by Rosie Schefe

For centuries Christian bishops have been commissioning new music, both for worship and bringing the church together in celebration of God’s gifts to us. Newly installed Bishop of the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand, Pastor Paul Smith, is no different.

Late last year Bishop Paul approached his friend and colleague, Bishop of the Lutheran Church of New Zealand Mark Whitfield, to write a new setting for Psalm 37, to be sung at Bishop Paul’s installation on 20 February.

This setting for soloist, piano or organ and congregation is responsive, with the congregation reminding church leaders to ‘Commit your way to the Lord, trust in him and he will act’. It includes a descant and instrumental line which picks up on the musical theme of Lord, Take My Hand and Lead Me (Lutheran Hymnal with Supplement 301) – a favourite hymn for Bishop Paul.

‘It’s my way of adding something personal and tangible to it for Paul’, Bishop Mark says.

Better known musically in the LCANZ as an organist and composer, Bishop Mark has been writing psalm settings and other liturgical music for almost 35 years – since his days leading the choir at the then Luther Seminary, now Australian Lutheran College. Much of his composition since has been for choirs, including his latest work, first performed in the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, New Zealand on Advent Sunday last year.

The 25-member Anglican choir, of which Bishop Mark has been a member for about 14 years, sang the work within its annual Advent procession service. ‘I have written a lot of music, but to have this incredible choir perform my music is a real joy and blessing’, he says.

The piece is a new setting of two well-known hymn texts into what Bishop Mark describes as an ‘Advent-Christmas song’. O Come, O Come – Behold a Rose is Growing focuses on Isaiah’s prophecies foretelling the Messiah, combining lyric couplets from both hymns (LHS2 and LHS622).

‘The O Come sections contain musical nods to the melodies of both carols, while the Behold couplets are set to completely new music’, Bishop Mark says.

Although written specifically for this choir and cathedral, the piece is scored for four parts, with as many as six parts in places, and can be performed in different ways.

‘We are very lucky to have Mark in the choir and have performed works of his before, so I knew it was going to be lovely’, Wellington Cathedral Director of Music Michael Stewart says. ‘I was intrigued by the marrying of the two Advent texts … I knew it would be a very appropriate work to feature. This is a beautiful Advent work that deserves to be heard widely.’

‘I love writing music liturgically for the setting of local congregations – just occasionally I get a big break,’ Bishop Mark says, adding that this piece eventually may be made available by a European publisher who published two of his earlier works.

Rosie Schefe is Lutheran Church of New Zealand District Administrator and former editor of The Lutheran.

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