By Celine Klosterman
Fittingly for two Catholics who belong to a music duo called Oddwalk Ministries — which will perform at the Davenport Diocese’s junior high youth rally March 20 — they formed the group after taking an unexpected journey.
In the early 2000s, Shannon Cerneka was happily giving solo guitar performances at youth events and coffeehouses and serving at St. Peter Parish in Jefferson City, Mo. as director of youth ministry — a job he still holds. Meanwhile, Orin Johnson was satisfied in his position as coordinator of music and liturgy at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, in Belleville, Ill., where he still works.
But as Cerneka continued receiving invitations to perform, he felt he needed to offer more than just his voice and guitar. So he began inviting along Johnson, a keyboardist and singer he knew from the National Shrine, where Cerneka had once worked.
Johnson joked that Cerneka’s invitations were more like “insistence.” So he started accompanying the guitarist, neither one of them intending — or imagining — they’d form a long-term duo.
But Cerneka realized that the more the musicians performed together, the more they could offer as a pair. Johnson “is pretty good onstage, good to bounce things off of; he’s funny, quirky and smart.”
So, tired of being billed as simply “Shannon/Orin,” in 2004 the Catholics decided to make their ministry “more intentional” — starting with a name. They took inspiration from a story in the Gospel of Luke in which two disciples traveling to Emmaus encounter the risen Jesus, then reverse course to Jerusalem to spread the Good News.
God set the disciples on a new path – an “odd walk.” “You have to be open to letting Christ change you and direct you on the Christian journey,” Johnson said.
“Maybe as few as seven or eight years ago if you’d asked, ‘Did you know you’d be doing this ministry?’ I’d have given you a very funny look.”
But he and Cerneka said they appreciate the opportunities they’ve received to share the Gospel and entertain people, which they’ve done at Catholic conventions, youth rallies, diocesan events and other gatherings throughout the United States.
At the junior high youth rally March 20, Oddwalk Ministries’ keynote presentations will offer storytelling, activities, humor and selections from the roughly 100, often Scripture-inspired songs Johnson and Cerneka have written.
The presentations — guided by Oddwalk Ministries’ themes of community, participation and mission — also will include opportunities for audience interaction. “Our faith is not a spectator sport,” Cerneka said. “We try to model that in our show and get people as engaged as we can. We could do a concert, but that’s not what we feel called to.”
He hopes audience engagement helps give youths a small taste of “ownership” in the Church. “I look back on my own time as a student, and I can’t remember one thing a speaker said at a youth event or the songs we sang. But I remember as a whole thinking how wonderful it was — how alive the Church seemed … There’s an exciting element to being Catholic, not only being children of God, but having an opportunity to go on the great adventure of Christianity.”
Johnson wants students to be open to that adventure. “I hope students leave the rally with the sense they need to allow Christ to change them and set them on a new direction. Every day, you must be open to hearing him say, ‘We need you over here now.’ You may not know where that is or who will be there, but if Christ is leading you, have faith. It’s about saying, ‘Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.’”
Junior high youth rally details
The Davenport Diocese’s fifth annual junior high youth rally, with the theme of “Peace Love Jesus,” will take place March 20 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Regina Catholic Education Center in Iowa City. The day will include two keynote presentations from Oddwalk Ministries, faith-related workshops, music from Christian band 1 of 12, Mass with Bishop Martin Amos, prayer, a skit by the Diocesan Youth Ministry Committee, lunch and time for a dance and fellowship.
To register, students should contact their parish youth leader. For more information, visit www.davenportyouth.org.