Parishioners in Western Sydney may have heard of a group of men who called themselves Amen Choir.
The Amen Choir, an all-male choir, has been leading worship through music for the past seven years on most Saturday evenings at three different parishes – Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair, St Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park and St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith.
The Amen Choir was established following a get together in a garage during founding member Eric Ruiz’s daughter’s birthday. A group of male friends were playing musical instruments and singing songs. Most of them have been members of choirs at different churches. The founding members felt it was a good idea to form a choir that would serve the various churches within the Penrith local government area, since they were passionate about bringing more meaning to the Masses, and to act as God’s messenger in the hope of allowing people to experience God’s presence.
Although it is an all-male choir group, wives, daughters and partners usually join in at certain events like Christmas carols, Nativity plays, Easter Vigil services and Confirmation. Their moral support and appreciation for these services are highly valuable.
Choristers have to make some sacrifices. Eric has found this to be spiritually rewarding as the formation of friendships with Amen members are established. Sharing this passion with like-minded people makes a difference in the Masses we serve. Commitment, in terms of time spent practicing, hosting at a member’s house where catering is provided and distance travelled to the three churches is important. Each member must accept personal responsibility to learn their part and be attentive at all times, not to hurt, upset or exploit other choir members, but to be helpful and supportive instead. Our motto is ‘music-making in a choir is a team effort.’
I have been a member of the Amen choir for the past four years. I became a member in an indirect way. I joined a different choir after hearing them provide ministry at St Nicholas of Myra Parish one Sunday morning. I gave my contact details to a fellow parishioner who was acquainted to the Amen choir. Those details got passed on to Eric, and a few days later, Eric made contact with me.
Currently, there are fourteen members of Amen choir, comprising of two guitarists, a bass player, a keyboard player, a saxophonist and a percussionist.
Members of the Amen Choir have spoken to me and shared their motivation to join the choir.
Ernie Brillantes, a founding member of the group, sings and plays the guitar. Ernie feels that he has been blessed by God with the family God has given him, his career and his talent. By singing with Amen, he feels that he is repaying God for his kindness and having a strong bond with the members of the choir.
George Newman loves singing and musicals. He joined the Amen Choir six years ago after hearing the group perform at St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith. He has composed a few hymns in the past. He has become an elderly spokesman for the group by helping to lead prayers before each performance. He found Amen Choir to be a friendly group of people wishing to thank and praise God.
Bayanai Benatrio has been a member since 2003. He is a friend of Eric from when they were both working in Thailand many years ago. He plays the keyboard and also helps with improvisation during practice. He feels that he is at fellowship with God whilst singing during Mass.
Danny Morilla, another founding member, plays acoustic guitar for the group and help improvise during rehearsals. He encourages church goers to join the choir. He finds that he is giving thanks to God by singing in the choir.
When Steve Aaron first heard Amen Choir at Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair, he felt the need to join them so that he could use his talents as a musician to practice and worship the Lord. Steve plays the bass guitar, and is of the opinion that everyone should have an opportunity to cultivate their creative side. He says that choral singing or playing a musical instrument in a choir is a great way to express yourself artistically. Sharing this interest with like minded people motivates him to challenge himself.
Eddy Bishara was informed about Amen by me. He decided to explore the choir by becoming a member. He found the songs very inspiring and uplifting. He says that singing was also good for the health and soul. He believed that when he sings to praise the Lord, this brings him closer to the Lord. To him, it feels like praying twice over. Since joining Amen, his faith has grown.
Ebbie Bonaag can play the piano, saxophone and basic guitar, but prefers to sing and at times play the saxophone. Being a member of Amen makes him feel good.
Coming from a Catholic family, Joseph Gomes has always wanted to serve the Church. The busy life he leads does not allow him to do much, but he believes that he can contribute something by being in a choir. He hopes to continue serving the Church through the choir. He thinks that Amen is not a choir, but a family of like minded people having one aim to praise the Lord.
Dolan Macalalad is one of the founding members of the choir, who plays percussion and occasionally sings. He joined Amen Choir from another choir group of mostly Filipinos musicians. He feels that by playing with Amen Choir, he is serving God and thanking God for his blessings.
Recent member Lorensz Herft first heard Amen Choir at Holy Spirit Parish, St Clair, and approached Eric, expressing his interest in joining the choir. Being an active member of the Church community, Lorenz believes that joining a choir is a privilege and a blessing, and by singing, it assists in praising God in the Eucharist.
“We hope that Amen Choir gives life and vibrancy to events and occasions through our singing. We try to sing with grace that gives melody to the ears of many. We feel that singing in a group gives us a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves,” Eric said.
When recently celebrating Mass with St Padre Pio Parish, Glenmore Park, Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, emphasised that prayer is the likelihood of our relationship with God. He said that through prayer, we meet Jesus and listen to him speaking in our hearts.
This Lent, Bishop Vincent invited us to strengthen our relationship with God through more active participation in the Eucharist, Eucharist Adoration, reflection on the Scriptures and personal prayer. Nothing is more important than our relationship with Jesus our brother.
We should all come home to Jesus. When you need blessing, Praise the Lord. If you need an answer, Praise the Lord. When you praise him, everything must change, for God inhibits the Praise.
Anyone interested in joining the Amen Choir can speak to Eric. You can contact him via email on firstname.lastname@example.org or on his mobile 0425 428 681.
Gus Lim is a member of the Amen Choir and a parishioner of St Nicholas of Myra Parish, Penrith.