Choir to take ecumenical message to Vatican in October

| Melenie Soucheray | June 12, 2018 | 0 Comments

Teri Larson, director of music liturgy at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, is pictured at the Basilica June 8. Larson will co-conduct the Together in Hope Choir when it performs at the Vatican in October. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Six months after the close of the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the call to keep working toward forgiveness and unity between Catholics and Lutherans still reverberates internationally and locally.

For Gary Aamodt and Celia Ellingson, members of Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, the call resonates through music. Now, they and an ecumenical choir are preparing to take music and a spirit of reconciliation to the Vatican in October through the Together in Hope Project.

The Vatican invited the Together in Hope Project to bring a choir to Rome to open the 17th International Festival of Sacred Music and Art. Aamodt and Ellingson composed the Together in Hope Choir “because we feel that this is a movement that involved Lutherans and Catholics,” Aamodt said. “We’re both together for greater reconciliation and healing.”

Aamodt and Ellingson, who are married, were in Lund, Sweden, on Oct. 31, 2016, to see Pope Francis and the president of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Dr. Munib Yunan, commemorate the Reformation, which began in 1517. Aamodt and Ellingson also attended the January prayer service at Minneapolis’ Central Lutheran Church and heard Archbishop Bernard Hebda quote Pope Francis’ and Dr. Yunan’s joint statement that calls all Catholic and Lutheran parishes and communities to continue working together — to be “bold and creative.”

Drawing on her experience in nonprofit organization, his theological training and connections, and their love of choral music, they founded the Together in Hope Project, a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit arts service organization.

“What pushes us forward is the notion that through music, we can do things together,” Ellingson explained. “It really is about trying to advance Christian unity and take that last major step to get to the [eucharistic] table.”

Kim Andre Arnesen, a 38-year-old Norwegian composer, was tapped to write “So That the World May Believe: A Motet for Unity and Service.” The text is taken from Ephesians 4:4-6 and a poem by Susan Palo Cherwien of St. Louis Park written for the 60th anniversary of the Lutheran World Federation in 2007.

“We are delighted with the words,” Aamodt said. “It’s the idea that is expressed in the Gospel of John — we need to indicate our oneness so that we have credibility in the world. ‘So That the World May Believe’ is dedicated to Pope Francis for his many initiatives at reconciliation that we deeply respect.”

The choir will perform the premiere of “So That the World May Believe” and Arnesen’s earlier work “Holy Spirit Mass” Oct. 31 at the Papal Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls.

Teri Larson and Mark Stover were recruited as co-conductors of the Together in Hope Choir. For 23 years, Larson has been the choral director and director of music liturgy at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. She also directs the semi-professional Schola Cantorum. Stover is on the faculty of St. Olaf College in Northfield, where he conducts the Viking Chorus and Chapel Choir. He’s also the director of worship at Colonial Church in Edina and conducts the Colonial Choral. He has been a guest conductor of the Twin Cities-based Magnum Chorum.

To form the 64-voice Together in Hope Choir, Larson and Stover invited area professional, semi-professional and accomplished choral singers to audition. About a third of the singers are Catholic, a third are Lutheran, and the rest come from other Protestant denominations, or they are not formally part of a faith group. As a condition of appointment, each candidate was asked to demonstrate a commitment to the Together in Hope mission.

“Getting together with an ecumenical group around music is always a profound, incredible experience,” Larson said. “The power of music is amazing. It breaks down walls and the conceptions of each other.”

Accompanying the choir to Rome will be a group of supporters, Ambassadors of Hope, including Father Erich Rutten, parochial administrator of St. Peter Claver in St. Paul and chairman of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’ Commission on Ecumenism and Interreligious Affairs.

“It’s not just taking a choir to sing in Rome,” Ellingson said. “It’s taking a choir with a lot of other people whose presence serves as common witness to the whole notion of advancing Christianity.”

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