“Cooperating with grace is the holiest thing we can do!” This was the thrust of singer/songwriter and storyteller Steve Angrisano’s tale of a young woman who had remarked on how he had changed her life. It was shared during a concert at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Westborough, MA on Sunday, November 19.
It was not due to his fine singing; she had never heard his music. It wasn’t because of the many engaging stories he tells during his concerts; she had not attended.
It was because of prayer.
Mr. Angrisano, after learning of the sudden passing of the young woman’s mother, prayed over her along with the teenager’s youth minister. Holding hands, the three cried together as they prayed.
Seven years later, the young woman came back to a conference at which he was performing to thank him; their prayer circle helped her feel God’s embrace and she knew she would be okay.
Mr. Angrisano shared with candor that he did not even remember the original encounter and at first insisted he had done nothing. He was later to learn that in fact he did much in cooperating with God’s grace.
After telling the story, he sang “Lean on Me,” encouraging the audience to sing along and participate in the hand motions.
This was one of many engrossing tales told to a full house at St. Luke’s, where enthusiastic middle- and high-school students filled a good half of the church. Mr. Angrisano immediately engaged the young people, beginning with a rapid-fire game of “Simon Says” and continuing the audience interaction with the lively “J-E-S-U-S,” with parts for the guys and then the girls.
Mr. Angrisano, who spends some 40+ weeks on the road every year, had just come off of the three-day National Catholic Youth Conference (NCYC) in Indianapolis, Indiana and showed no signs of fatigue. His two hour concert of joy and energy filled the church. “I feel so fortunate to do this as a full time ministry,” he later remarked. “I draw a great deal of energy from every community I visit and the joy of the people there. I’m usually walking into some big event or another that wouldn’t even be happening if there weren’t really good and dedicated priests and laypeople making it happen. Truly, I get to work with the best people in the world.”
Having majored in music and business at the University of Texas, Mr. Angrisano is completing a Masters in Theology from St. Meinrad seminary and school of theology in Indiana. “Very early after graduating college I was applying for jobs and being in the business of encouraging and cultivating faith was the most worthwhile thing I felt like I could do. Many of my stories of being a Youth Minister for 4 years at St. Mark in Plano, TX come from those years. Most of those kids that are now adults with kids are still very much in my life and in ministry, as well! I also think the fact that I had such a powerful experience of God when I was a teenager has always made me passionate about the importance of reaching teenagers with the message of the Gospel.
He exhorted the young people to believe in God despite of what they hear from the culture. Evidence of God is all around us: “People are the only beings that can reason, create and ‘see’ what we create,” he told the audience. “We create because we were made in the image of the Creator! The fingerprint of God is on us.”
Mr. Angrisano shared stories from his brief trip to the Holy Land, saying it was “mind blowing” to be where Jesus had lived. The young people were enthralled as he told of visiting the tomb of Jesus, revealing his profound experience of laying his head upon the stone as the realty of Christ’s death and resurrection sunk in.
Towards the end of the evening he told an amusing story of the creation of his most popular song, “My Soul is Thirsting for You.” It began with a simple riff played over and over on the guitar until his wife couldn’t stand it anymore and insisted he finish the song. Tossing a Bible at her husband, the book opened to Psalm 63 where he found the inspiration to complete the song. With such an unlikely beginning, Mr. Angrisano smiled, expressing surprise at the song’s popularity. He then led the audience in the singing of that song.
Before his 7:30 performance Mr. Angrisano had played and sung with the Contemporary Choir of St. Luke’s for the 6:30 Mass, led by music director Ellen Linn. “What an amazing experience, having Steve Angrisano visit our congregation,” she said. “He held the congregation/audience in the palm of his hand, with brilliant playing and compelling witness.” Recalling the impression he made on the many young people in the choir she added, “Performing with him was wonderful for us all — he is so easy to work with — a fantastic and accessible musician who brings out the best in the other performers. I know that the members of our Contemporary Group were so inspired, and will carry the energy from that Mass for a long time.”
