It all started back when I took a group of students from Trinity Lutheran College to Germany in 2015. Everywhere we visited they were getting ready for the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. When we came back from our trip we talked to people at the college, including Michael Miller and Dr. Norma Aamodt-Nelson, and we decided we should do something big that year. Both Michael and I felt something big was going to happen in spite of us. It just kept coming up. It came back to us even though we weren't looking for it. We felt very much called to it. As if it was something we were supposed to do. Michael Miller and I committed to creating a major musical work. Norma Aamodt-Nelson invited us to present it at Trinity Lutheran Church, where she serves as Minister of Music and Organist, as a way to mark the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation.
This work is modeled somewhat after Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which were originally posted on the church door at Wittenberg October 31, 1517. His posting was a list of 95 theses including indictments against the Church and the Pope. These included him writing primarily against indulgences, their use to fund the building of St. Peter’s Basilica, and that the pope has no power over purgatory. Martin Luther said the Word of God needs to be accessible to everyone and that having the liturgy and the scriptures all in Latin is significantly limiting that access. Rev. Luther believed the scriptures should be available to everyone. In response, the church basically taught, “no, the common person doesn't know what to do with the scriptures so they shouldn't be allowed to have it. Only the professionals should be able to communicate what the scriptures say.”
What was it that bothered Martin Luther so much about all of this? I’ve concluded that, to a great extent, this had to do with access to God. The church was saying, “You [the people] can only have access to God in these controlled ways that we control.” So I asked the question, what are ways that the church is still doing this today? What are ways that the church is limiting access to God?
I feel like those of us who are open to learn, who have gained some understanding, and who struggle with these questions bear some responsibility to do something about it.
Controlling people and how they are expected to live is something the Church has continued to do and is still attempting to do today. What is interesting in our time is that the people, the masses, have been rejecting the church’s self-appointed role in growing numbers. These people are saying, “Enough is enough and we just don’t need that”. For this and other reasons, the church as we know it is dying. Years ago, this death was something we all saw coming -- a slow death many warned us was imminent. But now it's really happening. In many cases, it is barely on life support.
Because of this we have decided to write a Requiem for the Church.
This setting of the Requiem texts takes the traditional mass in Latin (intentionally in this case) and couples it with our vernacular, English, for recitatives that are indictments against the Church.
The premise, and one of the distinctives, of this entire project is that we are always reforming – which infers that we are always learning. We have never arrived at all truth. That is one of our indictments against the Church: the Church believes it has arrived. We believe there is a better way. It might include the following: for the Church to accomplish its mission it must be constantly learning and changing. Such a position would be a complete turn-around from the traditional Church, especially in America.
My hope is that the indictments in this work will challenge people to enter into the conversation and enter into the process of learning for themselves. It wouldn't make any sense for people to look at this project and think, “Oh, yeah, I believe that. I’m going to join that group because they are really great. Let’s start a new church!” That’s not the point. That wasn’t the intention of Martin Luther and that is certainly not our intention. We simply want to ask the questions and enter into the discussion, which is exactly what Martin Luther desired. He invited people into the discussion.
Every 500 years the Church has gone through a major shift. We are here now, in the middle of the next major shift. This shift has been happening and percolating for some time. People are talking about this shift from all different sectors, across denominational lines, and even across faith lines. It has taken time for all of this to coalesce and it is where we find ourselves.
Although the Requiem is the center of this concert experience, what the concert is really focusing on is the Reformation. The concert is broken up into three parts. First, Reformation Past: centered around the history of Martin Luther’s Reformation and the 500th Anniversary of his 95 Theses being posted. Then, Reformation Present: the Requiem, which is focused on the current struggle and the indictments against the current Church. The third section focuses on Reformation Future: although we can’t yet pretend to know what that will be, there are certain issues that continually come up in the conversations that are already happening. We are presenting those.
We invite you to join the discussion: