On Saturday and Sunday, September 21 and 22, St. Trinitatisgemeinde (Holy Trinity Congregation) hosted Sprengelsängerfest Ost (the Eastern District Singers Festival) of the Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche (SELK) at the historic Lukaskirche (St. Luke’s Church) in Volkmarsdorf, Leipzig. Earlier this week, we wrote about the decision of St. Trinitatisgemeinde to begin moving into Lukaskirche in order to proclaim the Gospel to the surrounding areas. Just one week after that decision, St Trinitatisgemeinde hosted an important event at Lukaskirche: Sprengelsängerfest. While this event had been planned even before the final decision was made, it served as a wonderful way to celebrate that decision and kick start the congregations’ greater presence in Volkmarsdorf and at Lukaskirche.
Sprengelsängerfest is the District Singers Festival of the Eastern districts of our partner church body, SELK. The festival is held every two years in a different city, alternating between choral music and Posaunenfest (brass instruments). Two years ago it was a Posaunenfest held in Berlin, and four years ago it was a choir festival held in Dresden. The event was organized in part by former Kantor of the SELK district, Kersten Rehle, the current Kantor Georg Mogwitz (who began the position on September 1), the congregation of St. Trinitatisgemeinde (especially Theresa Gnoyke), and the church music committee of the Eastern districts of SELK. Ulrich Schroeder is the chairman of the church music committee and helped to plan the event. Mr. Schroeder writes that the purpose of these events is to “unite singers from East German choirs in the praise of God. This gives opportunity to unite in a large choir, a rare opportunity in the mainly small congregations, with only a few choirs of around twenty choristers. And of course to meet with friends old and new.” Such a large event with the praise of God at its center also offers an obvious opportunity for outreach in the community where it is held.
The singers and musicians arrived on Friday after their work or school days were finished and began rehearsing right away on Friday night. They then rehearsed all day on Saturday. On Saturday evening, the special choir of the SELK, Ostinato, gave a concert at Lukaskirche which was attended by 85 persons. On Sunday, Ostinato and a children’s choir participated in a large Festgottesdienst (festival worship service) at Lukaskirche. This was attended by about 200 people, some of them residents and children from the local area. The Gospel was proclaimed in the preaching by the Bishop of SELK, Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt. Holy Communion was celebrated with St. Trinitatisgemeinde’s pastor, Rev. Markus Fischer, as the celebrant. Other pastors assisted him in distribution, including Rev. Christopher S. Ahlman of the LCMS. On Sunday afternoon, a choir made up of singers from all over the Eastern districts of SELK (about 100 singers in all) put on a large concert along with the children’s choir and some smaller numbers utilizing Ostinato. Approximately 100 people other than choir members attended the afternoon concert after a meal.
The theme of the festival was “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele” (“Bless the LORD, O my soul”) from Psalm 103:1. This theme was combined with the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels, which is this coming Sunday (Sept. 29th). The back of the bulletin stated that the call to bless the Lord is modeled for us by the angels and all of the heavenly host. Indeed, we join with them as we “speak good things” or “sing good things” about the Lord. Many of the pieces reflected both of these foci. Georg Mogwitz, who directed a majority of the pieces, wrote that “so many of the pieces were about angels e.g. Mendelssohn’s ‘Denn Er hat seinen Engeln’, Luther’s Sanctus ‘Jesaja dem Propheten das geschah’ composed by Michael Praetorius and the Cantata ‘Befiehl dem Engel, daß er komm” by Dieterich Buxtehude.'” Additionally, several pieces were based on Psalm 103. The opening piece of the Sunday afternoon concert was the Johann Friederich Fasch piece, “Lobe den Herrn meine Seele” (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”), which is based on Psalm 103:1-5. Rev. Dr. Christopher S. Ahlman, the LCMS missionary in Leipzig who sang with the choirs this weekend, says of the combined theme:
We took advantage of the Festival of St. Michael and All Angels to perform this Sängerfest entitled “Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele,” combining the two themes to reinforce God’s goodness to us to in Christ Jesus; His grace, His mercy, His work on our behalf and His protection. We advanced the idea that God is good to us according to His promises and that he works to defend us and protect us from all danger and evil, and most importantly defeats the power of sin, death and the devil through the work of Christ.
