Jennifer Barton
November 15, 2022 // Diocese

Unity, Revival the Heart of Shema

Jennifer Barton

Can three people change the culture of a city, a diocese? Caleb and Natali Perkins and Gloria Kohrman don’t believe so. But they believe that the power of God working through their lives and their music can transform hearts and minds, and that God has called them to do so.

Shema Culture, a new ministry in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, promotes glorifying God through praise and worship music. Taken from the Hebrew Shema prayer (Deut. 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel…”), the trio hopes to bridge the Catholic and Protestant worlds and inflame hearts through musical worship. The members of the trio could not presume to inspire change if they themselves had not been changed by God.

Photos provided Gloria Kohrman
Members of Shema Culture Gloria Kohrman and Natali and Caleb Perkins bring praise and worship music to Catholics within the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, performing at St. Pius X Parish in Granger. The trio began their ministry last year, believing that God has called them to renew hearts in both Catholics and Protestants, and have been much in demand since then.

Embracing the Truth

Young married couple Caleb and Natali grew up Protestant (Pentecostal and Baptist), where praise and worship music were a natural piece of devotion to God. They were active in a non-denominational church before becoming Catholic a little more than a year ago. Caleb felt called to become a youth pastor at his church and so decided to learn as much theology as possible to better teach children the Christian faith. Desiring to worship as close to the first Apostles as possible, he began a “search for truth”, whereupon “the Lord led me to the Catholic faith, and the Eucharist was the final tipping point. Once He revealed that to me, I’m like ‘I have to become Catholic.’”

When he told Natali this in the summer of 2020, she resisted joining him, but when “he started RCIA and started graciously and very gently sharing things with me and I would argue with him”, eventually his defense of the Church began making sense to her. Natali decided to learn about Catholicism from those who lived it, and Caleb encouraged her to do her own research.

“I didn’t even believe that Catholics were Christian for a long time before the Lord very graciously started to tear down those misconceptions and open my heart to the beauty of the Catholic Church and the ancient faith that we have,” Natali remarked. The reality of the Eucharistic feast and its connection to the Passover finally drove her into the arms of the Church as well.

Both were confirmed last spring at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Fort Wayne, where they remain parishioners. Since then, they have been on fire for the Faith.

Gloria was raised Catholic at St. Charles Borromeo. Even so, she reached a point when she had to embrace the Faith on her own, and that came in high school. “I believe that every single cradle Catholic, even if it’s small, has to have a reversion. Maybe it’s a small reversion, maybe it’s a big reversion, but we have to have a point where we decide ‘do I want to stop doing this or do I want to keep doing this?’” she said. She seized the Faith, becoming what she called “the biggest Catholic nerd” at her public high school. She began writing Christ-centered music in high school and continued this into her college years.

Prior to meeting Caleb and Natali, Gloria had a desire to use her voice and guitar for praise and worship, yet had no outlet for it. Natali had been singing since she was a child; Caleb plays guitar and cajón (a box-shaped percussion instrument). Before their conversion to Catholicism, they were involved in leading worship at their church and wanted to carry that into their new faith life. A mutual friend, who knew the desires of their hearts, brought the three together, and the trio took off.

“The further along our praise and worship as a team has progressed, the stronger our friendship got,” Gloria shared. Today, she and Natali appear more like sisters than friends of only one year.

‘A Rock and a Sling and a Heart for the Lord’

The initial plan for Shema Culture was small, a simple music ministry to take place between Masses at St. Charles Borromeo. The three meshed so beautifully that in 2021, they began receiving invitations to play for youth retreats and events like College Crew. Natali said, “That’s where it began, that small desire and dream.”

At a Damascus retreat in Ohio, those dreams sprouted wings. In separate revelations, Gloria and Natali both realized that “the Lord asked so clearly and so boldly, over and over and over again” for them to surrender their jobs and focus on the ministry full-time, Gloria stated.

