Handel's "Messiah" has been performed annually in Lindsborg since 1882. Dr. Carl Aaron Swensson, the founder of Bethany College and pastor at Bethany Lutheran Church, was introduced to it by Pastor Olof Olsson, a Lindsborg pioneer who had moved to Augustana College, Illinois. Mrs. Swensson, a talented musician, organized singers from neighboring churches to join the choir of Bethany College. "Messiah" rehearsals began in December 1881. Many of the singers could neither read music nor speak English. The first Easter Concert was given March 28, 1882. There were 75 singers. Eventually the chorus grew to over 500 voices. In addition to their annual Holy Week concerts in Lindsborg, the Bethany Oratorio Society performed "Messiah' for 8000 soldiers at Fort Riley in 1919. They have also given concerts in Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas City, Topeka, and in 1997 at Carnegie Hall in New York City.
The "Messiah" has had four homes in Lindsborg: Bethany Church, and Old Main, Ling Auditorium and Presser Hall on the Bethany College campus. Alma Swensson was the conductor of the chorus the first three years. Dr. Hagbard Brase conducted the longest—31 years, from 1915 to 1946. Dr. Elmer Copley conducted for 28 years, 1960 to 1988. NBC Radio broadcast a live performance in 1939 that was heard nationwide. The Easter Sunday performances were broadcast
live on PBS television in 1981 and 1986. There have been 24 conductors since "Messiah" began in Lindsborg more than 125 years ago. In addition there have been talented soloists, organists, orchestra musicians and devoted chorus members that are beyond number.