One highlight of the weekend was the installation of the new Sprengelkantor (district Cantor), Georg Mogwitz. His installation took place during the Festgottesdienst, at which time the congregation was able to pray for him as he was blessed for this new service. Mr. Mogwitz’s duties include special festivals such as this one, but also “to develop church music in the whole Sprengel, to initialize foundations of choirs, and to train new conductors and organists,” writes Mogwitz. Georg began rehearsing with the choirs on a project basis last Spring and conducted about 10 rehearsals in all before this past weekend. Georg Mogwitz studied church music here in Leipzig and has recently finished graduate study in this area. In his work as Area Program Music Coordinator, Rev. Dr. Ahlman will be working with Georg Mogwitz and other local musicians to create more events like this one which proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ through sacred music concerts and recitals. Lukaskirche will be utilized in this fashion as a way of proclaiming the Gospel to residents.
As a musical production, Sprengelsängerfest was a huge success. The music was beautifully done, and it allowed many SELK members from all over the Eastern district to participate and come together as musicians and listeners. Ulrich Schroeder noted that in this regard, the festival was successful because “the praise of God in the evening concert, [and because] the service and the afternoon concert [were] inspiring to singers and listeners alike.” Most of all, though, the Festgottesdienst with Holy Communion allowed the members of SELK to express their Life Together as the church in the partaking of the very thing that gives us our Life Together: the Lord’s Supper. Additionally, the Divine Service is the primary place of Witness in the life of the church: there the Gospel is proclaimed in song and speaking, in bread and wine, and in the preaching of the Word. Several community members attended the Divine Service, including many children and some adults. Ulrich Schroeder expresses that, “particularly moving for me was the sight of locals being accompanied by Missionary Thomas [Beneke, the SELK Vicar assigned to Die Brücke and the Leipzig church plant] and others to Holy Communion, where they were blessed.”
The event was hugely important to the SELK, but also to the members of St. Trinitatisgemeinde and the work being done through Die Brücke, as well as the further work which will soon commence in Volkmarsdorf at Lukaskirche. Rev. Hugo Gevers, a missionary from South Africa whose main focus is work with immigrants through Die Brücke, had this to say about the weekend’s festivities:
The locals were in Lukas on Saturday and on Sunday. During rehearsals the church had to be locked because the children wanted to take part in the rehearsals. One of the choir members then commented: “Normally the children are happy when they are being locked out of church. You should be happy if the children are so eager to enter church, that the church doors have to be locked.” Lukaskirche is right in the middle of an atheistic community. Normal is that nobody takes notice of the church. The church might as well be a concrete block of dead stone and mortar. When people suddenly arrive and not only go into the church but sing, praise the Lord and celebrate Holy Communion, then this certainly does not go unnoticed: One of the residents responded: “Are all these people Christians? I did not know there were so many Christians!” Yes, when we simply do that which we Christians always do, which is receive God’s Word and His precious gifts, that which we do explains what we are. And then it becomes clear why we are working in “Die Brücke” and why we are reaching out to people in the area. On this weekend the children and some adults were always present (perhaps around 10-15 of the locals were always around)…If only one weekend can create such interest, guess what would happen, if we meet in Lukas every single Sunday and then also on weekdays for special events.
- Read about the decision to move to Lukaskirche here.
- Please pray for the work of Die Brücke and St. Trinitatisgemeinde in proclaiming the Gospel.
- Please pray that negotiations with the state church for the leasing and use of Lukaskirche would be fruitful.
- Learn more about our partner church body, SELK (their website offers information in English via a link on the left hand side of the homepage).