–By Elizabeth Ahlman
Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) Career Missionary, serves in part as area music program coordinator. In this role, Rev. Ahlman travels on a regular basis to Russia to work with LCMS sister church bodies there. From November 12-19, 2015, Rev. Ahlman traveled to Moscow and Saratov, Russia to work with The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) to proclaim the Gospel through sacred music. Two congregations of the ELCIR welcomed Dr. Ahlman into their midst, as well as using their contacts with local music schools to set up lectures, recitals and master classes with students.
The ELCIR has a history of using sacred music as a form of outreach. Composers such as Bach are well-known musically, but not much is known of their faith and the Gospel they proclaimed through their music. This creates unique opportunities for sharing the Gospel through music, lectures on that music and its composers, and even master classes for university organ students.
During this trip, Rev. Dr. Ahlman began in Moscow where he performed a recital featuring the works of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orgelbüchlein, which is enjoying a 300th anniversary year, at Gnessin College of Music on November 13. Parishioners of the ELCIR’s Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church were able to attend this concert, which they helped to organize, along with students, faculty and other interested people. Dr. Ahlman played pieces from the Orgelbüchlein such as “Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ” (BWV 639) paired with a reading from Luke 6:36-42 and “Alle menschen müssen sterben (BWV 643) paired with a reading from Revelation 21:3-7, among other pieces from that collection. Additionally, he played other Bach compositions such as the Fantasia et Fuga in g, (BWV 542).
He also worked with students at the Gnessin Secondary Music School to offer a Master Class for organists of late high school age. The Secondary Music School is a preparatory school for the Gnessin Music Conservatory. Dr. Ahlman was received very well by students and staff. The students were always attentive to the performance advice, as well as the spiritual impulse of supplementary comments.
After a free day with sight-seeing and sermon preparation, Rev. Dr. Ahlman was the guest preacher at Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church (with the help of translator Aleksei Zubtsov) on Sunday, November 15. After the service, Dr. Ahlman enjoyed tea, coffee and snacks with the parishioners. During this time, he explained his role, answered questions and enjoyed visiting with these brothers and sisters in Christ.
Dr. Ahlman and Mr. Zubtsov then traveled to Saratov, Russia to visit an ELCIR congregation there. St. John’s Lutheran in Saratov is a congregation which receives support from the LCMS for its work of proclaiming the Gospel to its community under the direction of Pastors Olav Panchu and Alexander Furs, as well as their Deacon Sergei Anikin. In Saratov on the 16th, the church’s sanctuary was packed with parishioners, governmental officials from Saratov, music students from the local Sobinov State Conservatory and other interested members of the community. The large crowd spilled out into folding chairs set up in the hallway leading into the sanctuary. Between Orgelbüchlein pieces played by Dr. Ahlman, translator Aleksei Zubtsov read corresponding Scriptural passages for each chorale.
Following the performance, Dr. Ahlman spoke with attendees and answered many questions. Of the attendees and his conversations, Dr. Ahlman said the following: “The Lord Jesus certainly associated with the lowly, but He also died for the elite. They deserve the Gospel just as much as anyone, and they also respond just like anyone else. By the working of the Holy Spirit, these very things occurred on my latest trip. I give thanks to God that I can serve as His instrument in this special way, and I pray for His continued work in the hearts and minds of these people.”
The following day, the congregation of St. John’s had helped to arrange an opportunity for Dr. Ahlman to teach a Master Class for organ students at the Sobinov State Conservatory, the third most prestigious music school in Russia.
At the conservatory, he worked with the young organists on pieces they had brought to play through, and took time after class to answer questions, as well as sign a poster from his Saratov recital.
Rev. Ahlman then returned to Moscow, where he lectured on Bach’s Orgelbüchlein at the International Organ Symposium hosted by the Gnessin Conservatory of Music on November 18, one of the top two conservatories in all of Russia. Dr. Ahlman lectured concerning Bach’s confession of the Christian faith in the compositional material of the early works of the Orgelbüchlein. Dr. Ahlman looks forward to returning to Russia to work with the ELCIR again in the near future.
Tags: Aleksei Zubtsov, Bach, Christopher Ahlman, Gnessin College of Music, Moscow, Orgelbuechlein, Rev. Alexander Furs, Rev. Dmitry Lotov, Russia, Saratov, Sobinov State Conservatory, St. John's Lutheran Church, Sts. Peter and Paul Lutheran Church