Martin Luther’s magnificent hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which helped kick off the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, is one of a dozen songs in the Festival of Hymns: The Writers Tell Their Stories in Damascus on Saturday.
Presented by the choirs from St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Damascus and Zion Lutheran Church in Hagerstown, the program starting at 7 p.m. traces the history of Christian hymns from the 300s through the 1900s. The church is located at 25100 Ridge Road in Damascus.
“We’re doing this as a social activity,” said St. Anne’s parishioner Mark Ludwig during a rehearsal on Sunday. “We want you to open your doors and see what’s in your neighborhood.”
Dressed as English theologian Isaac Watts, Ludwig will introduce “Oh God, Our Help in Ages Past,” for which Watts wrote the music in 1719.
The Festival of Hymns is the second concert in a new monthly musical series at St. Anne’s as a way to glorify God and also host a social event for the community. Everyone is invited to attend, and also sing along with words to be provided by the church.
There is no charge for the concert or the reception afterward, although contributions are welcome to help support the program, which was compiled by Hal H. Hopson and published by Warner Bros. Publications.
The series, a mix of secular and church music, kicked off on Sept. 22 with a jazz concert with pianist Harry Appelman and bassist Eric Harper.
On Nov. 24, singer, writer and guitarist Andrew McKnight is scheduled to perform folk and Americana music, and on Dec. 8, the Gospel Aires performance choir will visit.
Depending on reaction to the first four concerts, the church hopes to add more concerts in 2014, said the Rev. Lee Davis in September. Davis will be playing Martin Luther at the festival.
Also on the program, introduced by The Traveling Pilgrim, played by Frank Jacob, are hymns written by people from various denominations, including early Christians, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Baptists and Methodists.
The first is Bishop Ambrose (“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”) followed by Luther; John Calvin (“Clap Your Hands!”); Watts; Charles Wesley (“O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing,”); Catherine Winkworth (“Now Thank We All Our God”); Robert Lowry (“Shall We Gather at the River”); Fanny Crosby (“Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine!”); John Wesley Work (“Guide My Feet”); Roberto Escamilla (“When We Are Living”) and Sydney Carter (“Lord of the Dance”).
Catherine Jacob plays Fanny Crosby, who lost her sight as a child and fell in love with music, writing more than 8,000 hymns over the course of her life in the late 1800s.
Jacob, who is also blind and reads Braille, said she has read biographies from the period and also studied John Milton, who was blind when he wrote “Paradise Lost” in the 1600s.
A member of St. Anne’s for 10 years along with her husband, Frank Jacob, she said she appreciates the welcoming congregation.
“This is a very inclusive church,” she said.
Directing the choirs is David Loy, musical director at Zion Lutheran Church, who used to be the organist at St. Anne’s. The Hagerstown church is providing soloists and Damascus, the characters in costume.
Musicians will also be performing on the organ and piano, euphorium, tuba, trumpet, timpani and English hand bells.
Sam DeJesus, 18, one of the soloists from Zion Lutheran, said he has been singing since he was a child.
“You can say things, but I think when you sing, it comes more for the heart,” he said. “You feel more connected to God.”
He said he is enjoying singing in the festival.
“It’s a great experience,” he said.“I’m always so glad to honor our past.”
For more information, visit saintannesdamascus.net.