April 2019- Music as Ministry – We Sing!

It has already been acknowledged that music has been a vital part of our congregation’s story.  Whether that is our music directors, choirs, organ (or lack thereof), instruments, congregational singing or liturgy, there is something special about Our Saviour’s that is recognized by anyone who visits.  A reference to the music of Our Saviour’s often becomes part of what creates and sustains our members.

We were blessed to have strong musicians, Ole Vangsness and JW Preus, as two of our congregation’s earliest pastors.  Both were widely known for singing beautiful solos and encouraging high standards for musical expression.  JW Preus was a leader for the national choral union movement among Norwegian-American Lutherans.

A large pipe organ in the church’s second building on 7th Street was dedicated in 1903 with a concert that drew attention outside of the congregation.  Beginning in 1905, the congregation’s choral society performed Handel’s Messiah, Haydn’s Creation, and Mendelssohn’s Elijah over the course of three years, offering evidence that talented musicians were present at Our Saviour’s.

The church built at 24th and Chicago, meant to be a gothic – Norwegian – American cathedral, included an organ flanking the altar at the east wall and choir stalls facing the congregation, breaking from a traditional Norwegian church layout.  Within 10 years, the first renovation of the interior moved the altar forward and built a large organ chamber behind it with an array of pipes arranged on either side. In the 1970’s a new organ was built during a reorienting of the worship space that moved the altar forward.

During early church membership growth, options for choirs became numerous, including children, youth, women’s and men’s choirs from the 1940’s into the 1960’s.  The choir’s liturgical support and concerts built a reputation for Our Saviour’s that sustained a vibrant worship community.  An aging and declining membership in the 1970’s and 80’s meant not just the loss of choirs, but the need to rethink musical liturgy itself.  While the husband and wife team of the Sheldon and Ruth Fardig cared for standard adult choir and organ duties, a group of young adults began to stretch the musical boundaries.  It was this forward-looking group that in the 1970’s encouraged a young campus minister, Ray Makeever, to put his musical talents to work, first singing with, and then leading and writing liturgical songs for a group that became the New Voices.  Pastors Art Dale, Warren Sorteberg, and Don Rudrud found ways to encourage these contemporary musicians and in 1984, Ray published a liturgical songbook through our congregation, With All Your Heart.  Its support by the national Lutheran church meant it had far-ranging impact, encouraging our congregation to grow its music ministry in new directions.

A small, alternative worship service formed around Ray’s music.  Over the course of a few years, this found its way into the main worship setting, first as special music offerings, then as once-a-month worship services, and finally as a fully integrated part of a more diverse and musical worship service. Ray’s songs are found in the red Lutheran Hymnal and woven into our congregation’s current worship.

Focus on music in worship led to hiring Peter Moberg and then Mary Preus to serve as music directors with a scope much larger than just directing a choir or accompanying worship on the organ.  Then the fire of 1995 destroyed the organ, leading to long discussions about whether a rebuilt church sanctuary should include an organ at all.  A donation of a small organ arrived during the years of worship in Lutheran Social Service’s chapel, but the congregation’s comfort level began to shift toward piano and guitar as more reflective of the liturgy being used.  It’s no surprise that congregational singing grew through the choice of these instruments, but it was also assisted through the song-leadership of Mary Preus and the talented musicians she was connected to through the group Bread for the Journey.  This brought Tom Witt, Tony Machado, and Bret Hesla to Our Saviour’s as well, adding their own gifts to music ministry.

Children’s music ministry was reborn out of the fire as well, as the songs of the Kaleidoscope summer program brought children eager to sing with Amy Hartman, Judy Halvorson, and Mary Preus over the years. While sheer numbers have not been matched from the Amy Molstad years at the turn of the 20th century, the life and energy and ministry of these recent groups of children has had just as much impact on our congregation and the wider community.

-Daniel Swenson-Klatt


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