New sounds inside the Mighty Fortressby Karl Gehrke, Minnesota Public Radio
A new exhibit at the University of Minnesota challenges the stereotype of Lutherans as staid, white Scandinavians. The recent arrival of immigrants from Latin America, Africa and Asia has created many ethnically diverse Lutheran congregations in the Twin Cities. As the exhibit demonstrates, you can hear as well as see the changes.
St. Paul, Minn. — Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Minneapolis has offered worship services in Swahili since 1993 to serve the church's members from Tanzania. Holy Trinity is one of 16 multi-cultural Twin Cities Lutheran churches included in the multi-media exhibit, "A Mighty Fortress Far from Lake Wobegon."
The exhibit at the U of M's Immigration History Research Center is the creation of ethnomusicology student Allison Adrian and Minneapolis photographer Wing Young Huie. The two are exploring what it means to be a Minnesotan as the state's racial make-up becomes increasingly diverse.
Adrian grew up in White Bear Lake. She says the popular image of Minnesota as home only to white Scandinavians doesn't match what she has observed.
"My world really does not look like Lake Wobegon," she says, so she wondered, "Why is the stereotype still out there? So I decided to investigate Lutheranism and drove around looking for Lutheran churches that did not fit that Scandinavian, white mold and they were surprisingly easy to find."
According to U.S. Census figures, the share of white residents in the Twin Cities population fell by almost 20 percent between 1990 and 2000. Fourteen percent of the population in the Twin Cities is foreign-born.
Adrian says the worship music in the Lutheran churches she found demonstrates the growing ethnic diversity. Many of the services for immigrant members of congregations are held separately from the main Sunday services. Adrian says people want to worship in their own languages and in a way that is familiar to them.
"The immigrant congregations have services that run from two to three hours," she says. "They actually want to sing for a much longer period of time than the older Lutheran congregations want to. So music is really at the heart of the tensions that exist around these cultural changes in the church."
Some Lutheran churches in the Twins Cities do integrate different cultures within their Sunday morning services. White and Latino congregations merged to form El Milagro Lutheran Church in Minneapolis. It has a bi-lingual service along with English and Spanish services. Cambodian members of the Christ Lutheran Church on Capitol Hill in St. Paul sing in the church's Khmer Choir during each worship service.
Church organist Paul Swenson is the accompanist for the Khmer Choir. He says that on the whole the congregation has been open to music other than traditional Lutheran hymns.
"There are some exceptions," he says. "There are older people who find it very difficult to get acclimated to the kinds of music that is sung, especially the instrumental accompaniment. It takes some time getting used to if you haven't heard it before, but I think that once they get used to it they find that even if they didn't like it at first they grow to love it."
Photographer Wing Young Huie's projects often document the changing cultural landscape of Minnesota. He was born in Duluth to Chinese immigrants and has always had to confront perceptions that he is not a real Minnesotan.
He says all the issues we face as a culture are reflected in the Lutheran congregations he photographed. In most churches, he found that immigrants and whites sat in separate sections.
"And then there are some congregations like the Khmer church which is almost an idealization of what society can be," he says. "You have white, African, African-American, Khmer, young and old and they're not sitting in pockets. They're all sitting together. It's what society could be."
Wing Young Huie and Allison Adrian both want to expand their project by documenting multi-cultural Lutheran churches outside of the Twin Cities.
Adrian says that even though the churches she visited have different musical traditions, they all use music to express their faith and feel closer to God.
The exhibit "A Mighty Fortress Far from Lake Wobegon" is at the U of M's Elmer L. Andersen Library through December 29.
- Morning Edition, 12/21/2006, 7:55 a.m.