On March 24, 2018, the Lethbridge Alberta Stake hosted a “Sing-along Messiah” community event to share our love for the Saviour with our city and surrounding area.
The idea was proposed about a year previously by Erinn Roberts, a talented musician and vocalist and also the stake public affairs specialist. One of Sister Roberts’ dreams had been to conduct Handel’s Messiah: “I have performed this work numerous times both in the chorus as well as a soloist, and now it was my turn to step in front of the choir, soloists, and orchestra and lead.” Sister Roberts noted that Handel’s Messiah is “one of the most well known and well loved oratorio works of the classical genre.”
Due to a major re-organization of all the stakes in the area, the event had to be postponed. In January of 2018, a small committee was formed to plan the performance consisting of Sister Roberts and the three high council members responsible for missionary work, music, and public affairs. Our goals were to organize an uplifting event to celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ and to create an opportunity to invite our friends and acquaintances to participate in that celebration as we approached Easter.
Mike Steed (the high councillor over missionary work) reminded the group that Handel’s Messiah has traditionally been a charity event: “The earnings from Handel’s Messiah oratorio helped save the lives of countless orphaned and abandoned infants. Handel originally penned the Messiah in an attempt to prop up his struggling financial situation but learned that the Lord had given him the inspiration to create the Messiah for a purpose above his own needs.”
This greater purpose first became a reality during the Easter season of 1742. Handel and the musicians he worked with decided that they would perform Messiah to raise money to free people who had been imprisoned because they could not pay their debts. President Russell M. Nelson has taught that the release of these prisoners from debtor’s prison beautifully symbolizes our own redemption through the Saviour Jesus Christ: “I can think of no better pattern for us. We are all imperfect people. And without the atonement of Jesus Christ, we would all be hopelessly indebted just as were those people in debtor’s prison. Our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, came to pay a debt He didn’t owe because we owed a debt we couldn’t pay.” (Handel’s Messiah: Debtor’s Prison)
With those humble traditions in mind, the organizing committee approached a local food bank with an offer to collect non-perishable items as “admission” for the event.
With little time to spare, the details of the performance quickly came together. Sister Roberts invited accomplished vocalists, many of them professional musicians, to donate their time and energy. About half the choir was composed of members of other faiths. Given the tight time frame, rehearsals started right away, even before the choir was fully formed.
At the same time, Wayne Burton (high councillor over music as well as a professional musician) called a small group of instrumentalists to perform alongside the choir. The local orchestra generously donated sheet music.
Sister Carmen Letourneau served as both pianist and organist, explaining: “I was very excited to participate in Messiah because I have loved it since I was a teenager. I sang it in university and as a young adult. I always admired the pianists that rehearsed with us. I had some trepidation about it because I only had about a week to prepare before the first rehearsal.”
Bringing a 60-voice choir and instrumental ensemble together so quickly for such a complex piece created unique challenges. Sister Letourneau recognized the difficulty right away: “Learning the accompaniment for the rehearsals was a big challenge for me. I did my best to fit in as much practising as my schedule and my arms could handle.”
With the musicians expected to master their parts rapidly, Sister Letourneau found inspiration in the message behind the music: “Knowing that the music was about the Saviour and his ‘honour and glory and power’ helped me to take the focus off myself. The transcendent music and the message of Jesus Christ were important!”
As the day of the performance approached, all of the participants recognized the Lord’s hand in creating an unforgettable expression of talent, passion and testimony in spite of the difficulties imposed by a short preparation time. Sister Letourneau recounts: “I worried that I would get lost and not be able to find my place. I prayed hard, and I knew that others were praying for me as well. Mustering all of my faith, I went forward, trusting in the Lord's power. From the first chords, the performance flowed smoothly. As we sang the Hallelujah chorus, the audience rose to join in. When the choir sang ‘Blessing and honour, glory and power be unto Him,’ I felt my spirit join in the praise! And when they began the final chorus, the Amen chorus, I felt a sense of disappointment—wishing that it didn't have to end. I know that I was lifted beyond my natural ability in my part as organist. To me, it was a small example of how the Atonement of Jesus Christ can lift and change us, making us better than we can be with our own effort. When we put our trust in Christ, give Him the glory and have faith in His power, miracles can happen!”
The performance unfolded marvellously. The Spirit inspired the hearts of those present as they celebrated the life and ministry of our Saviour. Brother Burton recalled: “the music was powerful and the skill and spirit of the choir and musicians was palpable. It was an incredible evening.”
Sister Letourneau concluded, “everyone there felt a sense of honour and awe to [be] part of something so rare and amazing.” The collective faith of all present bore testimony to God’s power in bringing together people of all beliefs through a love for Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer. Handel’s legacy of assisting those in need continued—donating 762 pounds of food for the local food bank. Hopefully, this performance of Messiah helped plant the seeds for countless others to seek the Lord and join in love and worship for years to come.
Week 2: Light your Community
Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, spent much of His ministry caring for individuals, one by one. Join us this Christmas as we follow His example and find ways to share our time, love, and resources with those in need.
Needs exist all around us – some are just a little closer to home. Make the world a better place, starting in your own community.
Service doesn't just happen on a grand, global scale. Your own community is full of opportunities to get involved, make a difference, and give as Jesus gave.
How will you light the world this Christmas?
You can light the world around you, start where you are!
Learn more about how you can light the world in your community here: