Sounds of hope: Three teens share music and faith at their parish

Sitting together on a couch at St. Andrew in Elk River, 17-year-old Hannah Gregersen turned to her two bandmates, twins Elias and Elsay Yoder, and asked if they were ready to announce their new band name to the world. Both Elias and Elsay responded enthusiastically.

“We are … The Hopeful,” the three said together.

High school seniors Elsay Yoder, left, Hannah Gregersen, and Elias Yoder play in the music ministry at St. Andrew Church in Elk River.

The three teens are parishioners at St. Andrew’s. They participate in music ministry at the church, where they have sung at Masses, confirmation retreats and faith formation nights alongside Elias and Elsay’s dad, Kent, who is the youth minister.

But the three have never really considered themselves a band — until now.

“We were thinking and thinking [of our band name] and we knew we wanted hope in there, because that’s what we give through our music,” Gregersen said.

Elias, who plays bass guitar, Elsay who is the drummer, and Gregersen, the lead singer, each have been playing music since they were small children. Gregersen said she has been
singing her whole life. But the idea for the three to play together originally came from Kent.

“I had been playing in the music ministry ever since we joined St. Andrew Church,” Kent said. “As [Elsay and Elias] started growing up and showing interest in music, I started pulling them into playing at Mass with me,” he said.

Elsay said it was thanks to that background in music with their dad, who sings and plays guitar, that they “were able to transition into something where we could have Hannah join along.”

The three teens met as kindergarteners at St. Andrew School. They attended there through fifth grade before moving to Salk Middle School. Now, they will be entering their senior year together at Elk River High School.

Gregersen credits their long relationship for the group’s foundation.

“We’ve been going to school together since kindergarten. … Their dad heard that I liked to sing and he just kind of threw it out as this idea: we should make a band,” Gregersen said. “We’ve known each other for so long. That really helps with our chemistry with the music and how we perform it.”

The three try to play at one Mass per month. They also play at retreats, perform as a “warm-up” as youth arrive for faith formation nights and have also played at other parish functions, including Tuesday night Masses and Sunday night adoration.

Elsay said the music they play is contemporary, featuring songs from Christian artists such as Chris Tomlin, Francesca Battistelli, Hillsong, and Elevation Worship.

“Ninety percent of the time we have different kids or parents or even just other parishioners come up to us and tell us they love the music, and it’s a different type of music,” Elsay said. “Everybody is used to the traditional Catholic music with the organ, but when we play it’s a different genre, it’s more contemporary and I think that’s a big kind of impact.”

Though the musical genre may be a “little different,” according to Kent, he said it shows “the variety in our church.”

Elsay Yoder, left, and Hannah Gregersen with Father Mark Innocenti.

“Instead of the variety creating a problem, it’s bringing us all together, helping us to worship, maybe in slightly different ways, but it’s all pointing us toward the Eucharist and Mass,’’ he said.

Father Mark Innocenti, pastor at St. Andrew’s, has high praise for the group, noting that it has “been a blessing to us here.”

“I’ve watched these kids mature as they get older but also in their musical ability and their ability to be part of the liturgy … it’s very tasteful, and it’s doing what music is supposed to do:
draw us closer to worship of our Savior, of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, in the liturgy,” Father Innocenti said.

In addition to their music ministry, Elias and Elsay are active in other ways at the parish, particularly in youth ministry. Elias, who helps lead camps with his brother, said the connections they are making are a “huge thing.”

“These middle schoolers and younger kids are seeing us and they’re seeing that we’re caring about this, and then we also go to camps and we’re leaders there,” he said. “That really helps
with us being able to connect with our campers because they already know us from the music that we play.”

Gregersen noted the way that participating in music ministry has impacted her parish involvement, saying it “has brought us closer to have more resources” at the parish.

But their music isn’t only impacting those who hear The Hopeful play; it’s also had a large impact on the members themselves.

“I grew up in a very religious household, which was not easy at the start, so when I jumped in a band with these guys it honestly brought my connection to God so much closer,” Gregersen said.

“I honestly don’t think I would have been much of a faithful role model without these guys because they really kept me grounded,” she added. “Even when I was in despair and not believing in anything really, they were like, ‘OK Hannah, let’s pick you up, let’s figure this out, let’s keep you moving,’ and honestly I don’t know where I would’ve been.”

Elias said playing worship music is a “form of praying.”

“I’ve always really, really connected to music … and so being able to use that to connect with God gives a whole lot of peace and hope, which just is so good for me,” he said.

As for Elsay, he said the music allows him to convey thoughts and feelings.

“When you’re playing music and really singing along with the different lyrics and everything, I feel like I’m able to express myself so much more,” he said. “I feel like it’s a better connection than other forms of prayer.”

The band has plans to grow in the future, and they hope to someday produce their own music and videos.

Elsay even noted how Father Innocenti wants to get involved.

“We sometimes will talk to Father Mark and he always says, ‘You guys need to book more gigs, go play at different churches’… . He says ‘I’ll be your agent. I’ll hire you out to different places!’” Elsay said.

Gregersen said one of the band’s goals is “just to help people be aware that there are many different ways to seek God.”

“They weren’t blocking us out or sitting on their phone; we actually got people to look up,” Gregersen said. “That was an accomplishment at the end of every performance — getting to
be there for somebody without even actually talking to them. I think it’s the best form of communication.”

And, for Gregersen, even though the three may go their separate ways after high school, the band is always something they can come back to.

“I think that this silly band that started when we were very young will bring a friendship that will last forever,” she said.

Author: Gianna Bonello

Gianna Bonello is a multimedia reporter for The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine.

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