Gerhard Cartford, rest in peace

Gerhard Cartford, one of the saints of the Liturgical Movement in the Lutheran tradition, died last Monday, at his home in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was 92.

I was privileged to know Gerhard personally, and received his hospitality and kindness on more than one occasion. Gerhard was a terrific conversation partner: intelligent, perceptive, kind yet fearless; an acute observer of musical art, and a lifelong advocate of liturgical renewal. Son of missionaries, he lived out his own liturgical and musical mission with ardor. He once described himself as “an itinerant musical evangelist.”

Gerhard was a skilled composer in his own right, as well as an able translator and curator of the musical contributions of others—particularly those whom he worked among in Latin America. It may also interest our readers to know that Gerhard had an enduring affection for St. John’s Abbey, where he had studied chant in the 1950s. He was an ecumenist to the bone.

As Gordon Lathrop observed, in a tribute he shared today with the members of Societas Liturgica:

Gerhard Cartford was a gentle, gracious and learned man, deeply committed to the best in liturgical renewal in all the churches. He spent much of his life in enabling such reform, not least through the support of contextually responsible liturgical music in many places. While he himself was a superb composer of contemporary chant, among other modes of music, he was especially gifted in enabling others to see the work that had to be done and helping them to do it. In striking humility, he served. He thereby significantly helped the voice of the participating people of God as they sing around the mystery of Christ. We will miss him terribly. In the mercy of God, may he rest in peace.

I could not have said it better.

What follows is an obituary that his family shared with me. To conclude, I would like to share the English text of a bi-lingual setting he wrote of Simeon’s Canticle: Ahora Señor (#247, Libro de Liturgia y Cántico):

               At last, Lord, your word of promise fulfilling,

you let your servant go forth in freedom and peace

with my own eyes I have seen the salvation

you have made ready in the sight of all the peoples:

a light that shall reveal you to the nations,

the glory of your people Israel.

I cannot but imagine that Gerhard, having witnessed God’s salvation revealed “in the sight of all the peoples,” now shares in the joy of music with Christ eternally in the heavenly kingdom.



* * *

Gerhard Malling Cartford was born March 21, 1923, in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar, to Richard and Marie (Mortenson) Cartford.

Gerhard left college in the middle of his sophomore year to serve for three years in the United States Army (1943-1946). He returned to St. Olaf after World War II, graduated magna cum laude in 1948 with a bachelor of music degree, and then attended New York’s Union Theological Seminary, earning a master of sacred music degree in 1950.

G CartfordAfter a year as a Fullbright Scholar in Norway, Gerhard worked as an organist/choirmaster in churches in Eau Claire, WI, and the Twin Cities and at Luther Seminary in St. Paul. He earned a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Minnesota, then taught at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, TX, from 1961 to 1974. He went on to teach at Luther Northwestern Seminary in St. Paul from 1974 to 1977.

Throughout his life, Gerhard was an advocate of liturgical renewal . His writings about worship and music were published internationally in journals and books. In 1958, he helped found the Lutheran Society for Music, Worship, and the Arts, and later served as the editor of the society’s journal, Response. From 1967 to 1978 he was a working member of the Liturgical Music Committee of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship, the select group responsible for the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship. His musical contributions to the LBW include settings of liturgical texts, psalm tones, and a hymn tune.

In 1977, Gerhard and his wife, Polly, moved to South America, where he had been invited by the American Lutheran Church in Colombia to help its people contextualize their worship and develop their own cultural resources. Gerhard also worked closely with the national liturgical commissions in Brazil and Argentina, helping to produce provisional worship books in each of the countries: Celebremos in Argentina (1984, in Spanish), and Celebraҫões Liturgicas in Brasil (1986, in Portuguese).

He organized the first Latin American Lutheran Liturgical Consultation, which took place in 1986 in Caracas, Venezuela, and in 1990 he coordinated the worship music for the Eighth Lutheran World Assembly. He also edited its worship book, Supplement 1990 to Laudamus, the LWF hymnal.

Gerhard retired from full-time work in 1990, but continued to be active in publishing music for worship. He served as the general editor for a 1998 Spanish-language book of worship, Libro de Liturgia y Cántico.

With his wife and grandaughter by his side, Gerhard passed away Monday morning, February 8, 2016 at his home in Minneapolis, at the age of 92.

Survivors include his wife, Pauline; 3 children: Jonathan and wife Patricia Stein of Escondido, California, Peter of Overland Park, Kansas, Mary and husband Eugene Stewart of Denver, Colorado;  2 grandchildren: Lucienne Stein-Cartford, Thomas Stein-Cartford and companion Laura Popwell; his sister, Astrid Blackwell of Bend, Oregon; nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his parents, his brother Olaf, and his sisters Alfa Aaland and Ragna Evenson.

A memorial service will be held at 11:00 am on February 20, 2016, at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Minneapolis. Interment will be in Oaklawn Cemetery, Northfield.



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4 responses to “Gerhard Cartford, rest in peace”

  1. Thomas Keesecker Avatar
    Thomas Keesecker

    Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Mark Kieffer Avatar
    Mark Kieffer

    I am streaming the audio of the Funeral live at this address:

  3. Rita Ferrone Avatar
    Rita Ferrone

    Brilliant service. Faith-filled, beautiful, fitting. A fine homiletic bridge to the Eucharist. Many thanks to the church for streaming.

  4. Mark Kieffer Avatar
    Mark Kieffer

    My buddy Foy is really good. I was privileged to be in the room for this service. Glad those who wished to hear this service via the inter webs were able to hear it.

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