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‘In the mood’ … for New Year’s Eve worship?

Roseville Lutheran Church offers Big Band experience to end one year, begin another

Roseville Lutheran Church’s Big Band will lead the congregation’s New Year’s Eve service. Photo courtesy of Dan Nyberg

The Historic Black Church has a long tradition of “Watch Night Services” on New Year’s Eve. The community gathers together to bring in the new year, reflecting communally on the year that is ending, and committing faithfulness to the year that is about to begin.
While some Moravians and Wesleyans also follow this Watch Night tradition, most Lutheran churches don’t, though the 2012 Sundays and Seasons resource produced by Augsburg Fortress does offer suggestions for such occasions. It states, “At this time of year, we meditate on endings and beginnings, knowing that all worlds begin and end in God. We watch and keep vigil for the coming of God’s justice.”
Members of the Roseville Lutheran Church Big Band didn’t know about this tradition six years ago when forming the group for its first New Year’s Eve service. “Our brass group played at Christmas and Easter every year,” explained John Helgen, music director at Roseville Lutheran and conductor of the Big Band. “Someone figured out that we had five saxes to go with our four trumpets and four trombones, so we decided we had enough [to try a jazz band].”
Helgen stresses that the New Year’s Eve service is a real worship experience, not a concert. “We always have communion and follow a traditional order of worship. We have specific litanies or prayers for that evening — for the old year and the new — but anyone who would participate would recognize the order of service.” Helgen writes or arranges many of the charts the band plays, as there is not an abundance of church-focused jazz music. That means that he can write the music in such a way that the band leads congregational singing, so worshippers don’t just watch a band play.
The band’s repertoire includes “I’m So Glad Jesus Lifted Me,” “This Little Light of Mine,” “Joy to the World,” “Praise to the Lord,” “I Love to Tell the Story,” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” It is likely that some of these hymns will be played on New Year’s Eve this year.
The worship service starts at 7 p.m., and unlike the Watch Night services that go until midnight, “congregants could be home in their pajamas pretty early,” Helgen said. “The service will last just an hour.”
“We welcome anyone who is interested to attend the service,” Helgen said. “As you would for another service, come to reflect, to pray, to be renewed, to hear a message, and to celebrate … just with jazz accompaniment.”
Roseville Lutheran Church is located at 1215 West Roselawn Avenue in Roseville, Minnesota. For more information, call 651/487-7752.

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