For Jay and Moni Carriere, it’s simple: they just want to see God’s church praising Jesus, together, and experiencing his presence. So when the idea came to start an ongoing series of worship gatherings in the Niagara-on-the-Lake area, it was right up their alley.
Jay, born and raised in the Niagara region, met Moni in their younger years. The two eventually married and, after spending some time in Canada, headed to Monica’s native Germany. It was there that the building blocks for their current ministry began to move into place.
Jay outlined their years of ministry in Europe. “We did worship in Germany a lot— pretty much most of the time we were there, almost every single weekend.
“The last church that we were at had worship upstairs and downstairs. The (downstairs) crowd was the overflow from the upstairs.” But then came thought of doing live worship downstairs as well, and not just looking at words on the overhead projector from upstairs.
The resulting coffeehouse-type environment had people heading downstairs, even when there was space upstairs. Jay sees that as the moment that jump-started their community mindedness. When the couple returned to Canada, they looked to continue in a ministry role in Angus, ON.
Moni picked up the story: “That didn't really pan out; we just didn't feel that it was the right area. That's usually a pretty good indicator, when we both are very much on the same page. Then we definitely know it's a God thing.
“When we came to stay here in Niagara, we definitely felt that we were called to be here, although we weren't really sure why, honestly.”
Upon their return, thoughts turned to finding employment. Jay didn't play guitar for a year and a half, since their new church had a gifted worship leader. When he left to be a missionary, the Carrieres stepped up to help. Once again, they were heavily involved in worship leading.
Later that year, however, summer hit, and everything stopped. Jay and Moni suddenly had a lot of time on their hands. That was when different people from different churches began approaching them, and began having what Monika called, “the most interesting conversations.
“Everybody had the same needs: they just wanted more. They were saying that this just cannot be it. Everybody was feeling tired and resigned about their faith, and church. A lot of them were saying that they felt like they were asleep. So we had this idea: why don't we start something, like a community of worship, where we gather together musicians from different churches? We do a worship night, where we invite all the churches in the area, and we rotate the spaces where it is held.”
Since starting the gatherings last November, has Moni sensed an appetite for regional worship in Niagara-on-the-Lake? She believes the answer is yes, based on the number of churches that have approached them to offer space to host the service.
But the worship nights, which run every six to eight weeks or so, are not concerts. After the first event, Moni remembered, “people were excited and saying, ‘that was amazing! What a concert!’ I just cringed. I said to myself, that is definitely not the intention at all.”
Now the couple is demonstrating to people what is meant by a worship atmosphere. “We try to encourage people to do testimonies, because that's another big part of what we want to do. We try to give people space for that. And we try to give people space to pray for the regions.”
“And that,” said Tony, “was what we did at the church that we attended while in Germany.” Upstairs in the German church, he reminisced, the songs were done quickly and in order. But the different feel downstairs allowed Jay more flexibility. “We would ask, ‘you want to share? Okay, we're going to share… now. If we’re gonna cut songs, then we’ll cut songs.’”
Moni continued: “We had people that were awesome in their encouragement; they kept telling me to not give up, that this is a God thing. They said to keep asking people to share. So even though you feel silly sometimes, we kept it up. There were times when I'd say, ‘so, this is the time to share!’ And people would be quiet.”
But over time, that hesitation subsided. “It was unbelievable where God took this! People began sharing so much. And the greatest thing— and this is where I feel this is supposed to go— people would say, ‘hey, we’re just excited because we just celebrated 15 years of marriage!’ And everybody would cheer and clap and yell amen. Then someone else would say, ‘I'm just really worried, can we pray for some kids that are going away on a school trip?’ Simple things, you know? It doesn't have to be humongous.”
During one of the sharing times, a woman asked for prayer for a baby that was deathly ill. “It was a dire situation. We prayed… then she came back, and said that the greatest miracle ever had happened! (The baby) was healed! Praise God!”
Jay remembered that night. “It was powerful because we actually stopped everything, and everyone prayed.” Moments like these have created an atmosphere where those present know their struggles will be shared by others who will surround them, right then and there, with prayer.
The worship community is a place to live out authenticity between believers. Says Moni, “A big thing that I keep hearing from Christians and non-Christians alike is that Christians are fake, and that a lot of times we just do our thing and nobody’s real anymore. I believe that a big part of being real is learning to be honest and open with people, and just living life together.”
