It’s human nature: People sing, rather than speak, their deepest religious truths.
Sunday morning, hundreds will pack St. Mark’s Lutheran Church on the South Hill to do just that - Lutheran style.
Think J.S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven, both good Lutheran boys in their day. Think 16th- to 18th-century tunes.
And think big pipe organ, like the brand-new, $300,000, 1,600-pipe Zimmer, recently installed at St. Mark’s. And finally think famed organist, recording artist, teacher and composer Paul Manz, also a Lutheran. He’s come from Chicago, where he teaches and performs. His son, Dr. Michael Manz, is a member at St. Mark’s.
“Lutheran hymns are made for the organ,” said the Rev. Richard Finch, St. Mark’s pastor.
And the organ was made to play hymns.
The Hymnfest is an annual tradition at St. Mark’s on the last Sunday of August. Ironically, the congregation that so generously funds the concert and more recently bought the new organ doesn’t always attend.
“Most of our congregation is out of town it seems, especially being Labor Day,” Finch said.
St. Mark’s is one of the biggest Evangelical Lutheran congregations in Eastern Washington.
The members are hardly the older, Nordic Lutherans who would stay home rather than worship to modern music. The congregation has one of the most diverse selections of worship styles in Spokane.
Different seasons bring jazz, modern, folk and other services.
Still, the same group who remodeled their sanctuary with modern art and a New Age feel has deemed it important to preserve the Lutheran roots of worship, Finch said.
All that despite the fact that many in religious circles say the old hymns will be the death of churches that insist on clinging to them.
“The old hymns will survive the ages,” Finch said assuredly. “Right now in this culture we need to have a more blended style.”
That’s where Manz fits in. The son of Russian immigrant parents, he’s studied the organ since he was in high school.
Now 78 years old, he said he realizes the old-style hymns, as well as a handful of modern creations, will always be around.
“The old hymns have been around a long, long time,” he said. “I have every reason to believe by their track record, they’ll be around a lot longer.”
Music, no matter what its style, is meant to complement worship services. “Contribute to the service, never compete,” he said.
Lutheran hymns, some of which were composed as early as the 16th century, continue to do that job well, he said.
Sunday’s line-up of tunes ranges from “Beautiful Savior” to “The Church’s One Foundation.” In between each song will be a reading, ranging from Scripture to poetry.
In addition to the tried and true, Manz has added a few modern hymns - written this century - for sampling.
Manz also will be doing what he is famous for, exciting improvisations during introductions, finales and in between verses.
“Going to church is an offering. I am coming here expecting to give of myself,” he said. “But I am also expecting to receive something.
“It’s the means that is controversial,” he said. “The hymns are a means to the end.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Color Photos
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Hymnfest St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, at 24th and Grand, will host its annual Hymnfest at 8 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Grand Boulevard construction will hamper access to the church. To get there, turn north on Manito Boulevard from 29th, then ignore the “local traffic only” sign and turn east on 24th to the church parking lot.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.