Mr. Angrisano’s recordings are distributed by Oregon Catholic Press; his many songs are published in their “Spirit and Song” hymnals which are used by St. Luke’s. Repeating the song used at the end of Mass, “Go Make A Difference,” during the concert was used as a reminder to the young people that they could make such a difference in cooperation with God’s grace.
The concert ended with a crowd favorite, “I’m Trading My Sorrows” (best known as “Yes, Lord!”), complete with hand motions.
“Steve Angrisano totally captured and energized our young parishioners,” said Gloria Josephs, Youth Ministry Director at St. Luke’s. “He is utterly entertaining while getting across his message of God’s love for all of us. His personal stories brought you to tears and laughter. I really enjoyed his performance, his music, his sincere sharing of his deep faith in Christ.”
Interview with Steve Angrisano
Steve Angrisano was gracious to “sit” for an interview with me. We conducted it by email soon after his November 19, 2017 appearance at St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Westborough, MA.
When did you first become aware that God was real in your life?
Well … my mom was the coordinator of confirmation at my parish when I was a kid and to be honest, I can’t remember a time that God wasn’t an important part of my family and my life! I do think a big turning point for me was going on a retreat when I was a Sophomore in high school. I remember experiencing such a strong realization of how much Jesus loves me and desires me to make him the center of my life. I think it was certainly a conversion of sorts that day.
What is your background in music and performance? Theatre school, music school? Did you study theology?
I studied music and business in college at the University of Texas. It was great preparation for what I do today. In fact, working in church ministry my whole life, the business part of my degree has been every bit as useful as the music!!! I have learned most of my theology from spiritual guidance and the school of life! 🙂 But in fact, I’m close to gradating with a Masters in Theology from St. Meinrad seminary and the school of theology in Indiana.
How did you cultivate your skills as a storyteller?
The storytelling aspect of my presentations is, perhaps, the most important. It’s what carries the heart of the message. My first school of storytelling was growing up in an Italian Family!!! The second was just watching others who had an impact on me and trying to figure out how they kept a crowd so captivated. I’ve since read and learned a few things from people who teach storytelling as a craft, but most of what I do still comes from my own instincts as a speaker.
What attracted you to youth ministry?
The joy and energy! Very early after graduating college I was applying for jobs and being in the business of encouraging and cultivating faith was the most worthwhile thing I felt like I could do. Many of my stories of being a Youth Minister for 4 years at St.Mark in Plano, TX come from those years. Most of those kids that are now adults with kids are still very much in my life and in ministry, as well! I also think the fact that I had such a powerful experience of God when I was a teenager has always made me passionate about the importance of reaching teenagers with the message of the Gospel.
Your performance was infused with such energy; how do you keep up that level of energy even after an exhausting three-day NCYC?
Haha! Good question! I think the energy of NCYC IS what got me through 🙂 Seriously though, I feel so fortunate to do this as a full time ministry. I draw a great deal of energy from every community I visit and the joy of the people there. I’m usually walking into some big event or another that wouldn’t even be happening if there weren’t really good and dedicated priests and laypeople making it happen. Truly, I get to work with the best people in the world.
I was captivated by your openess to God’s grace; what keeps you so open to it?
PRAYER. Plain and simple. We have to keep God in our lives every day. Even if it’s just a quick morning offering or an Our Father, Hail Mary and Glory Be. Keeping God as part of your life changes your day. I don’t think you can lead anyone to a more faith filled life unless you are willing, able and ready to go there yourself first!!
What is or are your favorite way(s) of praying?
ANY 🙂 But I like to pray morning or evening prayer from the liturgy of the hours and I love praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. If you don’t know it, just search it online. Not to overlook the obvious but…going to mass is a perfect prayer!
On average, how much time do you spend on the road each year?
I go out about 40+ weeks a year. For my family, it’s a lot like me being a pilot or a fireman or something. I’m not gone ALL week! But I’ll be on the road 3 or 4 days a week and home 3 or 4 days a week.
You can order Steve Angrisano’s brand new (and wonderful) CD, “High Above Our Way” at SteveAngrisano.com/High-Above-Our-Way/
Copyright 2017 Susan Bailey