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Anna G. Larson, Published January 11 2013

Heavenly Sounds: Music a big part of worship at Fargo’s Gethsemane Cathedral

If you go

What: Celestial Sounds Series’ “Evensong”

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral, 3600 25th St. S.

Info: Admission is free, and the event is open to the public.

For more information, visit www.gethsemanecathedral.org or call (701) 232-3394.

FARGO – One Fargo church believes the way to the community’s heart is through its ears.

Gethsemane Episcopal Church launched its Celestial Sounds Series to encourage community members to experience music in a religious and architecturally pleasing environment, said longtime church member Margie Bailly.

The series launched in November with a performance by the Fargo-Moorhead Chamber Chorale. The December installment of the series, “Advent Lessons and Carols,” was a traditional Anglican service featuring the Gethsemane Cathedral Choir. This week’s Sunday performance, “Evensong,” will again be traditional with music by the choir.

Bailly calls the series “gentle evangelism” that brings people into the church. Using music to do so is a better option than knocking on doors, she said.

“None of us, especially in this Scandinavian, really reserved area, are really good at knocking on doors. It doesn’t work for us,” Bailly said. “These are separate services that don’t have to be in the context of a Sunday morning service, and for some people, that’s a much more palatable way to be in a church. It’s a new era of spiritual life.”

Combining traditional and contemporary styles of worship music and using the church space for events outside of its Sunday morning service are ways of ushering in the “new era” and appealing to more people, she said.

The church no longer holds separate services for each worship style. At the single service at 10:30 a.m., traditional Anglican hymns mingle with contemporary music.

“There are a lot of different tastes in music, and we try to honor that,” said Jay Hershberger, the church’s organist and choirmaster and Concordia College professor. “All kinds of music are helpful to people.”

Sometimes, church members’ preferences for contemporary or traditional music and services can cause “worship wars,” but Hershberger said that’s not the case at Gethsemane. Its members enjoy both, he said.

Hershberger plays the church’s Robert L. Sipe pipe organ each Sunday, as he will for Celestial Sounds on Sunday.

The organ has been a mainstay of leading worship in the West since the 14th or 15th century, he said.

People who have never heard a pipe organ might be surprised at its power. When the immense organ sounds, the air in the church moves, Hershberger said.

“There’s a visceral aesthetic that takes over,” Hershberger said.

Enhancing the music is the space’s acoustics and architecture. Exposed wooden beams and colorful stained glass windows, some rescued from the original church after it burned in 1989, marry with modernism to create its “prairie gothic” appeal.

“It’s a space that’s just fun to sit in and contemplate,” Bailly said. “You don’t even need someone up in the pulpit.”

For those who visit the church during its Celestial Sounds Series, Hershberger said he hopes they take away with them the beauty of the marriage between music and word a community has gathered together to experience.

“Humans were made to appreciate beauty,” he said.

Bailly encourages people to visit to simply experience the church.

“If they do nothing but just experience lovely music and sit in this really pretty, unique space, that’ll be terrific,” she said. “But, if they decide this (Gethsemane) could be a spiritual home for them, that’d be terrific, too.”

Celestial Sounds concludes April 14 with “Those Fabulous French,” where members of the Fargo-Moorhead Chapter of the American Guild of Organists will perform the music of French organ composers. Minnesota Public Radio’s Michael Barone will introduce the music.