Jeff Bruno photo
Jeff Bruno photo

By Christina Leslie | Staff Writer

The nearly 1,000 people who filled the Strand Theater, Lakewood, Sept. 19 had two goals in mind: to hear faith-filled Christian artists share their musical vision, and to have a great time. Mission accomplished!

The Array of Hope program, with special guest Christian recording artist Matt Maher, had the multi-generational audience of families, youth group members, clergy and music lovers from around the state on their feet with arms in the air for most of the more-than-three hour concert. The event came about as a collaboration between the Archdiocese of Newark, the Dioceses of Metuchen, Trenton and Paterson and Te Deum Ministries, resulting in a high-energy meld of music, witness, video presentations and audience interaction with a high-energy, faith-based focus.

Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., received a rock-star greeting as he strode across the stage to kick off the multi-media event. Extending his welcome on behalf of his fellow New Jersey bishops, he reminded the nearly 1,000 people in the seats, “The universal language is music,” and bade the cheering audience, “Enjoy yourself, have a blast!”

Each segment of the Array of Hope program took the crowd on a musical journey of faith. Christian band Sacred Road opened the show with their hit “[Love Has Made Me a] New Creation,” and shared its views on God’s place in the band members’ lives. Family-centered band The Costa Crew described its work at a camp for disadvantaged children in upstate New York and sang “a world full of love, if I could only see” as the smiling children’s faces were projected upon a giant plasma screen on the stage. The rapping Salesian priest duo of The Bosco Boys, who unzipped the jackets of their track suits to reveal their Roman collars, brought the audience to its feet numerous times during the first act as they sang about bullying and finding one’s faith.

Multiple short films used a variety of methods to educate or amuse the audience; a humorous man-on-the-street film entitled “How well do you know the Bible?” evoked laughter among theatergoers, while scriptural passages scrolling atop the three dimensional images of a child developing in the womb took viewers on an emotional journey from conception to birth.

In keeping with their multimedia presentation of faith, Array of Hope performers urged the crowd to use their smartphones during the concert and intermission to take selfies, view pictures and compete in contests on the organization’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram platforms.

As soon as headliner Matt Maher took the stage, the already cheering audience seemed to get a high-energy shot in the arm. On its feet, clapping and cheering, they sang “I’m Alive Again,” the title track from the Canadian-born artist’s fifth album.

Maher showed easy rapport with the audience as he wove biographical notes and spiritual observations into his music. “God wrecked my life,” he joked as he described his life’s journey from a jazz performance student at an Arizona university to youth group minister, then Christian performing artist.  Pictures of his wife and two small children flashed on the screen as he expressed his joy, appreciation and faith in the Lord through his music.

Audience members expressed their joy at the concert’s Catholic message of faith. The Ahern family, parishioners in St. Rose of Lima, Freehold, had seen both the Array of Hope and Matt Maher performances at previous venues, and made a point to return to the Strand for more. “We loved their music and staging and lights and messages of God and life,” mother Kathleen said. “The second time we were so much more on board! It’s a journey I’m grateful we took.”

Kathleen’s husband, Glenn, a contemporary musician at the Freehold parish, was especially glad to witness an interview conducted by their daughter Ella with the evening’s headliner before the show. “He was so taken by the Matt Maher show,” Kathleen continued. “When Ella interviewed him, [Glenn] sat in. He was so impressed with him, so inspired.”

Teresa Cincotta of St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Yardville, attended the show with a group of seven family members and friends. “The Array of Hope was very well done,” she noted. “It was a great concert, but it was more than a concert. My mom really loved it; she’s really into Matt Maher, and my grandmother who enjoys charismatic music did, too.”

Nicholas Ciccone, a student at Georgian Court University located just blocks from the Strand Theater, was accompanied to the concert by a brother and friends from his alma mater, Christian Brothers Academy, Lincroft. Ciccone, a member of St. Martha Parish, Point Pleasant, declared, “I loved the messages [Array of Hope] brought forward, and the films.” He also was surprised at Maher’s energetic performance, saying, “I loved his messages, too. The music wasn’t just a jam out session.”

Just as the audience sensed the performers’ faith-filed joy flowing onstage, the Array of Hope members also felt the positive response from those filling the seats.

“Matt Maher came over to me during the intermission,” Mario Costabile, co-creator of Array of Hope, said in an interview after the concert. “He said, ‘It’s kind of exciting, there’s energy in the air,’ and I told him, ‘That’s the Holy Spirit.’”