1954, a young pastor, Alvin Rueter, well-settled at his second parish
in California, accepted the call to form a new Lutheran congregation
in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Together, Alvin and his wife, Beulah, developed
strategies to publicize and grow this fledgling parish. This was
a time of new communications technology, but they passed up the
allure of television in favor of an electronic medium that was better-established
and Beulah Rueter
Within a year, Alvin and Beulah began a radio program
of sacred music on an FM station.
"To survive, radio had to be transformed, and many
stations chose to become a music box with a friendly voice,"
recalls Alvin. "In going house to house inviting people to
our church, I ran across the head of the department of radio and
TV at the University of Tulsa. I told him I'd decided to become
a disc jockey with sacred music, and he suggested I try out the
idea on the university's station."
From the beginning, Alvin recognized the usefulness
of selecting music with a thematic focus. "Like other DJs,
I tried to keep my remarks to a minimum. But unlike others, I wanted
my talking to add up to an important message. So having a theme
helped those minimal announcements, in tandem with the music, achieve
a unified impact."
But, not surprisingly, before long it was a stretch
to find meaningful themes that could be expressed through the available
music. At that pivotal moment, Alvin settled on one of Sing For
Joy's defining traits: using Western Christendom's "common
lectionary" - a specific, predictable schedule of scriptural
readings - as the basis for Sing For Joy and the music it
presents through the weekly themes of the church year.
In recent years, the lectionary has been adopted by
a larger and larger circle of interdenominational church bodies,
including Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian,
Mennonite, Disciples of Christ and Congregational churches. By some
accounts, the lectionary is now the basis for worship in the services
attended by the majority of churchgoers in America. Sing For
Joy, in turn, presents musical works that give voice to the
scriptural texts designated for each week.
In 2002, Sing For Joy marked the end of an era:
Rev. Rueter, who had recently celebrated his 81st birthday, announced
his decision to retire from his role as Sing For Joy's host
and producer. Early on, it was acknowledged that Alvin was irreplaceable.
Working closely with St. Olaf College, he helped choose
the accomplished members of the college community who,
beginning with the Advent broadcasts in 2002, would carry on his
Benson, Jeffrey O'Donnell
and John Ferguson
Listeners from divergent backgrounds appreciate Sing
For Joy and what it brings them for a multitude of reasons.
Certainly, plenty of churchgoers feel that the program complements
their weekly worship experience. And many church musicians express
their appreciation for the insights and leads the program provides.
But the program also clearly appeals to listeners from backgrounds
transcending the kind of Christian orientation one might expect.
That breadth of appeal speaks to Sing For Joy's unique presentation
of Scripture-based music and related commentary in an engaging,
personable and consequential way.