Music program is noteworthy for Neighbors North parish grouping

Managing the music ministry program for the Neighbors North Catholic Community is often like a complex game of chess for director Ted Rybka.

There are many schedules to juggle for the 300-member program that ministers at four sites — Incarnation of the Lord, St. Athanasius, St. Sebastian and St. Teresa of Avila. But Rybka’s strong organizational skills and the assistance of a dedicated staff has helped make the program a model in the diocese.

“I don’t think anyone was thrilled when we found out that our churches were merging, and when Ted told us the music ministries were going to be the first groups to merge I think we all held our breath to see what would happen,” said Judy Dulemba, a member of the adult choir from St. Teresa of Avila. “What we found out was that our choirs became stronger and more vibrant together.”

The end result, Dulemba noted, was that there are now more options to choose from, allowing more people to participate. The program has benefitted all four churches and enhanced her own connection to the Church.

In addition to the adult choir, the music ministry features a Caritas Concert Series, Cherub Choir (grades 1-5), Contemporary Choir, Good News Band, Gospel Mass Series, Handbell Choir, instrumentalists, Joyful Noise Ensemble (grades 6-12), Resurrection Choir and Spirit Band.

“Music sets the mood and sets the tone for hopefully a deep and meaningful worship experience,” Rybka said.

The co-director of the ministry is Ginny Ambrose. “It wasn’t the Brady Bunch at first, but everyone showed a willingness to come together,” she said, in noting that while she didn’t want to sound “pollyannaish,” she has not heard a negative comment about the ministry.

“It was a leader for the rest of the parish and an example for other parishes,” she said.

Rybka pointed out that the ministry has been successful because it has been a priority in the grouping from the start. He pointed, in particular, to the support of Father John Rushofsky, administrator of the grouping. The two of them ministered in the McKeesport area in the early 1990s, he noted, and so they experienced what it means to bring parishes together.

“Father John has given us an amazing amount of support,” Rybka said. “He’s been fantastic.” He noted the administrator’s extensive music background and said that he hopes to have him participate in this year’s Christmas concert.

Rybka had served as the director of music at St. Teresa of Avila. He said that a couple of weeks after the groupings were announced in April 2018, Father Rushofsky called him and asked him to head the music ministry. He immediately began an inventory of resources and staff. By July, a draft of the program was in place and letters were sent out inviting choir members and musicians to an introductory meeting.

The new music program was initiated in September, a month before the four parishes formally came together in the grouping. “Someone has to be first and it has to be us,” Rybka said. “We are on the front lines (with the parishioners) each week.”

Father Rushofsky said the hiring of Rybka to direct the program was a “no-brainer.” He pointed out that when he was pastor of St. Sebastian, he came to St. Teresa’s 150th anniversary celebration and was “blown away” by the music. Music is crucial to a strong liturgy, he noted.

“The people deserve the best program that can be provided for them,” he said.

Rybka said that he tries to provide many options for the different tastes of faithful. He described the music as ecclectic in style. “They may not leave saying they loved everything, but hopefully they loved something,” he said. “If there’s one thing, we’ve succeeded.”

The program has been successful, he added, because of the early preparation and the willingness of the members to travel to all four buildings.

Rybka also noted Ambrose’s contributions. “She’s been a god-send,”  he said. “She’s a perfect fit and she’s been great for everybody. We’ve got a fantastic group of people.”

Jim Rossetti directs the bell choir and spirit band. He said that Father Rushofsky set a firm foundation for the music program when he picked Rybka to lead it. He pointed out that Rybka’s leadership was evident from the first meeting in July that set the tone for the future.

The program has brought together the different charisms of the parish, he said, adding, “People who couldn’t see different types of music can see them now.”

But bringing four parishes together can also bring taxing moments. There have been weeks where the grouping has seen as many as nine funerals, with three in one day. With only three organists, it can create havoc with scheduling. But Rybka pointed out that experience is helping to develop a smoother schedule.

Rybka is a member of St. Teresa of Avila, but he said that while he loves the community, he has come to love the other communities as well.

“I would never go back to where I was before,” he said. “I would never want to leave the other people I have come to know.”

The Neighbors North Catholic Community is formally set to become a new parish on July 1.

The music ministries of the Neighbors North Catholic Community is sponsoring a number of upcoming events. A Stations of Light service will be held on Wednesday, April 15, at 7 p.m. at St. Teresa of Avila. The 2019-20 Caritas Concert Series will continue with a performance by the Pittsburgh Doo Wop Big Band on Sunday, April 26 at 3 p.m. at St. Teresa of Avila. 

St. Teresa of Avila will be the site of the Seventh Annual North Hills Food Truck Festival on Sunday, May 17, from noon-5 p.m., and the Pentecost Gospel Mass will be held there on Sunday, May 31 at 11 a.m. More information is available at www.neighborsnorth.org, or on Facebook - Neighbors North Music Ministry.