Sacred Song Service to lead audience along the brick walk

Early on any given Sunday morning, hymns from denominational houses blend together along the brick walk as each congregation worships together.

This ecumenical blending will repeat late in the evening this week as Jared Jacobsen leads a Sacred Song Service titled “Hymns Along the Brick Walk: Singing the Faith in our Denominational Houses” at 8:15 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater.

“Part of the fabric of Chautauqua is this unique structure,” said Jacobsen, the Institution organist. “We have this huge ecumenical, interfaith service that brings everybody together, but before that everybody has their own experience of church in their own style. It’s ‘both-and’ at Chautauqua instead of ‘either-or.’ ”

Jacobsen worked with volunteer archivist Marlie Bendiksen to compile the program last season for the Heritage Lecture Series. This program has been adapted into Sacred Song Service format for the 2015 season.

Although Bendiksen had done research into the denominational houses before, she had never paid much attention to their placement along the brick walk before.

“It’s an interesting story, because, if you map it out, you can pick up all the denominational houses [by following the brick walk],” Bendiksen said. “I had never realized how important that was.”

Jacobsen said the service will begin with the houses and chapels located on the north side of the grounds and will follow the brick walk to those on the southern end. It will include all of the denominational houses, including the Zigdon Chabad Jewish House.

“It’s a guided foot tour without actually having to do the work of walking around,” Jacobsen said.

The audience will also receive a program that includes a map to follow if they wish to take a literal walking tour on their own, Jacobsen said.

Bendiksen said the brick walk became the standard location for denominational houses when a decision was made early on to keep Bestor Plaza as a shared space without influence from any single denomination.

The consequence of this decision was that congregations usually found themselves next to the homes of other religious groups. According to Jacobsen, this proximity led to interfaith sharing that was evidenced when each group was asked to suggest a hymn that represented their congregation for the program.

“Instead of my trying to second guess what might be a hymn that represents [each group], we asked these people to come up with a hymn that they thought represented their tradition,” Jacobsen said. “Which sounded like a pretty straight forward assignment, but  the next thing I know, the Presbyterians are suggesting Episcopal hymns, and the Episcopalians are suggesting Catholic hymns. It’s all over the map, which is fascinating.”

Jacobsen said that these suggestions showed that the denominational houses are not just representatives of specific groups, but instead form a community.

“These people all suggested things which, without them realizing, it kind of knit this map [of the grounds] together into a network,” he said. “So we started out thinking, ‘It’s going to be a little island of this, and an island of that and an island of so and so,’ and it ended up being, ‘We’re part of a network. We like this hymn because we borrowed it from the people across the sidewalk.’ ”

Bendiksen said she was most surprised by the familiarity people from each denomination had with each other’s hymns.

“They say that, basically, what the hymn does is it restates your faith in other words,” Bendiksen said. “The truths come through the hymns, and using music as a vehicle helps people to internalize them more than just the spoken word. And people like to get together and sing.”