By Bishop Ann Svennungsen

My husband has gotten a record number of “likes” for his Facebook post that includes a picture of me shaking hands with Pope Francis. It was on Reformation Day 2018, a remarkable, once-in-a-lifetime experience for me.

Probably even more emotionally moving was the gift of accompanying the “Together in Hope” choir in its ministry to foster church unity through music. Comprised of Lutheran and Catholic conductors and singers from the Twin Cities, the choir was privileged to sing in the Sistine Chapel (can you just hear the singing of “Ubi Caritas” in that sacred space?), at worship in St. Peter’s Basilica, and at the weekly Papal audience in St. Peter’s Square. The highlight of the trip was giving the inaugural concert at the 17th annual Festival Internazionale di Musica e Arte Sacra with the premiere performance of “So That the World May Believe” by composer Kim Arnesen.


Pope Francis (left) offers gifts to Bishop Ann Svennungsen and Bishop Peter Bartimawus (center) of the Lutheran Church of Christ in Nigeria while they were visiting Rome with the Together in Hope choir tour.

WHENEVER I COULD, I sat with the choir for their rehearsals. (My husband was chagrined when I chose rehearsals over a tour of Assisi.) Some of the emotion came from my own deeply felt experience singing with the Concordia Choir under Paul J. Christiansen. But most came from the sheer beauty of the music and its message. With poetry by Susan Palo Cherwien and the Apostle Paul’s words about unity in the body of Christ, the composer created something that touched our very souls.

“Though technology brings incredible good to our world, it can also make it less likely that we’ll sing in a choir or play on a softball team.”

Sitting through the rehearsals, I was reminded of the philosopher Albert Borgmann’s writing about focal practicesSinging in a choir is such a focal practice. So is playing on a softball team or making a family dinner. In my own lifetime, it seems that making such commitments has become harder. It’s easier for me to watch TV or engage Facebook than commit to hosting a meal with friends. Though technology brings incredible good to our world, it can also make it less likely that we’ll sing in a choir or play on a softball team.

Advent is just around the corner. We celebrate the miracle of God-become-flesh. Our incarnational theology has something to say, I believe, about our life together.

I will always be grateful for my recent trip to Rome. And, I especially thank the Together in Hope Choir for its witness to our unity in Christ and to our God-given need for focused, communal activities that bring us together and touch our very souls.