Hearts sank as St. Andrew’s Academy staff and students stood watching the now empty baggage carousel. After three flights and thirty hours of travel they had arrived in Frankfurt, Germany, only to find that not a single one of their ten bags had arrived with them.
It was an ominous start to St. Andrew’s Academy’s choir trip, but thankfully things went on from there without much of a hitch (they got their baggage the next day). From the airport they were brought to the “Knüll Camp,” a Christian camp just outside the small town of Schwarzenborn in the province of Hesse. The camp is the home of Bishop Gerhard Meyer, and serves as headquarters for the “Reformierte Episkopalkirche,” an Anglican missionary church body in Germany.
To help Bishop Meyer in his church-planting and ecumenical outreach efforts, the St. Andrew’s Academy choir sang Matins and Evensong services in a diverse range of settings: a state evangelical church in Neukirchen, an evangelical seminary in Giessen, a private high school in Willingshausen, and Roman Catholic and Reformed churches in Neuss. Of course, they also sang a number of times at the Bishop’s own chapel on the “Knüll Camp”.
Their repertoire included motets and anthems such as William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus”, Giuseppe Ottavio Pitoni’s “Cantate Domino”, and the students’ definite favorite, “Lord, for thy tender mercy’s sake” (composed by either John Hilton the elder or Richard Farrant). At Evensongs, they sang the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis to Anglican chants composed by Christopher Hoyt, organist at the Church of the Holy Communion in Dallas, and also brought with them several hymn reharmonizations and descants composed by their own organist and assistant choirmaster, Jared Tomlinson.
When they weren’t out singing or helping around the camp, they took day trips. In Marburg, they climbed the historic university city’s steep streets to the castle that crowns its skyline. In Eisenach, they explored the house in which Johann Sebastian Bach was born. In Wartburg, they toured the castle where Martin Luther hid and worked on his German translation of the New Testament scriptures. They drove along the river Rhein to Koblenz and saw an enormous monument of Emperor William I.
On top of seeing the sights, the students had many opportunities to eat local food – there were countless stops at food trucks to buy bratwurst. On the trip’s final evening, the staff and students dressed up and treated themselves to a rather fancy dinner of wiener schnitzel, a traditional German dish of breaded pork chops.
Two highlights stand out above the aforementioned day trips. The first is the visit to the mediaeval town of Fritzlar. Legend has it that when St. Boniface arrived there as a missionary, he felled the Donar Oak, the tree of a pagan deity, with an axe. When the people saw that the trunk was nearly rotted out, and that the god did not strike him dead, they converted to Christianity. Staff and choristers were let into the cathedral church where they sang, and explored the crypt, the treasury, and the old monastic library. The beauty of that place stands in stark contrast to the second highlight of the trip. Buchenwald was the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by American troops at the end of World War II. The photo exhibition was soaked in, the grounds were explored, and finally the crematorium was visited where countless bodies were burned, and the cellar underneath where human beings were hung from hooks to die. These were indescribably powerful experiences. Hardly a word was uttered by the students during the several hours they spent in that place.
The faculty of St. Andrew’s Academy wants its students to love and pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful. Places like the cathedral in Fritzlar or Buchenwald concentration camp hit home the possibilities of that pursuit and the consequences of forsaking it in a way that classroom instruction never can. That is why St. Andrew’s Academy is a school that travels. To “equip our students with the tools of learning and to endow them with the wisdom of the ages so that they may serve God and their fellow man with virtue and strength.”