TAKING THE GOSPEL ON TOUR
In the first of this four-part series, Director John Reim shares his unique insights into the highly-regarded choral group that is the Tour Choir of Immanuel Lutheran College.
The Gospel has been on the move from the day it was initially proclaimed. He Who walked in the cool of the day brought needed spiritual refreshment to the sin-parched souls of our first ancestors. To fallen Adam and Eve came the message that one of their descendants would restore peace with God. And the march of that Gospel has continued.
Faithful parents in Old Testament times taught the precepts of the Lord to their children on the road as well as at home. Moses directed, “You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house,” as well as “when you walk by the way” (Deuteronomy 11:19). The Son of God Himself traversed the highways of Judea, Samaria and Galilee to proclaim the arrival of God’s gracious kingdom. “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also,” He said, “because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43). Inspired apostles took to the streets of more distant lands, proclaiming to Jews and Gentiles alike the love of God in Christ. “Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord’ ” (Acts 15:36). And the Gospel is on the move still today, in many lands and in many ways.
One such way is found in the singing of the Good News by traveling students of Immanuel Lutheran High School, College, and Seminary. Each spring, students set out to sing the message of salvation to congregations near and far. And when they do, they continue a tradition which has been part of the Lutheran education scene for decades.
Shortly after Immanuel College was established, Robert Dommer brought to the school the tradition of singing on tour which he had experienced as a college and seminary student. In the early years, the choir traveled to congregations relatively close to the school, which was located in Mankato, Minnesota, at the time. But soon thereafter Professor Dommer designed a three-year cycle of routes: one which circled Lake Michigan, another which traveled to congregations in Minnesota and the Dakotas, and a third which reached as far west as Colorado. With only occasional adjustments in those itineraries, Professor Dommer led the choir on those routes through much of the 1960’s, the 1970’s, and up to 1984.
For the four tours which were conducted from 1985 to 1988, Dean Carstensen served as the director. It was under his leadership that the size of the choir was increased and some expansion of the routing was undertaken.
From 1989 to the present, John Reim has been directing. During the past twenty-seven years the number of choir members per tour has generally hovered around thirty-two. The choir has been blessed with safe travels to nearly every CLC congregation in the contiguous states, where they have had the privilege of presenting God’s gift of song combined with the Word of life.
It’s not that the Gospel needs music to reach, awaken, inspire and console. It does all that and more whether or not it is coupled with notes. But the apostle Paul, a traveling singer himself (Acts 16:25), demonstrated the usefulness of enlisting music in the service of the Gospel. Echoing the numerous directives of the Psalms to sing to the Lord, he directed also the people of God in these New Testament times to combine God’s Word with His gift of music. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord” (Colossians 3:16). A rapid succession of notes can convey excitement, such as that which was felt by the shepherds and angels over the news of the Savior’s birth. Dissonant chords can reflect distress, such as that which was experienced by the Lord when He went to the cross in our stead. Crescendos at cadences can communicate success, such as that which was put on display when Jesus conquered death. And plaintive progressions of chords can suggest peace, such as that which the Spirit provides through the message of forgiveness. The Gospel and music go hand in hand.
And so do fellow-Christians.
Going on tour also provides a unique opportunity for students to meet other believers in other locations and, in connection with such meetings, to encourage and be encouraged. The departing embraces of newly-acquainted Christians have been witnessed time and time again through the super-sized window in the front of the tour bus. Blest is the tie that binds. Blest is the message which unites God with man and Christians with Christians. Here. There. Everywhere. Whether spoken by one or sung by young Christians, the moving Gospel of Christ continues to be on the move.
John Reim is a professor at Immanuel Lutheran College in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and is director of the ILC Tour Choir.