On the religion beat: The Celtic sounds of Pilgrim Lutheran

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH
  • Star Tribune
  • February 17, 2012 - 7:55 PM

With its Scandinavian and German roots, the Lutheran tradition doesn't typically call to mind ancient Celtic Christian traditions.

But that doesn't really matter to Pilgrim Lutheran Church in St. Paul, which has held regular Celtic-themed worship services for years. In fact, the church will celebrate its 10th anniversary of holding the Celtic services on March 11.

So how did an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation start down this Celtic road?

"We are literally located in the middle of the triangle formed by three colleges around us," said the Rev. Carol Tomer, lead pastor at Pilgrim. "Macalester has Scottish roots. St. Thomas, some Irish roots. And St. Kate's, and the sisters of St. Joseph particularly, have had a Celtic spirituality conference every five years or so in the past. So Celtic things felt very indigenous to where Pilgrim is planted, although it's not a particularly, traditionally Lutheran thing."

During the services, Celtic-inspired music composed by noted musician Dick Hensold is played with instruments such as Northumbrian pipes and tin whistles. Celtic texts, some thought to date back as far as the sixth century, are also recited at the service, Tomer said.

When the church celebrates the 10th anniversary, it plans a festive Cake and Ceilidh, a "traditional Scottish/Irish kind of dance that people can participate in," Tomer said.

Through the years, the service has remained very popular at Pilgrim, particularly among those who aren't necessarily Lutheran or don't attend other services regularly.

"It's been a great response," Tomer said. "The services have been loaded with people coming who are not members of the congregation. We had hoped this would be an avenue of outreach. It has been that in spades because most of the people who come are visitors," and often become members of the church.

The Celtic service has become an "identifying signature" of the church, Tomer says.

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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