Janèt Sullivan Whitaker

Anita Draper
Catholic Herald staff

Inclusivity – music ministry as the voice of not the select few, but of the assembly – is one of Janèt Sullivan Whitaker’s key philosophies.

A liturgical composer, recording artist and longtime music minister in the Diocese of Oakland, California, Whitaker is leading the Diocese of Superior’s 2018 Music Ministry Retreat and Workshop on Friday, Feb. 2, and Saturday, Feb. 3, at Holy Family Parish, Woodruff.

“Word, Sacrament, and Mission: The Gift and the Joyful Challenge of Singing Our Faith” is the theme of the event, which begins at 5:30 p.m. Friday evening with a social. Dinner starts with prayer at 6:30 p.m., and Whitaker’s first presentation follows the meal.

Coffee and rolls will be served at 8:30 a.m. Saturday morning, followed by a presentation at 9:30 a.m. Lunch is at noon, and a choral reading presentation begins at 12:45 p.m. Concluding remarks are at 3:30 p.m., and Mass is at 4 p.m.

There will be a soup supper with freewill offering after Mass, and new this year, Whitaker will perform a concert at 6 p.m. Cost at the door is $10 for adults and $5 for students.


The role of baptized Catholics is to be “agents of transformation in the world around us,” she said. Whitaker sees music ministry as an extension of this duty and an evangelical force within and beyond the church community; she believes musicians must be prepared to invest in themselves and in their parishes.

“For those of those who choose the ministry of pastoral music as their liturgical vocation, the Church urges a heartfelt stewardship of our gift through practice, prayer, and the pursuit of best practices,” she added. “Through the grace of God and the help of the Holy Spirit, the result of our investment is ever more beautiful, life-giving worship.”

A successful music ministry relies on invitation and ownership, she continued.

“Music is a unifying and universal language. When people of faith work together to make music for God’s glory, a sense of community is forged,” Whitaker explained. “It is natural for such a gift to be shared with others. The most healthy music ministry is one in which individual talents of the members are honored and put to use, and new people are constantly invited and welcomed. This process is, in itself, a form of witness.”

In Whitaker’s experience, apathy is one of the challenges of music ministry: “Because we are a ritual people, there is always the risk of becoming rote in what we do. We don’t mean to do this, but it can happen, and we must be aware of that. When we sing a song that we have known since childhood, we can find ourselves going through the motions.”

To counteract the effect, she asks her workshop attendees to meditate on the words of familiar hymns.

“I like to invite singers to take apart the lyrics of a song they love and know by heart,” she said. “Phrase by phrase, pray the text, speaking the words lovingly and mindfully. Meditate on the meaning, as one does with lexio divina. And when it comes time to sing that song again, be sure to mean it.”

She also emphasized the responsibility of all Catholics, no matter the size of their parish, to worship God with their voices.

“Every single member of the community has both a right and a duty to sing,” she said. “When even one person opts out, the song of the Body of Christ is incomplete …. no one person can or should carry the whole music ministry. Everyone brings his or her voice, offering a return to God in gratitude for gifts already received.”

Music ministry is a gratifying vocation for Whitaker. In her position as music and liturgy director at St. Joan of Arc Parish in San Ramon, California, she particularly enjoys working with youths and children. She also finds working with grieving families to prepare for funeral liturgies rewarding.

“I am privileged to listen to their stories, and, in doing so, become a part of their lives,” she said. “I know I have something to bring that is supportive, loving and consoling. And, in assisting them, my faith life is greatly enriched.”

For more information about the event, call Paul Birch, director of the Office of Worship, at 715-394-0233.

Registration for the workshop is due by Friday, Jan. 19. The cost to attend is $35 per day, or $40 after Jan. 19. Completed registration forms should be emailed to pbirch@
catholicdos.org, faxed to 715-392-2015 or mailed to Diocese of Superior Office of Worship, PO Box 969, Superior, WI 54880.