Caleb had just begun working for St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Fort Wayne and worried over the loss of his wife’s (larger) income. “For the year, my word has been fiat,” he remarked, and at Damascus, he felt God calling him to emulate St. Joseph, supporting his family while remaining in the background. Trusting in God’s providence, both Natali and Gloria left their jobs, believing that one day their ministry will financially support all three of them.

Working with connections at St. Charles Borromeo and St. Vincent de Paul parishes, they laid the groundwork for Shema Culture, whose mission is to teach, revive, and unite. The trio has played in Granger and Fort Wayne and will even lead praise music for diocesan pilgrims at World Youth Day in Portugal in 2023.

“The Lord really revealed to us that it’s such a need in the Catholic Church. When we’re being pulled in multiple directions to play in different places throughout the week and our calendars look insane, we need more worshippers in the Catholic church, so how can we do that?” Gloria asked.

The answer, they hope, is in establishing praise and worship teams at churches throughout the diocese, training others not in technical skills, but in “the heart posture” of praise and worship leaders, said Caleb. They have begun hosting training workshops at the University of Saint Francis along with a new ministry at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. There is an application on the parish website for anyone interested in joining.

Gloria compared their ministry to David’s faith in God. “When he was just little … all he had was a rock and a sling and a heart for the Lord.” Like most ideas, Shema Culture began small but is poised to do tremendous things. The three certainly have a heart for the Lord, and while the obstacles in their path seem large, “We believe very firmly and feel it in our bones and in our souls that the Lord is doing something new in [the diocese],” and using them in His plan.

Gloria agreed. “It feels like a tipping point that’s coming and it’s going to be like a big boom of revival.”

God has led them, and they will continue to follow, trusting Him to recruit additional helpers for their ministry and provide financial support for it to expand and flourish. Caleb believes that God has shown him that He will provide them with their own building in the future – a place to minister to both Catholics and non-Catholics.

Singing Love Letters to God

Some Catholics may be apprehensive about praising God in this way, but Natali said that praise and worship music can amplify one’s relationship with God. “This is a way to encounter the Holy Spirit outside the Mass as well, and what better way to encounter the Lord’s heart than to write and sing love letters to Him and unto His heart, and that’s essentially what we’re trying to do; we’re trying to remind people that the Lord is your first love and expressing love to someone takes time and it takes sacrifice.”

“It instills an intimate relationship or starts to fill that intimate relationship we’re supposed to have with the Lord, both emotionally and intellectually. You need both, you can’t have one without the other,” she stated.

Caleb reiterated that, pointing out how the beauty of architecture, artwork, and even incense in the Catholic Church connects “with all of your senses. This form of worship is not the same as the Mass, but we’re human beings as well as spirit at the same time, so there’s nothing wrong with connecting with the Lord emotionally.”

The songs they sing are contemporary in nature; Christian but not necessarily Catholic, though they ensure that each one is biblically sound and completely in line with Church teaching.

Shema Culture and Kingdom Collective (a non-denominational church) periodically host Unity Worship Nights at St. Charles Borromeo. “We really believe that through this, this is how healing is going to happen between the different denominations,” Caleb commented. “Yes, we need to talk through things, but we can’t talk through things if we’re not getting around the table together and just being family first.”

Music, Natali said, “lifts and elevates our minds and hearts to the Lord and it opens ourselves up to whatever the Spirit desires us to learn or to grow in.”

The goal of these nights is to bring anyone who loves Jesus together to give Him glory, with the additional element of offering a window for non-Catholics to see inside the Church and breaking down barriers between the faiths. They consider any conversions that may come about – such as Caleb’s brothers, now in RCIA – as simply a fruit of their labor.

“That’s why praise and worship is so important because it’s the perfect starting point for anyone to even just look into the Church. Instead of just bringing them to the Mass, the source and summit, we have to meet them where they are and bring them with us,” Gloria added. “It’s the perfect place for them to see Catholics who are on fire for the Faith.”

Shema Culture can be found on Facebook and Instagram
@shemaculture). As a non-profit, Shema is greatly in need of equipment and funds to continue operating. To contribute financially to their mission of building the Body of Christ or to volunteer time and talents, scan the QR code or call 260-740-4249.

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