Their desire is that this authenticity will be embedded within the band as well, which formed after a simple recruitment process. “When we first approached people and asked if they would be interested, everybody said yes immediately. They just needed to know when and where.
“We pick worship songs together, although we still do the lead and ultimately decide on direction, but they definitely ask what do we think about a certain song? They tell us if they think we should do a certain song again. Stuff like that. We are very open with it, and we love it. We pray together, we pray for each other, we pray for the vision, and pray for unity most of all.”
Jay added, “It's like a small group. We work together.”
The band members have had to make a few sacrifices for this cause, as Jay pointed out. “We’re not a band made up of teens with all the time in the world. All of us have jobs. Some of us are business owners. There’s a lot of stress coming out of a day, and into a practice.”
Moni would love to see Christian unity reaching into other sections of the local churches as well. She remembers asking a youth pastor why local youth groups weren’t doing anything together, since many struggle with only a few teens each. “The youth pastors say, ‘well, we do stuff with the churches in St. Catharines’. So why not with the church down the road?”
Longtime resident Jay knows there is not much for youth to do. “Why not bring these youth groups here in the area together, instead of taking one youth group and exporting it to St. Catharines?”
And on the topic of age, Moni shared what the range can be on a given night. “We always have a row of really elderly people, and they love it. One time they came, and they were like, 'somebody told us to go and sit right at the back. I think they think we’re old.’”
At the other end of the spectrum, there are children that are the same ages as Jay and Moni’s. “We want our kids to grow up in this kind of environment. All of us in the band that have said that. We want our kids to grow up to be worshipers, and to learn what that really is all about.
“So there are little kids— five year olds and younger, and there are older people as well; I would say about 70 or 80 years old. And everything in between.”
The gatherings have not been well received by all. Past events in the community have left emotional and spiritual scars in some local believers. But Moni remains optimistic. “Because of the stuff that went on, certain people will not go to certain churches. But that's okay, because I believe that God will move, and he will do his thing.”
Something else that could threaten her optimism is supernatural opposition. “Along with everything that's been happening, come the spiritual attacks. We definitely feel it. So we are very grateful that there are people that really lift us up a lot in prayer.”
But she is encouraged to continue regardless of any setbacks that may arise, when she thinks back to what she witnessed during a recent trip to Germany to see her mother. “In her church in Stuttgart, there’s a huge revival going on. I just had to ask God to help me bring that back here with me. You see people on fire… the youth there are in fire. They’re filling stadiums. It’s insane. Praise God for that.”
One-on-one introductions and personal relationships have helped to create the spiritual unity the Carrieres seek. It’s likely the single most powerful way that the community has expanded. “As we’ve personally approached people,” Moni said, “and told them that we were the ones leading the community of worship, they were like, ‘oh my goodness, where is it and what is it.’”
As the couple continue preparing and planning for future gatherings, they remain fixed on a verse in Ephesians: “Awake oh sleeper and rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (5:14)”. “There are so many people asleep in the area. We have been asleep before as well, I know that full well. But we have this sense of knowing that we have to wake up. I think we need to remind each other to stay awake. There’s that parable of the virgins that kept falling asleep, while the bridegroom was coming back. I think it's important that we shake each other up all the time, that we encourage each other to stay awake and stay in the race, and look at what's coming, and why we’re doing this.
“We are just doing this thing. But if it can help anybody, or spread a fire… if it can spread beyond here and start a movement, that would be amazing. Because the churches could do so much if they actually joined together. I keep saying that. I think, everybody's doing their own VBS, and struggling to find volunteers! Imagine what would happen if all of a sudden, we organized one large VBS, and we pool all our resources.”
Jay then brought it back to the focus of the evenings. “What are we doing in this time together? We’re worshiping God. We’re not worshiping our denominations, or whether we sprinkle, or baptize, or dunk, or whatever. We’re worshiping God. I think that's the beauty of it.
“I'm doing this because nobody else is doing it. I don't feel that I'm an amazing musician or singer, I just do it because I love doing it, and I love God, and I love worshiping. I'm not a good worship leader by any stretch of the imagination, I don't speak well to people, I'm not a preacher. I just do it.”
The collective takeaway for the gatherings: Jesus is coming soon. “That’s the whole message,” Moni said. “It’s so essential for us to start living like that, and not be comfortable anymore, and to think we have more time than we do.”