Hector Aguilar takes his first piano lesson from the Rev. Timothy Frank of St. Paul's Music Conservatory at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Witness Moment

Music-Minded Ministry

St. Paul’s Music Conservatory in Council Bluffs, Iowa, uses music to proclaim the Gospel.

At St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa, “the Gospel is coming out of the cracks in the walls, and it’s a blessing, a huge blessing,” said church member Jo Raymond.

The Rev. Nathan Sherrill, senior pastor of St. Paul’s, sold his 1992 white Ford F-150 for $400 in 2006 and bought a $400 piano in Des Moines. He brought it back and set it in an unused space in the church. His wife, Tina, started teaching piano lessons, while fellow teacher Mike Rollins started students on guitar. Word spread quickly in and out of the parish concerning the lessons. Over time, lesson slots filled, rooms were remodeled and instruments were updated.

St. Paul’s is home to St. Paul’s Music Conservatory (SPMC), a parish-based music school designed to share the Gospel through music education. Today, SPMC offers lessons in piano, guitar, organ, voice, strings, winds and brass.

“There is a level of personal engagement,” said Raymond. “Every single teacher in this place is personally invested in every student. They want the children learning about music, but more than that, they want the children learning about Jesus. They do everything they can to be disciples in the classroom — not just teachers — and it’s bearing a lot of fruit.”

The conservatory brought on Dr. J. Gordon Christensen, a gifted music teacher who spent 40 years as an elementary music teacher and organist in Imperial, Neb. The congregation later called the Rev. Timothy Frank as associate pastor, conservatory administrator and piano teacher.

Recently, one of Christensen’s high school students was baptized. She asked that her teacher serve as her baptismal sponsor. Now, her pastors are taking her and her father through confirmation class.

“The Gospel is coming out of the cracks in the walls, and it’s a blessing, a huge blessing.”

Church member Jo Raymond

The conservatory has started producing its own musical resources to complement the studio instruction it offers. One example is a series of graded piano books, with arrangements by Dr. Elizabeth Grimpo of Concordia University, Nebraska.

To acknowledge that music is a wonderful vehicle for Gospel proclamation, SPMC also is establishing a Recognized Service Organization (RSO). This RSO will create musical resources help churches, schools and mission organizations bring Christ into the world through music.

On a recent Wednesday, Christensen taught student Augustine Terneus on St. Paul’s organ. With his signature bow tie and circular glasses, Christensen methodically led Augustine through the musical notes. Later, Christensen took a group of preschoolers on a tour through the sanctuary, explaining the baptismal font, altar and rail.

“We have people who have been baptized in the last few years who’ve come from utterly unchurched lives, and they came to Jesus through the Gospel being brought to them through the music of the conservatory,” said Raymond. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”

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Erik M. Lunsford 

Managing photojournalist for LCMS Communications.

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