News Articles

Midwestern prof composes anthem for ‘Bethlehem 2000’

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–An anthem composed especially for Palestinian Christians celebrating the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s birth in Bethlehem was commissioned during a Dec. 10 chapel service at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Titled “O Bethlehem!” the piece was written by A.L. “Pete” Butler, professor of church music at the Kansas City, Mo., seminary and will be performed under Butler’s direction.
The piece has three sections and a Middle Eastern musical style. The first section celebrates the city of Bethlehem and its role in God’s plan. The second section, which has a more distinctly eastern sound, proclaims the place of Bethlehem in Old Testament prophecy. The piece concludes with a missionary emphasis, declaring the need to carry message of Bethlehem and of the Messiah to the nations.
Composition of the work was initiated in 1996 by Baptist representative David Swenson, a Midwestern graduate working in the Bethlehem area. At the time, Swenson and other Christian workers noted the growing excitement about the 2000th anniversary of Christ’s birth, known locally as “Bethlehem 2000.” However, while many events were being planned in conjunction with the anniversary, most of them were primarily commercial.
“As we talked about the upcoming event we began to pray that the Lord would use us and the evangelical Christians in the area to show the true significance of that night almost 2000 years ago,” Swenson wrote Butler.
“You see, we are in need of an anthem that we can present to the town that will become Bethlehem’s anthem. We would like to see not only Bethlehem honored but the Savior who was born there honored as well.”
Butler, who had composed other arrangements including the music to “Redeemed” and three other hymns in the Baptist Hymnal, agreed to compose a suitable piece and began work in earnest in 1997. Butler realized it would be necessary not only that the piece convey the desired message, but also that it be appropriate for Palestinian church choirs. As a result, the work proved difficult and led to several false starts, both textually and musically. He therefore sought help in both areas.
“As I began the work, I received input from the faculty concerning ideas for the text,” Butler said. “They were helpful, and my wife was especially helpful.” Butler’s wife Jo Ann, associate professor of church music education at Midwestern, was not the only family member to contribute to the piece. Once he had settled on a text and melody, Butler looked to his daughter, Donna — herself an accomplished pianist and published composer of more than 50 works — to provide the piece’s arrangement and accompaniment, filling what Butler called an extremely significant role.
“She gave a lot of character to the piece because of the accompaniment,” Butler said.
Partially in recognition of her role, Butler will join his daughter for the second performance of “O Bethlehem!” at First United Methodist Church, Ponca City, Okla., where she serves as director of music. The song will be featured during the church’s Dec. 13 Christmas service.
Swenson, of the role he desires that the song play during the second millennial celebrations, noted, “Our hope is that Bethlehem will be able to adopt it as theirs and then present it to the world for Christmas 1999 and 2000.
“Our prayer is that this anthem will uplift Christ, and at the same time uplift the Christians of this area as they feel very alone in a sea of Muslims and Jews.”

    About the Author

  • Clinton Wolf