastor to the punk, there was a common statement of faith as the congregation belted out How Great Thou Art and How Great is Our God.
They were a small cross-section of the 40,000 people attending the Australian Gospel Music Festival (AGMF), making a common statement of faith.
And faith leads to action, according to one group among the many mission and outreach organisations represented around the festival grounds.
“Hands On With Vinnies” was the theme of a display manned by a dozen young Catholics throughout the weekend.
Hundreds of visitors added their stencilled hands to the effort to raise awareness of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s work.
Vinnies Youth Toowoomba representative Cathryn Moore said many Australians thought the society was about middle-aged people caring for the elderly and homeless.
“Frederic Ozanam was not even 21 years old when he founded the society in the 1830s!” she said.
Vinnies state youth representative Stephen Price said the tent display at AGMF was a great recruiting tool, considering the average age of Vincentians is now 63.
“Young people have an opportunity to experience social justice work within their faith,” he said.
“Throughout Queensland, Catholic youth are engaging in projects such as ‘Buddies Days’, taking disadvantaged children for a day out.
“In the Brisbane area 150 tutors have volunteered to help 500 Sudanese families whose children are finding their way in new schools and a new culture.”
AGMF should have been an eye-opener, Stephen said.
“Catholic youth have been too quiet about their good works.”
Being quiet was not in the program for Emmanuelworship.
The music ministry team has released two live CDs and toured to diocesan events as far as Townsville, but AGMF was the band’s first big ecumenical music event.
Emmanuelworship’s musical director Kim Keady described it as bigger than Ben Hur.
“It was amazing to be with 40,000 Christians in the middle of the city of Toowoomba and know that this was meaningful, not just some big fun event,” she said.
On Holy Saturday afternoon, Emmanuel’s keyboard player and Kim’s husband, Patrick Keady, summed up the band’s involvement as a great opportunity for “the crazy Catholic mob from Brisbane!”
And the event has paid off musically, connecting with national acts, including Victorian band Compliments of Gus, who needed to borrow equipment.
Emmanuelworship plans to release a studio CD, probably in time for the Ignite concert in September.
Government regional development agencies credit AGMF as Australia’s fastest growing festival.
Since 1999 the festival has mushroomed to draw faithful fans from as far away as Hong Kong and artists from throughout the world.
Headline acts this year included Australians at the top of the US charts – Rebecca St James, the Newsboys, Irishman Robin Mark (who accepted an ARIA gold record in Toowoomba) and Jesus Rock legend Randy Stonehill.
Contemporary Christian music is a recognised sector in the industry, claiming almost 5.5 per cent of Australian sales.
According to music industry commentator Wes Jay, that outnumbers classical, jazz and soundtrack sales combined.
AGMF reflected the diversity within the Church and its music.
Sons of Korah applied classical and Spanish guitar to the Psalms.
Scat applied a joyful sense of humour to songs of praise and worship, and audiences applied headache tablets after gigs with Pillar.
On Easter Sunday morning, Toowoomba’s churches filled to overflowing as artists provided music for worship for a wide range of denominations.
Many Churches have adopted a policy of taking their congregation to the combined service, organised by the Bible Society, on Easter Sunday evening.
There was no roof to raise, but the experience might best be described as tribal.
“Jesus is risen – He is risen indeed!” The thunder of so many voices spoke volumes about how God has empowered his people for 2000 years.
Isaac Moody chairs the AGMF committee.
Asked to place the festival on a spectrum between a worship event and an outreach activity, he said, “I think AGMF is actually an event for everybody”.
“One of our mandates is to see and promote the unity of the Church.
“But foremostly (sic) AGMF is a community event rather than a religious event.
“A huge proportion of our crowd would tell you they don’t normally attend church.”
The statistics of the festival are impressive – 1200 people, mostly volunteers, crew the weekend. Kilometres of fence provide a secure camping area for thousands at Toowoomba’s Queens Park.
Four hectares of canvas cover performance venues and there is sufficient sound and data cabling to stretch from Perth to Toowoomba and back.
More impressive was the response from police as the gates closed after a long weekend spent steering crowds, finding lost children and patrolling among the tents at night: “No problems. These are good people”.
The Catholic Leader is an Australian award-winning Catholic newspaper that has been published by the Archdiocese of Brisbane since 1929. Our journalism seeks to provide a full, accurate and balanced Catholic perspective of local, national and international news while upholding the dignity of the human person.
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