Just past midnight last Dec. 5, I sat in St. Stephansdom Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, on the anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozarts death, waiting for a performance of his Requiem.
St. Stephansdom is the most important religious building in Vienna, and serves as the symbolic heart of the Austrian capital. Its gothic and Romanesque faade soars to 445 feet, and this night its exterior was eerily aglow from colored spotlights that added to its history-rich atmosphere. Equally beautiful inside, it contains a wealth of decorative sculpture highlighted by a magnificent, delicately carved stone pulpit. And though I have always found the cathedrals of Europe cold though majestic, this midnight the air was especially crisp and chill, inside and out.
Mozart was married in St. Stephansdom, and when he died at age 35 his funeral was held here before his Requiem Mass was finished. Another composer completed the piece, and it is performed each year to coincide with the time of his death. It serves as a solemn and fitting tribute to a musician whose compositions have been described by Karl Barth: When the angels sing for God, they sing Bach; but I am sure that when they sing for themselves, they sing Mozart and God eavesdrops.
That night the musicians, choir and soloists performed beautifully, and then, to the thrill of single, solitary chimes the principal performers walked gravely and descended to the crypt. I left the church in solemn thought. It was a night I will never forget.
But it was not the highlight of my trip. That actually happened three days earlier, when we visited another church. This church was out a bit from the center of Dresden, Germany, tucked near neighborhoods and city greenery, easy to miss if one were not looking for it, and if one didnt have Heidi the name we gave the GPS system in our rental car. We arrived at the nondescript Kirche Jesu Christi der Heilegen der Letzen Tage a bit early, and were greeted by a group of enthusiastic, brightly scrubbed missionaries.
After WWII and until the early 1990s Dresden was part of the communist bloc. Religion was little tolerated and the people highly secularized. Worship was to the gods of power and materialism, although there were few consumer goods to be had. Because Dresden was and under reunification, is striving to become again one of the cultural gems of Europe, the Dresden Ward, the only LDS ward in a city of 450,000, gets its share of visitors. Sunday School was first, and a delightful young Russian woman, a university student who speaks four languages fluently, sat with us. As the teacher taught the same lesson I would have had back in my Utah ward, she translated from German to English. The message was doctrinal, practical and edifying.
Sacrament Meeting started with a rousing, heartfelt hymn. Congregants certainly put my home ward to shame though they were only half in number. For this meeting, the visitors each received a headset. Another member of the ward sat on the stand and whispered translations into a microphone. We not only heard the words but felt the Spirit.
After the Sacrament was administered the bishop bore a beautiful testimony and invited members to do the same. I was startled as people jumped up and hurried to the stand. Within 30 seconds there were a dozen people up front, and as they finished, three or four more would take their place. The testimonies were brief and fervent. Each bore testimony of the Savior Jesus Christ and expressed a love for the gospel.
What really struck me, however, was that every testimony included an account of activities and friendship, and telling fellow workers, neighbors and schoolmates about the Church about what we believe and what we have. I heard and felt their active faith. They were fearless in sharing what is most precious. Many were converts who treasure what they have found and earnestly profess belief to others. There was no smugness, no complacency in this lovely ward, no taking anything for granted. I was touched and humbled and inspired.
How lucky we are that such wards exist in this worldwide church that today. How they enrich us and invigorate us. How much we can learn from them.
I once heard cathedrals described as edifices to the glory of man. The Dresden Ward was a tidy, simple meetinghouse devoted to the glory of God.
Kristine Wardle Frederickson is currently a PhD candidate in modern European, Religious and Women's History at the University of Utah. She also teaches history, women's studies and religion at BYU. A native Californian, she enjoys family, travel, reading, sports and sorely misses the beach. She and her husband, Reid, are the parents of six children.)