PHOTO: Fr. Chris Martin, Me, Megan Mastroianni, and Paul J. Kim 

In June I was doing music for a Steubenville Youth Conference that Paul J. Kim spoke at. If you haven’t heard of him, you should check out his website HERE. He’s an incredibly talented young man who is on fire for God and has a great message for young people. During his keynote, he talked about going to a Steubenville conference as a teenager and how the host of that conference said something that changed his life. It was a powerful story.

The next day, as we were all sitting together at lunch, he looked at me and said, “Hey, I think that was you!” Sure enough, it was. Then two other people on the speaking team that weekend, Megan Mastroianni and Fr. Chris Martin, both shared how I had also been at Steubenville conferences they were at when they were younger (2002 and 1996).

This became a theme throughout the summer. Katie Hartfiel shared a picture when she was a “fan girl” of mine in high school. Oscar Rivera told a story from the stage about how he had a conversion in 1995 (and still remembered the horse I rode in on). Kris Frank, hosting a conference for the first time, mentioned that I was the host at the conference he had a powerful conversation at.

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PHOTO: Me and Katie Hartfiel, 2001

I did the math and realized that last weekend was my 75th youth conference in 23 years. That number is a bit ridiculous. If you average about two thousand young people at each conference, that means the Steubenville conferences have given me the opportunity to share my gifts of speaking, music, and comedy in front of about 150,000 young people. There’s only one word that comes to mind as I let that sink in:

Grateful.

My first conference was in the summer of 1994. I was just out of college (Theater major from Rollins College in Winter Park, FL). I had met Jim Beckman (who was the host of that conference) a few months before at the first Catholic Heart Work Camp in Orlando (fun fact: I was the first Carpenter Commando). It was his idea to bring me to Steubenville, a place I had never heard of. At the time he said the weekend could use my gift of comedy (I was working at an improvisational comedy club at the time) to inject some fun into the weekend. But later he shared that he knew in his heart that I needed to experience the kind of Catholic ministry that Steubenville was offering. He was absolutely right.

So from the beginning there was a mutual blessing: the conferences blessed me by being a part of them, and I blessed the conferences by using my gifts in the weekend. It began with comedy but soon grew to songwriting (writing many of the theme songs of the 90s), speaking, hosting, and leading worship. In fact, over these past 23 years I’ve done everything you could do at a conference short of concentrating the Eucharist (yes, I’ve even spoken at a women’s session).

In 2005 I was asked to provide music for not just the youth but also the adult conferences as well. Since we’re counting, last weekend was my 67th young adult or adult conference. The fact that I’ve done over 140 Steubenville summer conferences really blows my mind. I still find them energizing, life giving, and powerful moments of God’s grace.

I am continually humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve at the Steubenville Summer Conferences. I’m always excited when someone says, “I remember you from 1997!” Even if I didn’t say or do anything particularly profound that changed that person’s life back then, it is cool that God let me be a part of the team of people that blessed him or her.

This year the Steubenville summer conferences celebrated its 40th year. What an honor to have participated in 23 of those! While I don’t want to minimize the wonderful things God has done through me over these past decades at those conferences, I also realize that I have been more blessed by having the conferences in my life than vice versa. I could have said no to Jim’s invitation back in 1993, deciding instead to keep doing comedy and music in Orlando, and the conferences would have continued to grow and bless hundreds and thousands of teens. It would have been my loss!

Last weekend, just as I do at the end of every summer, I put my guitar down after the closing song of Mass and said a prayer of gratitude. There’s no sign of me stopping right now, but I also know I’m not the master of my own fate. I can’t believe it has gone on this long, so who knows?

All I know is that I’m so thankful for being a part of the ministry of the Steubenville summer conferences. I can’t imagine my life without them.

 

I’m excited to officially announce that my latest CD, “Mercifulove: Best of Bob Rice 2006-2015” is now available! You can download songs on ITUNES or download/purchase physical copies of the CD on CDBABY.

Though mostly a collection of previously released music, there are three “firsts” that make this CD special (well, to me anyway).

The CD is the first time I’ve ever recorded a “rejected” Steubenville Youth Conference theme song. “Rooted” was the theme in 2011 (to see that year’s promotional video click HERE… and then click HERE to see how far it has come!) so I wrote and submitted a song that I thought was pretty good. But when it was rejected I shelved it. Probably my artist’s insecurity, but I figured if it wasn’t good enough for the conferences then other people wouldn’t like it.

But over the years the song has been stuck in my head. I wanted to record some new music for the CD so I thought I’d give it a shot. And I think it came out amazing!

The second “first” is that this album has the first recording of a talk of mine ever put on a CD. About two years ago I gave an impromptu talk about how much Christ paid for us on the cross (you can see the video of that talk HERE) and since then many folks have been blessed by it. I’m really excited to have it on this disc because speaking is such an important part of what I do. My prayer is that someone will buy the CD for the music and be really touched by the message at the end.

The third and final “first” is that this CD marks the first time that a pope has formally declared a holy year based on the theme of my title track. I wrote the song “Merciful Love” based on one of my favorite psalms, Psalm 100, and I was in the studio recording it when Pope Francis made his announcement about the upcoming “Year of Mercy”. Wasn’t that nice of him to do?

Since I’ve emphasized the “firsts” I should probably also mention an important “second”: this is the second time I’ve released a “Best Of” album, celebrating a second decade of music. I feel blessed and privileged to have been making music for twenty years—and I can only keep doing it because of amazing people like you who listen to the music, share it with friends, and keep supporting the ministry. Without you guys I’m just strumming my guitar in the basement. It’s an honor to write, record, and play music for you all. I hope you are as blessed by the music I write as I am by your love and support.

All glory be to Jesus Christ!

PS. As I handed out some early releases of the CD, some asked why songs like “Heart of Jesus” and “Let Nothing Trouble You” weren’t on it. I’ll give more detail on that later, but the short answer is that I’m excited to be working with a publisher who is going to release some of my liturgical/worship songs (including those) on a separate album.

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As I write from New Hampshire in my parent’s house (vacation time with my family,) it’s hard to believe it was just a day ago I was playing the final song of the summer at the Defending the Faith Conference.

The final conferences of the summer are always a high point. Wednesday to Friday was the “Applied Biblical Studies Conference,” and Friday to Sunday was the “Defending the Faith Conference.” Both were a tour-de-force of some of the best Catholic theologians, apologists, and inspirational speakers in the country. Participants ranged from all over the world (even a large group from Australia!) and the numbers were higher than ever.

While I love the energy and enthusiasm of the young people at the Steubenville Youth Conferences, I’m always impressed by the passion of the adults at the other adult conferences. These are men and women, living in the world, trying to be seed for the Gospel in the culture. They come hungry for fellowship, for worship, and for insight on how to live their faith more boldly in a world that is often against them. It’s a joy to lead worship for such amazing people!

For those that went, thank you for all you do. And a special thanks to all those who went out of their way to thank me for the music. It was my pleasure! Jennie and I were also very touched how at every adult conference this summer (and even some of the youth!) someone came up and gave us a boy baby gift!!! That’s what I truly love about the Steubenville summer conferences. It’s not a room of strangers interested in a similar topic; it’s a family reunion united in faith.

Some have asked about the music I played at the conference(s), and you can find that information in an earlier blog I posted here. 

Also, there’s just two days left to support my new CD, “The Gospel Accordion to Bob Rice.” I’m just $180 away from being able to add another song to the project, and another $1000 away from being able to include a lyrics booklet with each CD! That would be amazing. If you can help, you can learn more about it here.

God bless you all!