Today was a really good day.
We didn’t perform in any massive cathedrals today. We were also missing our partners in the Leipzig Baroque Orchestra. We left Berlin, metropolis of more than 3 million people and countless churches and museums. No concerts, no famous sites, no glamorous gigs for the Chorale. And yet today was actually one of the most musically rewarding days of not only my Valpo career, but my entire life. I know that sounds like an extreme exaggeration, but today the Chorale sang at the dedication of the first chapel to be built in East Germany since before World War II and it was powerful beyond words.
Because of a string of scheduling conflicts preventing us from singing at various churches over Pentecost weekend, we were invited to participate in the dedication ceremony of a small chapel out in Mark Zwuschen, a tiny village about 30 minutes away from Wittenberg. We met the pastor of this parish in Jüterbog, a nearby town and right away we all knew it was going to be a good day. This was immediately apparent as Pastor Thomas Meinhof greeted us with the biggest smile and said, “Welcome! Welcome! We are filled with so much joy to have you here!” After he showed us around Jüterbog (complete with a trip to the top balcony of the local cathedral with a fabulous view), we began our journey out to the country.
As we drove, Pastor Meinhof told us stories about the area and its history. He told us about the Seven Years War as we passed the fields on which battles were fought. He pointed out the concrete bunkers that could not be touched because they still contained bombs from the communist rule. And he told us about his experiences in Leipzig during October 1989 when he participated in the peaceful revolution that eventually helped bring down the Berlin Wall. The stories seemed unbelievable, that one person could be so in touch with his country’s history and land.
Soon we arrived at the site of the chapel. Right there in the grassy corner of a field we saw a white tent over tables of food and a half dozen picnic tables covered with colored cloths. Next to this was the chapel itself, a circular building only seven meters in diameter, with 12 circular windows around it and a conical roof. On top of the roof there was a wreath with colored ribbons flowing in the wind. The chapel was unfinished, so the bricks, morter and wood of which it was constructed were rough and exposed. The tiny chapel with the picnic spread in the middle of a sunny countryside made me feel as if we had been transported to some sort of arcadia.
Next came a homecooked German meal, complete with schnitzel, potatos and cooked cauliflower. (Yum.) As we ate, the townspeople started to trickle into the yard of the chapel. This was one of those events that you kind of sensed the whole town had come out to enjoy. There were about 100 people, and they were chatting and clearly enjoying the celebratory mood. The ceremony was led by Pastor Meinhof and the Chorale sang three songs throughout the course of it. The entire dedication was beautiful, from the location, to the music, to the excitement of the people. One especially moving part of the ceremony was singing “Now Thank We All Our God” in German and then English. After the dedication was over, we had a coffee and cake reception (again, yum) with the people and then they requested that we sing again for them. We did a quick encore before we had to leave, and every one of them waved and smiled as our bus drove away.
It’s hard to fathom living in a time or place where religious freedom is nonexistant. It seems like something that only happened hundreds of years in the distant past, and yet this chapel couldn’t have been built even 25 years ago. To paraphrase the words of Pastor Meinhof, the chapel might be small, but it means so much because it was literally built by hands and hard work of the people of this community. They have such great joy in their church because they have waited so long for it. Not only that, but that little chapel represents something much bigger. It symbolizes victory over those that try so hard to stamp out hope and joy, and in turn, the larger and eternal victory we have in Christ.
So yeah, today was a really, really good day.
May 20: Concert - Leipzig, Lutherkirche (7:30 p.m.)
May 23: Service - Seyda (10 a.m.) and Gentha (1 p.m.)
May 24: Concert – Rottenburg am Neckar, Wallfahrtskirche Weggental (7 p.m.)
May 25: Choral Workshop – Rottenburg am Neckar (9:30 a.m.)
May 26: Concert - Bernburg, Schlosskirche (7:30 p.m.)
May 27: Concert - Köthen, St. Agnus kirche (7:30 p.m.)
May 28 - Service - Leipzig, Thomaskirche (5 p.m.)
May 29 - Cantata - Leipzig, Thomaskirche (3 p.m.)
May 30 - Service - Leipzig, Thomaskirche 10 (a.m.)