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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Observer


Amanda Vernon gives spiritual talk grounded in the perspective of Black History Month

On Wednesday evening, the center for faith, action and ministry (CFAM) hosted author and singer-songwriter Amanda Vernon to perform and give a short lecture in honor of Black History Month and spiritual belonging on campus, titled “Singing with Soul: Amanda Vernon in Concert.”

During her career, Vernon has released several gospel albums and dozens of singles. From Sydney, Australia to Madrid, Spain, she has performed in seven different countries across the globe, including a live appearance on ESPN for singing the national anthem on Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. 

CFAM director Nicole Labadie, who is a friend of Vernon’s, asked her to come to Saint Mary’s College to speak and perform after attending one of Vernon’s concerts, believing her message would be beneficial for the SMC community. 

“So something that [Vernon] and I talked about … was about the current climate on campus and how there’s a lot of division that’s being felt in multiple places. And I think within that, people feel excluded from the church or self excluding themselves from the faith community,” Labadie said. “I think what’s important, spiritually, that I see in ministry at Saint Mary’s is helping students realize the home that they have in the church and in the larger faith community … that message of spiritual belonging I think is one that’s very timely.”

Vernon’s talk focused on the “spiritual roots and theological lens of gospel music,” according to Labadie, as well as exploring how music can become a type of prayer and source of hope in the Christian faith. 

Vernon performed a few of her original works as well as spirituals, defined as multi-layered melodies sung by enslaved African Americans throughout the time of the transatlantic slave trade and for centuries afterwards.

“One facet of spirituals is a spiritual story or something directly from Scripture … it was also passing on a memo without anybody who’s not supposed to hear about it understanding,” Vernon explained in between singing. “Many of these pieces were used to alert fellow enslaved people in the same plantation that, ‘tonight is the night you’re going to run free.’”

During her performance, Vernon invited the audience to join in singing different spirituals with her, which allowed each of the audience members to explore what each spiritual personally meant to them.

“Now, as we reflect on these songs that have been handed down one generation to the next, our question can then be our third layer of ‘What does it mean to you, for your life and my life?’” Vernon asked.

Labadie also spoke during the spiritual event, introducing the charism of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Labadie cited the constitution of the Congregation of the Holy Cross during her brief speech, focusing on a specific section devoted to hope and freedom within the Christian faith. 

“Whether it be unfair treatment, fatigue or frustration at work, a lapse of health, tasks beyond talents, seasons of loneliness, bleakness in prayer, the hopelessness of friends, or whether it be the sadness of our having inflicted any of this on others, there will be dying to do on our way to the Father. But we do not grieve as women and men without hope, for Christ the Lord has risen to die no more,” Labadie said. 

Over a score of students attended Vernon’s performance and speech, including junior Abigail Tietema, who has been aware of Vernon since the beginning of her career. 

“Amanda Vernon went to my hometown, and her dad was my deacon. I don’t think she knows who I am, but I’ve listened to her a lot. She’s always been so inspirational, and she’s a wonderful singer. I love her message,” Tietema said. 

Tietema finds the community at St. Mary’s a “wonderful group” to be a part of, and feels this event showcased and emphasized several aspects of what it means to be a part of it.

“I really liked the theme of community that went throughout the entire event. It was really nice to be able to share your story or just sing with people, look around the room and see people smiling and singing along,” Tietema said. 

Vernon held a raffle, book signing and merchandise booth after the event. Her new book, titled “When God Wrecks Your Romance: Orthodox Faith, Unorthodox Story,” was co-written with Notre Dame alum and Holy Cross priest Matt Fase, who is currently the pastor at St. Joseph Catholic Church in South Bend. It tells the true love story between Vernon and Fase and how each of them discovered their Christian vocation. 

Overall, Labadie hopes the students who attended the spiritual worship and lecture leave feeling a deeper appreciation for gospel music and for the hope the Holy Cross charism depicts.

“Music is a form of prayer of talking to God, and experiencing that music can bring us closer as a community and closer to God, and then also to have some a dose of encouragement in our Holy Cross charism, that no matter what you’re experiencing, there is always hope because of what Jesus did for us on the cross,” Labadie said.