John Brown University student development hosted the annual welcome back concert on Aug. 29. They chose a secular band to perform on campus.
Performing this year was Penny and Sparrow, a two-man folk band with musicians, Kyle Jahnke and Andy Baxter, from Texas.
Coordinator of Student Activities, Maria Lehr, does not take the task of hiring bands lightly. Lehr said she usually finds bands through student suggestions and then researches bands’ and their values through their lyrics, website, blogs and social media.
Though Lehr chooses bands that are not explicitly Christian, she said it is important that they are willing to adhere to JBU values while they are here.
“Communication is key,” Lehr said.
Lehr said she often sends a copy of the covenant to the band so they understand community values and standards for behavior. The band can then determine whether the job will be a good fit for both the artists and the University.
After agreeing to do a concert for the University, the band and their management will write up a contract and begin negotiations over pricing and other stipulations.
Even with such a precautionary process, Lehr admits there is a level of risk to be considered when bringing in any outside musical group.
“There are both positive and negative viewpoints to having a secular artist perform on campus,” Elise Farrell, senior communication major, said. “Some may say bringing in a secular artist allows that artist to be recognized, versus a Christian artist allowing God to be recognized in their music.”
Lehr said she believes that the risk is worth the returns. John Brown is a musical campus and Lehr believes it is her job to organize an event that is enjoyable and relevant to students. She also believes that there is value in bringing secular artists to JBU.
“I don’t believe that Christian music is the only place we can find truth,” Lehr said.
When choosing a group, Lehr looks for meaningful music with a positive message that college students will relate to, she said.
Senior history major, McKenzie Raub, attended the welcome back concert featuring Penny and Sparrow.
“As Christians, I think it is important to celebrate creativity inside and outside of the church. We serve a creative God and I think we severely restrict what we can learn about God’s character if we put on our blinders and say ‘I will only support explicitly Christian artists and authors and people,’” Raub said.
Lehr pointed out the positive influence that the University can have on the secular artists that come. She stressed the importance of hospitality and that whatever their beliefs, it is important that the University treat guest speakers or artists with kindness and consideration.
“It’s a great chance to be a witness,” Lehr said. “We have an awesome opportunity to show them the love of Christ by just being who we are.”
Lehr said she was thrilled by the enthusiasm and positivity that students displayed even as the rain began to pour and the location had to be moved.