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Winter Edition
Volume 97, Number 3

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John Francis '01
Messiah's innovative Faith and Popular Culture conference combined workshops and lectures with two concerts, including a performance by singer/songwriter John Francis '01.

Conference brings popular culture and Christianity together

Messiah College’s inaugural Faith and Popular Culture conference encourages a larger conversation about reconciling the Church and the popular arts

What do you get when you bring together some of the foremost writers, musicians, teachers, and thinkers in Western culture today for a weekend packed with concerts, workshops, and lectures? You get Messiah College’s innovative Faith and Popular Culture conference, which was held in November.

Organized around the theme of reconciling the Church with the popular arts, the conference opened with a keynote address by Steve Turner, a London-based poet, journalist, and biographer, and closed with a concert from Jeff Tweedy, of the acclaimed alternative music group Wilco.

Jeff Rioux, director of the Larsen Union and campus activities, organized the event, with support from Messiah’s Lilly Endowment, Inc., grant, to achieve two overarching goals: to probe why Christians should engage, rather than avoid, the popular arts; and to inspire future discussions about how the Church and popular arts can relate to one another.

Throughout the lectures, workshops, and concerts—including performances by Messiah alumnus singer/songwriter John Francis (Maher) ’01 and the ICON Worship Band from West Shore Evangelical Free Church, Mechanicsburg, Pa.—conference attendees were challenged and encouraged to think of the arts as creation. As people made in the image of God, says Rioux, we are designed to create. “You see that across cultures,” Rioux says. “People are dancing; they’re singing and putting their experiences to music. They’re creating art.”

The conference drew an audience from across the country, including attendees from 10 other colleges. At the event, representatives from several Christian institutions spoke with Rioux about ways that they could stimulate similar discussions on their campuses.

By the end of the weekend, attendees were armed with not only ideas about reconciling the Church and the popular arts, but also specific examples of how to do so. Stephen Procopio, a Messiah senior majoring in studio art, sums up his experience: “This conference was rejuvenating to my soul, mind, and spirit. I was encouraged to be more aware of what I am hearing and seeing, and to process them with a better vision. . . . It was a time of real worship and discussion on things that I think are very relevant and matter to me and the world that I am surrounded by.”

Jonathan Vaitl ’06

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