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February 28, 2004

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Military chaplains say it's a tiny package that's making a big impact with U.S. soldiers facing danger in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, far away from their families and their churches. With the help of an anonymous donor, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., is shipping copies of its renowned choir's 1999 recording, "Great Hymns of Faith," to any military chaplain who asks. More than 2,000 have been shipped to the service branches since the program started last May, drawing thanks from many who said the hymns have been a comfort in difficult times and places.

The Rev. Gorden Estenson, a Lutheran pastor in Winneconne, Wis., was at Fort McCoy preparing to go to Iraq as a chaplain with the Army Reserve when the unit was instead sent to Afghanistan. Estenson's hymn player and music had been shipped to Kuwait for use in Iraq, so he was without music for Afghanistan.

Estenson called his wife, Rikka, and asked her to send his copy of the St. Olaf Choir CD. She did that but went a step farther. She and her mother, Kay Hoffland, talked with Bob Johnson, manager of the college's music organizations, about the possibility of donating copies of the $17 CD to any chaplain who asked. Johnson contacted the head of the military chaplaincy service in Washington, D.C., and went looking for a donor to underwrite the cost of the project. "One phone call and we had it. We had a donor who was thrilled to be able to support our military services and the chaplaincy program like this," Johnson said. The $10,000 donation covered the college's costs, he said. The CD includes traditional hymns such as "Blessed Assurance," "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," "Abide With Me" and "Beautiful Savior."

Anton Armstrong, the choir's conductor since 1990, said the music of young voices can give soldiers hope and comfort "when some of them are facing death eye-to-eye. This wasn't about supporting the war. This was about supporting our young people who were putting their lives in harm's way so that we can continue to do what we do in freedom," Armstrong said. "I can't fight in their stead and I can't lift the weapons that will protect them, but I can give them courage, and I can give them this album," Armstrong said.

Posted by acapnews at February 28, 2004 8:12 AM


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