Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Road trip

Just got back this morning from Erskine, MN -- a pretty town on the shores of a couple pretty lakes on Highway 2 in northern Minnesota. I was there last night to speak to the congregation of Grace Lutheran about their decisions to leave the ELCA. My specific task was to let them know a little about Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). Grace is a gorgeous brick church -- the building is from 1915 -- right on the southeast shore of Lake Cameron south of downtown Erskine, the Ness Cafe, and an enormous concrete northern pike my brothers and I used to climb on when we were kids.

Pastor Tim Lundeen is doing a great job leading this congregation. They were attentive and asked a ton of good questions. One of the delights of the evening was that my high school accounting teacher was in the audience -- she's been a part of this congregation since long before I was in her class in 1982!

Before going to Grace, I stopped by my brother's place and had burgers with him, then visited my aunt across the road. I stopped in at my oldest friend, Kevin's place and learned that Kevin and his dad had gone to Winger for parts, so I got to have coffee with his mom. Great fun.

Then I swung by Faaberg Lutheran Church where I was baptized. I wandered the cemetery for a while. Visited my Mom & Dad's headstone and sat in the grass. Kicked the dirt off the Schroeders' tombstone next door where a badger or a skunk had been digging. Wandered over to the northwest corner where my great grandparents, Even and Randi Krogstad, lie. I took rubbings from their headstones and brought the Norwegian phrases back to use Google Translate to figure out that Even's headstone says "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord" and Randi's says something like "May your memory be blessed". The entrance to the church was unlocked, so I snuck in and sat in the quiet sanctuary for a while, just remembering. Thought for a long time about the cumulative weight of so many hours -- Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, worship services each week plus Wednesday evenings during Advent and Lent, congregational meetings, funerals, weddings, potlucks, community events. Then there were the times my friends and I broke in (they used to lock the doors) to take advantage of the church's ping pong table or to have a quiet place to talk. All those hours are built on the foundation of my parents growing up in that same church in much the same way, and my grandparents before them being an integral part of the congregation. I sat there looking at the pipe organ, thinking how as a teenager my father sat in the bay behind it, working the bellows. (He was so relieved when the church purchased an electric fan to replace the foot bellows!)

It was pretty amazing, sitting there with all that weight of my heritage around me. What a gift to have that kind of upbringing. The baptismal font where I was baptized bears a bronze plaque that reads, "In memory of Peter G. Pederson and Fritz L. Wahlin." Peter was my mother's father. Fritz's son Johnny was one of the fixtures of my childhood, and his son was working yesterday morning with a few other guys on a project to replace some siding on the church entry. The relationships run deep in that community.

When I first got to Grace Lutheran, a few of the early arrivals helped me through the Minnesota ritual of "who are you related to, and who do we know in common?" With them it was easy, because the day before they had lunch with my godmother, Elaine, who has been a dear friend of theirs for decades.

I owe a deep, deep debt.

I guess that's why I'm so passionate about the church doing what the church needs to do -- helping people discover the love of God, tying people together in relationships that provide a net of extended family, carrying the broken ones, reaching out to the lost ones, encouraging the strong ones. The church of Jesus Christ is God's great hope for the world.

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