Welcome to the Bach Cantata Vespers ministry of Grace Lutheran Church! For over four decades Grace has offered members, friends of our congregation, and music lovers from the Chicago area the opportunity to experience J.S. Bach’s sacred cantatas as part of a worship service, the setting for which they were originally composed. This tradition continues as we celebrate our 45th season of Bach Cantata Vespers.

Whether you are an accomplished musician, or someone who just happens to appreciate great music in the context of worship, we invite you to join us!

The Rev. Michael D. Costello, Cantor


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) is considered by many to be the greatest Lutheran composer of all time. Bach was born in Eisenach and raised a Lutheran in the tradition of hard work, love of God, strong faith, and respect for the music and traditions of the church.

During his tenure as Cantor of St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, Germany, where he served from 1723 until his death in 1750, he composed more than 300 sacred cantatas, among an enormous body of other works. The cantatas functioned as the principal piece of music in Sunday services and festivals, often demanding large orchestral forces and a choir with superb skill, but at times calling for a small chamber orchestra with only a soloist. Bach composed the cantatas around the scripture readings for the day and often used the melodies and texts of common Lutheran hymns, called chorales, to support the message proclaimed in the biblical texts. Rightfully called “the fifth evangelist,” week after week, Bach was able to get to the heart of a scripture passage, weave it together with a well-known hymn of his day, and create a complex piece of music that would not only display his genius as a composer, but proclaim the living Word of God to all who hear and believe.

By writing “SDG,” an abbreviation for the Latin phrase Soli Deo Gloria (to God alone be the glory), it is clear that Bach sought to honor the God who granted him such superb musical ability. Bach once wrote that "music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul."

> The Bach Cantatas Website is a comprehensive site covering all aspects of J.S. Bach's cantatas and his other vocal works.


Carl Schalk served as assistant to Paul Bouman, the director of music at Grace Lutheran Church, from 1968 to 1997. Together they established a regular series of Bach Cantata Vespers at Grace. Schalk is preparing a written history of the cantata series. Click the icon at right to read a brief introduction.

Grace Lutheran Church and School is an independent Lutheran congregation located in River Forest, Illinois, nine miles west of downtown Chicago. 

Grace has a long tradition of excellence in liturgical worship, preaching, music and education. Sunday morning activities at Grace include worship services at 8:30 and 11 a.m., with educational programs for children, teens, and adults at 9:45 a.m. Classes for adults on Sunday mornings are often led by scholars from universities and seminaries in the Chicago area or by activists and other experts in the community.  

Grace’s baptized membership numbers nearly 1500 individuals.  Grace Lutheran School currently serves 230 children from preschool through eighth grade. 

For more information about Grace Lutheran Church and School, visit the church website at www.graceriverforest.org.

The original organ at Grace Lutheran Church, an E. M. Skinner instrument, was installed in 1931 in two organ chambers on either side of the chancel, with an Echo division in the back balcony. Its design was in accordance with the tonal philosophy of the day.

In 1956, the Schlicker Organ Company, of Buffalo, New York, was contracted to enlarge and update the original instrument. Under the direction of consultant Paul Bunjes, the organ was rebuilt along classic lines. The most notable results were an unexpressive Great division and the replacement of the enclosed Choir with a new Positif division.

In 1986, Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders Inc., of Bellwood, Illinois, rebuilt the organ, revoicing the existing pipework and adding new ranks and a new console. The result is an instrument that uplifts congregational worship and adapts well to the performance of historic and contemporary literature.

Thanks to a large gift by a Grace member family, the organ was thoroughly cleaned, revoiced, and the console upgraded in 2010.