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Hymn festival to be a celebration of the arts, community

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Bethel College and local musicians as well as the broader community have an unusual opportunity coming up this Saturday evening in Memorial Hall on Bethel’s campus.

The hymn festival that caps off a day-long symposium on Christian worship and the arts will be “a dynamic worship service that few will have experienced,” promises William Eash, Bethel College professor of music and one of the symposium planners.

Think, Celebrate, Sing: Worship and the Arts is a day-long event Saturday, Nov. 19, for which registration is required (which may be done ahead of time or onsite). However, the hymn festival is free and open to everyone.

“This will be an opportunity to sing hymns with a full orchestra and to engage with Scripture in dynamic ways, all woven together with reflections by Thomas Long,” Eash continues.

Long is Bandy Professor of Preaching at Candler School of Theology, part of Emory University in Atlanta. He and John Ferguson, Elliot and Klara Stockdal Johnson Professor of Music and Organ and cantor to the student congregation at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., are the symposium’s two main resource people.

One of the major donors for the worship and the arts symposium is also a long-time, nationally recognized church musician and recommended Ferguson and Long for the inaugural event.

“John Ferguson is known for his festival services,” says Eash. Ferguson put together “We Celebrate God’s Love – A Hymn Festival” as part of the Bethel symposium.

The program will consist of hymns, Scripture readings and choral numbers, with plenty of opportunities for the audience – the congregation – to join in the singing.

The mass choir will include Bethel College singers from the three choral groups that Eash directs, as well as from area church choirs that he recruited through their directors, all current Bethel students, Bethel graduates or Bethel music faculty.

Participating choirs are coming from Bethel College Mennonite Church, North Newton (directed by Marles Preheim, a 1955 Bethel graduate and retired Bethel music faculty); First Mennonite Church, Newton (Pastor of Worship Kay Schroeder, a 1988 Bethel graduate); First Mennonite Church of Christian, Moundridge (Rachel Voran, senior from Newton); Grace Hill Mennonite Church, rural Newton (Andrew Voth, senior from Topeka); First Presbyterian Church, Newton (Anna Cook, senior from Lawrence); Hope Mennonite Church, Wichita (2011 graduate Nathaniel Yoder); and Trinity Heights United Methodist Church, Newton (Nancy Johnson, instructor of violin).

This fall, the choirs have been practicing five special numbers – three of them settings by Ferguson of familiar hymn texts, hymn tunes or both. In addition, the congregation will be invited to join in singing with the choir on a number of hymns, many of them also with settings or choral introductions by Ferguson.

“My choir members have been excited about this, because they don’t often get to sing with the community,” said Cook, who has been at First Presbyterian almost a year. “Also, they’ve resisted when I’ve tried to get them to sing numbers in Latin, but for this, they’ve had to do it, so that’s been fun to watch.”

“Our choir is small – bigger than it was last year, but still small,” says Voran, who has been at First Mennonite Church of Christian for two years. Her singers have been working especially hard because “we’re singing all the numbers in our worship service the next day.”

Voth has been with his choir at Grace Hill for three years, the longest tenure of the three students. “This is exciting,” he says of the hymn festival, “because you know you’ll be singing with 200 other people, although it’s a little hard, because you don’t know what the other conductor [Ferguson] will do. I think they’ve been enjoying practice and will enjoy singing” with the mass choir.

Orchestra personnel are Bethel College string and wind players supplemented with musicians from the community. Nancy Johnson organized the orchestra.

Two faculty in Bethel’s communications arts and theater departments will participate in the Scripture presentations. John McCabe-Juhnke, professor of communication arts, will read the “road to Emmaus” story from Luke 24. Megan Upton-Tyner, instructor of theater, will be the reader for a setting of the Magnificat (the song of Mary, the mother of Jesus) that Ferguson arranged for trumpet, organ and spoken voice.

Other Scripture readers are Jim Anderson, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, and Cheryl Jefferson Bell, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church. Pastors Heidi Regier Kreider and Ruth R. Harder of Bethel College Mennonite Church will also participate in the festival service.

A final element of the festival will be the offering, which will go to the Newton area Harvest of Love food drive.

It’s likely, says Eash, that neither students nor most community members “will have experienced hymn singing in this way before.

“Our intent is to engage all areas of the arts in a worship setting,” he continues. “There will be art in the form of music, visual through two 3-by-13-foot cut paper banners created at Hope Mennonite Church, speaking and theater, and community participation, including a chance to give to the broader community through the offering.”

“We Sing of God’s Love – A Hymn Festival” begins at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 19, in Bethel College’s Memorial Hall. For more information about “Think, Celebrate, Sing – A Worship and the Arts Symposium” or to register online, see The daytime symposium takes place in the Fine Arts Center, with onsite registration/pre-registration materials pickup beginning at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 19.

Bethel College is the only private, liberal arts college in Kansas listed in the 2011-12 analysis of top colleges and universities in the United States and is the highest-ranked Kansas college in the “Washington Monthly” annual college guide for 2011-12. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see

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