Covenant-Augustana Hymn Festival

by Glen Wiberg

On Nov. 6, 2010, a hymn festival took place in Anderson Chapel on the campus of North Park University in Chicago on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Augustana Synod and the 125th Anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church. It was a hymn sing that can best be described as a “historic phenomenon.” It was an event celebrating what the opening essay in the program named as “Two Streams–One River,” a theme taken from Psalm 46: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.”

The hymn festival followed a full day of lectures that were historic in being the first formal conversation between the representatives of Augustana and the Covenant in over 125 years. Each lecture honored the tradition and presence of the other while speaking openly with sensitivity of the reasons for separation while acknowledging our similarities of Pietistic origins in Sweden, in hymnody, and long-standing friendships. But it was the hymn festival that brought us into the one “river whose streams make glad the city of God.” Singing has the power of bringing believers together as nothing else can.

I worked for nearly six months with Gracia Grindal of Luther Seminary to select the hymns and prepare the booklet for the festival. Grindal, along with Dr. Philip Anderson of North Park Seminary, contributed to the essays describing the musical histories of the two traditions. The twelve hymns ranged from an ancient medieval hymn Day Song, “O Day Full of Grace” to a contemporary Swedish hymn by Anders Frostenson and Lars Åke Lundberg, “Your Love, O God Is Broad.” A solo saxophone played by David Bjorlin introduced “O Day Full of Grace” and Ingmari Wahlgren sang the first verse in Swedish.

It was a touching moment for many of us when Magnus Hillbo sang the first verse in Swedish of the Rosenius hymn “Whereso’er I Roam” accompanying himself on the guitar. Royce Eckhardt served as organist and pianist for the evening, providing a seamless garment for the singing of both soloists and congregation. Gracia Grindal and I provided brief introductions for several hymns.

A spontaneous moment followed the final hymn and the Benediction as the congregation sang “Tryggare kan ingen vara” first in Swedish then in English. Two streams merging in the one river “that makes glad the city of God.” I conclude with a doxological statement by Royce Eckhardt, summing up this historic phenomenon that took place on November 6:

“What strength and beauty and enthusiasm characterized that singing. It was astounding! It is the most recent example we have of the power of our heritage songs–truly, as “joy stood high on the ceiling” of the chapel that night... As an organist who now plays in many denominational settings, I can tell you that there is nothing that comes remotely close to that kind of singing.”

The Song still lives on!