JOYA brings world class musicians to Anoka stage

The heart fills with renewed life and spirits soar in the bright, refreshing surrounds.

Inside Zion’s new sanctuary, artistic director and pianist Mary Jo Gothmann plays Chopin on the church’s new Steinway concert grand piano.
Inside Zion’s new sanctuary, artistic director and pianist Mary Jo Gothmann plays Chopin on the church’s new Steinway concert grand piano.Photo by Sue Austreng

Maple panels line the vaulted ceiling, sparkling stained glass windows hang on walls of white oak and sunshine streams through skylights overhead and bounce off Italian-made tile below.

You’ve just stepped in to the newly-renovated sanctuary at Zion Lutheran Church, a space that opens its arms in a welcoming embrace, wrapping visitors in renewed energy and hope and joy.

And – with its amazing acoustics and new Steinway concert grand piano – it’s a space fit for world class musicians to share their gifts.

JOYA takes the stage

JOYA, a new chamber music series at Zion, begins at 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 22 when music by Mozart, Brahms and Paul Schoenfield dances through the air, performed by Grammy award winner and Juilliard School of Music professor Margo Garret, Minnesota Orchestra violinist Cathy Schubilske and cellist Scott Lykins, artistic director of Brainerd’s Lakes Area Music Festival.

Mary Jo Gothmann, principal organist and artistic director for Zion, also performs, playing a four-hand sonata with Garrett seated beside her at the Steinway concert grand piano.

Future JOYA concerts take the stage 7 p.m. Oct. 27 (featuring Gothmann, and cellists Anthony Ross and Beth Rapier); 3 p.m. March 2 (featuring Gothmann and Gabriel Preisser; and 7 p.m. April 13 (featuring Gothmann, cellist James Jaconson and flautist Jane Garvin).

The JOYA series is the realization of a dream for Gothmann, by whose invitation musical artists will perform at Zion, and she expressed great pleasure with the new sanctuary and piano.

“The acoustics in here are just amazing – and this space is so light and open and airy … This is truly beautiful,” Gothmann said.

And she knows what she’s talking about. Zion’s artistic director has enjoyed an eclectic musical career as a chamber musician, soloist, opera coach and organist performing with the Minnesota Orchestra, the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the Eos Orchestra in New York City. She’s also worked for some of the most prestigious opera companies in the United States.

“I’m just thrilled to have this space and share the gift of music with the community,” she said.

The Sept. 22 concert is free of charge, Gothmann said.

The sanctuary evolves

Mark Madson, director of music at Zion for the past 20 years, described what went in to the $3 million renovation of the sanctuary and its evolution into the world class stage it has become.

“It was a long process that started with structural issues,” he said.

The sanctuary was built some 60 years ago, according to Madson.

“The philosophy was that we really wanted to build something for the future, create a welcoming, inviting space that will draw people. It turned out even better than we envisioned, I think,” Madson said.

Dedication and ribbon cutting ceremonies took place Sept. 15 and 16 and during an open house event, people learned the history of the church.

Zion has been a member of the Anoka community since 1870 when members started gathering in the 4th Avenue home of Jonas Norell.

In 1873, the congregation moved into its first church building, called the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Sion Congregation of Anoka. During those the early years, Swedish ministers traveled to Anoka and preached at the church for a year or two while the church was served as a mission church by the Swedes.

In 1944, the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Sion Congregation of Anoka took on its American identity and was renamed Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. And then in the 1950s the church grew and moved down the street to its current location, the whole congregation gathered together and walked down 4th Avenue, singing “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty” over and over until they reached the new church building.

An artistic partnership is born 

With the renovation of Zion’s sanctuary, the evolution of the church and of its ministry continues, said Rev. Peter Nycklemoe.

“One of our core values at Zion is to be a welcoming community,” he said. “This new sanctuary demonstrates that openness and hospitality and we have a long history of music and worship here. This is about joining forces.”

Nycklemoe and Gothmann eagerly anticipate expanding the artistic offerings staged at Zion, he said.

“We’ll have classical professional music as well as collegiate music, local music, authors, and visual artists. This area is so rich in the arts and we are so pleased to present it here,” said Nycklemoe.

JOYA takes the stage for its inaugural concert this Sunday and while that concert is free, future JOYA performance tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for seniors, free for students of any age.

For tickets to future JOYA concerts, call the church office at 763-421-4656 or visit

Sue Austreng is at
[email protected]