–By Elizabeth Ahlman
On Sunday, March 8, 2015 the sounds of beautiful sacred music from the 1600’s and beyond, as well as more modern pieces of Gospel, classic American and German folk songs, and choral pieces (from as recently as 2014) echoed throughout the historic Lukaskirche in Volkmarsdorf, Germany. Set to launch its two year test phase with an opening Festival Divine Service on Monday, April 6, the congregation of Sankt Trinitatisgemeinde hosted this musical event as a sort of preview of what is to come in the building over the next years. The University of South Dakota’ Chamber Singers graciously reached out to the congregation to come and sing at Lukaskirche as they tour several European cities.
One of the components of the congregation’s upcoming work in Lukaskirche and the surrounding district of Volkmarsdorf will be recitals and concerts, mainly made up of sacred music, as evangelistic tools for reaching the unchurched in the district, as well as greater Leipzig. Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, a missionary of The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s (LCMS) Office of International Mission (OIM), an accomplished organist himself, will be organizing and also at times playing for concerts, recitals, Divine Services and more over the next several years. The effort of evangelism through sacred music will work alongside the Word and Sacrament Ministry of Sankt Trinitatisgemeinde of LCMS partner church body, The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK) led by Pastor Markus Fischer, as well as the Mercy work with migrants and underserved Germans, especially children, as headed up by SELK Lutherische Kirchenmission (LKM) missionary, Rev. Hugo Gevers.
Several days before the concert, Rev. Dr. Ahlman walked around the neighborhood of Lukaskirche and stuffed mailboxes with invitations to the free event. Additionally, many local businesses hung posters in their windows. As a result, the turnout of about 70-80 people included congregational members, adults traveling with the choir, and a large portion of residents from the surrounding area, many of whom said they had either seen a poster in a shop or received an invitation in their mail box. Rev. Markus Fischer said that more than two-thirds of the faces were new to him. Rev. Hugo Gevers added that, “there were indeed very many faces…whom I recognized as unchurched people.”
The concert opened with Rev. Dr. Ahlman making several announcements, including the festival Divine Service on April 6, as well as the regular worship time of the congregation. He then opened the concert with a prayer and turned it over to the 4o member choir under the direction of Dr. David Holdhusen. They opened with a 2015 arrangement of W. A. Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro — for a cappella voices. The choir sang using “bum” and other nonsense sounds to mimic the instruments that would normally play the piece. It set the tone for the concert as one of both serious musicianship, and the ability to have fun.
The choir moved on to several sacred pieces from composers such as Leipzig composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), Anton Bruckner (1824-1896) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). In the first portion of the program, particular favorites included “Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen” by Mendelssohn. Rev. Gevers noted that meditative pieces “stirred people to tears.”
The choir then took a light turn by singing a beloved German folk song, Der Fröhliche Wanderer by Friedrich Wilhelm Möller (1897-1947). The song was fun and lively, featuring soloist Brody Krogman. During this piece, Rev. Gevers noticed many of the audience members singing along, and it was greeted by especially enthusiastic applause.
Turning to more contemporary pieces, as well as some classic American folk songs and Gospel pieces, the choir began with the hauntingly beautiful 2007 choral piece by Z. Randall Stroope: “I am Not Yours.”
The choir showed off its expressive abilities as they sang songs in the regional accents of the songs’ origins. One example was the spiritual “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel.”
Rev. Dr. Ahlman returned to the pulpit prior to the closing piece to offer a closing prayer (the Lord’s Prayer in German) and a blessing, then thanked the choir again.
The choir then closed with a beautiful arrangement of “O Day Full of Grace” by F. Melius Christiansen (1871-1955). (See Lutheran Service Book 503 for this lovely hymn). Afterward, they received a standing ovation, and then treated the audience to an encore piece which featured three soloists. The soloists portrayed a man who was too tired to resist the devil, the devil, and a woman (backed by the choir) calling the man to wake up and see the danger he is in. The song was lively and particularly striking as soloists and choir acted it out. Rev. Gevers found this set to be particularly evangelistic and impressive.
Upon exiting, the audience was provided with fliers advertising all upcoming events in Lukaskirche through September of this year including the Divine Service on April 6, a choir concert by Concordia University, Portland coming in early May, and more. Rev. Gevers says, “I was most amazed by the large turn-out. [It] substantiates the vision that music is a very effective evangelistic medium. Unchurched people do not normally come to church to pray. However if they are invited to a musical performance, they can say that it is ‘neutral ground.'” Pastor Fischer noted that he was very happy to see Lukaskirche “filled with life” once again.
“While it is not the role of an American public university to advance the Gospel of Jesus Christ, it was nevertheless fitting in every respect to include the University of South Dakota Chamber Singers in our musical initiatives at Lukaskirche,” says Dr. Ahlman. He continued:
Mutual collaboration between Church and State–with the Church doing what the Church does best and the State doing what the State does best, even in a foreign context–is a “win-win” for everyone. The Chamber Singers received one more opportunity to show forth the results of their hard work in choral excellence, the fine reputation of the University of South Dakota advanced even further in an international context, and the United States of America was represented well by the outstanding demeanor of its citizens. Lukaskirche, our Leipzig congregation and the SELK were afforded the opportunity to welcome many from east Leipzig into their sphere for the first time, with the public confession of Jesus Christ as gracious God and Lord receiving resonance in the minds and hearts of people. I look forward to many more occasions of working together with other groups in this precise way.
- If you live in or near Sioux Falls or Vermillion, SD, you can the University of South Dakota’s Chamber Singers perform at the end of the month. They will be at First Congregational Church, Sioux Falls on Friday, March 20 at 7:30 PM. They will then be performing at United Church of Christ, Vermillion, SD on Saturday, March 21 at 7:30 PM.
- To learn more about the work in St. Lukaskirche click here.
- To learn more about Rev. Dr. Christopher Ahlman, read about a recent trip to Russia.