Renaissance in Conservative Anabaptist Musical Worship

March 15, 2018

Written by Art Petrosemolo

If you are familiar with the Anabaptist Conservative Christian tradition, you’ll know that musical instruments are not part of their worship tradition. Conservative Christian children are taught to sing hymns at an early age and four-part harmony as teens. But if they play an instrument, it is only at home and as a hobby.

New Holland’s Yuriy Kravets, an immigrant from the Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, is working to incorporate instruments in ways similar to other Christian settings.

Yuriy, from a family of conservative Christians, with old friends and new friends from the conservative Christian churches, is changing that. He brought together a chorus with the orchestra strings, woodwind and brass instruments forming a program of Christian choral – symphonic music through a group called Lyrica Sacra.

Although you may not have heard much about them, their most recent two-performance, free performances drew more than 2000 concert goers. This year Lyrica Sacra’s concert will be April 14 and 15 at 7pm at the Lancaster Mennonite School on Lincoln Highway in Lancaster.

Working with Yuriy, is retired Ephrata Area School District Music Teacher Galen Reed. The pair met in 2013 at Ephrata Christian Fellowship. When Yuriy became aware of Galen’s musical background, he recruited him to plays string instruments in the Lyrica Sacra orchestra, handle part of the conducting and to help select the sacred music and hymns that were appropriate to conservative Christian churches.

Lyrica Sacra’s first concert was in August 2014, and it included 20 singers and 12 musicians, all recruited by Yuriy. After less than a half-dozen rehearsals, the program, with a short sermonette, debuted in the old Moyer building in Ephrata. Not knowing how many people to expect, Yuriy and Galen prepared a small printed program with just the hymn titles and hoped for a few dozen friends and church members for an audience.

The concert attracted an audience far beyond their imagination as some 600 people streamed into the church auditorium. Smiling now, Yuriy says, “We were overwhelmed. We didn’t even plan for ushers to help seat the crowd as we never imagined we would need them.”

The group learned quickly that their music in praise of God had touched music lovers of all Christian denominations. Says Yuriy, “Musical instruments were part of Old Testament scripture with the first reference when David organized an orchestra (1 Chronicles 15:16) to ‘raise sounds of joy’ when the Levites brought the Arc to Jerusalem.”

There is no reference to musical instruments in the New Testament and members of conservative Anabaptist churches did not include instrument accompaniment to hymns in services.

For Lyrica Sacra’s April event, the repertoire will include well known hymns and music from Classical composers like Handel and Brahms. The concert is open to the public without an admission charge, although donations are accepted.

Although Yuriy would like to expand Lyrica Sacra’s outreach, the logistics make it difficult. The group now includes 110 members with 80 in the chorus and 30 musical instruments and not many stages in Lancaster County can accommodate the full group. If Yuriy’s group performs at retirement communities or other non-profit venues, they do so with a smaller group.

Lyrica Sacra’s music has been described by some as a renaissance in the conservative Anabaptist churches in bringing the use of musical instruments to worship in sacred concerts in Lancaster County. Yuriy believes it wasn’t an accident that he met Galen and other musically inclined members of the conservative Anabaptist community. “I am happy we are able to honor God with our music,” he says, “and yes, I believe, with God’s help, the musical ministry will expand in the years ahead.”

You may learn more about Lyrica Sacra at their website where you can watch and listen to past concerts.

Getting To Lancaster County

The Kravets family immigration to the United States and ultimately Lancaster County is a story in itself. Native Ukrainians of the Slavic culture, the Kravets, were active in an Evangelical Baptist Church and Yuriy’s dad—Yuriy Sr.—spent three years in a Soviet prison for his Christian activism just before the fall of the Soviet state in 1989.

Kravets’ family actually immigrated twice to the United States where Yuriy Sr. had a brother in Philadelphia. They spent two years in the U.S. living in Delaware County in the 1990s, worshiping in an Amish-Mennonite (Beachy Amish) church in Gap. They returned to the Ukraine in the first years of the new century as part of the Christian Aid Ministry outreach to Kiev. They returned to the United States for good in 2006, and found their way to Lancaster County, living in New Holland, and worshiping in the conservative, Charity movement churches.

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