I’m just back from a week of participating in a pilgrimage called “Together in Hope” in which over 150 Lutherans and Roman Catholics – largely from, but not limited to, the Twin Cities metropolitan area accompanied an ecumenical choir that sang for services and concerts in some of Rome’s most famous churches.
Many of you have expressed interest in my trip, which was a remarkable experience of in-depth learning and spiritual renewal. While not part of choir, I was instead among one of many “ambassadors” who traveled with them.
You might recall that it was one year ago on Reformation Sunday that ECLC voted to call me to be one of your pastors after my 27 year sojourn in the United Church of Christ. That was a homecoming for me brimming with emotion and gratitude. To be traveling with a delegation of Lutherans and Catholics to Rome one year later filled me with awe and deep reflection on the unity of all people across the many divisions we create.
Some background on this trip follows. Twin Cities residents Gary Aamodt and Celia Ellingson were in Lund, Sweden for an ecumenical service on October 31, 2016 when Pope Francis and Bishop Munib Yunan (Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land and head of the Lutheran World Federation) officially began the year long commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. It was an astonishing event televised all over the world. Shortly thereafter, in January of 2017 Bishop Yunan was in the Twin Cities with Bernard Hebda, Roman Catholic Archbishop of the Diocese of Minneapolis and St. Paul when they reiterated the call to continue working boldly and creatively together. Bishop Yunan was also at ECLC last March to preach and lead a Sunday Forum.
Gary and Celia took this challenge to heart and organized funds to commission young Norwegian composer Kim André Arnesen to compose the “Holy Spirit Mass” which received one of its premier performances featuring the National Lutheran Choir on Reformation weekend 2017. But this wasn’t enough for the couple who decided it was important to continue the ecumenical foundations by building a road that would lead from Minneapolis to Rome. Working with Teri Larson (director of choirs at the Basilica of St. Mary) and Mark Stover (conductor of the Viking Chorus and Chapel Choirs at St. Olaf – a position he recently left to join the choral faculty of the University of Michigan) they put together an auditioned choir that not only sang the “Mass” in concert at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, but also premiered yet another work, “So That the World May Believe” also by Arnesen. Both pieces were accompanied by the Trondheim Soloists (string orchestra). The choir also performed pieces by Palestrina, Stephen Paulus, Paul Manz and Charles Villiers Stanford in a private musical offering in the Sistine Chapel, at the outdoor Papal audience in St. Peter’s Square and at an afternoon mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on All Saints Day.
Although many of us were looking forward with great anticipation to the trip, the concerts, the music and the services – many of us participants, including me, were unprepared for the gravity of what simply being there would come to mean. After marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation at celebrations, we now found ourselves on the other side of the world marking the 501st in the Vatican with the Bishop of Rome, our own Bishop Ann Svennungsen, Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Peter Bartimawus from Nigeria representing the Lutheran World Federation. Brother Martin Luther would have been truly surprised and this display of unity. He may not have been surprised that it took place through music - something he held in high esteem and deemed so very important to the nurturing of faith, the spirit and the soul.
In the end, theological differences may separate us, but music has the power to unite.
At the closing banquet in Rome, Bishop Ann Svennungsen joked as she sat next to Archbishop Hebda, “We have decided we should let choirs do all our ecumenical work!”
Thanks is offered to Mark Sedio for his great help in writing this article; he sends his deep love and gratitude to you all for your support throughout such a difficult time.
- Pastor Jeff