Tag Archive | church family

“Family”

Mim and Marian eating lutefisk dinner at St. Olaf College about 40 years ago.

Mim and Marian eating lutefisk dinner
at St. Olaf College about 40 years ago.

About 40 years ago, I went “home” with Mim for the first time. We drove from Chicago to Kenyon, Minnesota, at least a seven-hour drive, the first weekend in December. In Kenyon, we picked up Mim’s mom, Selma, and drove another 15 miles to go to the St. Olaf College Christmas concert. Mim’s mom, who worked in food service at St. Olaf, was able to get us tickets for the concert, a major achievement for a very popular annual concert.  That was the first of many St. Olaf Christmas concerts I went to with Mim and her mom.

That was also the first time I went with Mim to her home church, Gol Lutheran Church in rural Kenyon. It had been Mim’s family church on her mom’s side for four generations, ever since they immigrated from Norway. Also, Mim’s dad had been the pastor at Gol for 20years.

Mim - Selma outside church 125th adjMy first reaction to Mim’s church was – what a beautiful old country church. I was a little frustrated with trying to follow the liturgy, which was much more structured than I was used to, having grown up a Methodist. Mim’s mom was proud to have her daughter and her roommate home for the weekend, so we stood around and talked to a lot of people after the service. That was not my favorite part of the weekend! Making small talk with strangers has never been one of my strengths.

Over the next 20 years, Mim and I went to Kenyon to visit Selma one or two weekends a year, and we always went to church with her. Gradually, I got to know a few of the people in the church and I started to feel a little more at home there.

Mim - Selma by organ 125th cropped

Mim and Selma at Gol’s 125th Anniversary

In 1989, Gol celebrated its 125th anniversary in style. Mim and I joined Selma for the whole weekend, and we all enjoyed lots of music, lots of eating, lots of picture taking, and an original play that taught us lots about Gol church history.

Twenty-five years later, last weekend, Gol celebrated its 150th anniversary. Mim really wanted to participate in the celebration. I was considerably less enthusiastic about spending a whole weekend in Kenyon, Minnesota with a couple hundred people I didn’t know.  At best, I might know two or three people. But, I figured this is one of those things you have to do for family. So we spent the weekend in Minnesota.

Much to my surprise, I had a great time all weekend. “Family” really is the key word. As Philip Yancey, one of my favorite authors, has said, “I go to church as an expression of my need for God and for God’s family.” We spent the weekend with one particular branch of God’s family. We were with about 250 of God’s family members – almost all of Norwegian descent. I think everyone had great appreciation for Norwegian-American church history, food, and music. Of the 250 people, I recognized about a dozen of them from my previous visits to Gol. Mim introduced me to about another dozen of her old friends. All 24 of them were people I enjoyed visiting with. I’ll have to admit, it was kind of fun to get together with this big extended church family.

The Rev. John Hagen, a former pastor of Gol, preached briefly from the steps of the farmhouse where the congregation met before the church was built.

The Rev. John Hagen, a former pastor of Gol, preached briefly from the steps of the farmhouse where the congregation had met before the church was built.

Finally I’m beginning to understand that my extended church family is growing bigger and bigger. It started with the church of my childhood  – Willerup United Methodist Church in Cambridge. Even though Willerup is no longer the church where I regularly go to worship God, I still feel connected to some of God’s family members who worship there. I also feel connected to the building itself where I spent literally thousands of hours (on average 4 hours per week, 52 weeks a year, 18 years plus 4 summers during my college years) learning about God. I also feel a connection to the cemetery next door where my parents, grandparents, great grandparents, and other relatives are buried.

My growing extended church family also includes members of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Chicago, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, as well as other churches I have been a part of over the years. And since Gol is a big part of Mim’s church family, it has also become part of my church family.

The more I think about my extended church family, the more I realize how big it really is. Beyond all the church family members I know personally, God’s family is described in the Bible this way:

Now you are no longer strangers to God and foreigners to heaven, but you are members of God’s very own family, citizens of God’s country, and you belong in God’s household with every other Christian. What a foundation you stand on now: the apostles and the prophets; and the cornerstone of the building is Jesus Christ himself! We who believe are carefully joined together with Christ as parts of a beautiful, constantly growing temple for God. And you also are joined with him and with each other by the Spirit, and are part of this dwelling place of God. [Ephesians 2:19-22 The Living Bible]

Spending last weekend with all the people celebrating the 150-year history of one small branch of God’s family in Minnesota reminded me of the Bill Gaither song, “The Family of God.” Here’s the chorus:

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod;
For I’m part of the family, the family of God.

Gol Group Picture 125th

“Part of the family, the family of God”

Why did we do it?

Mim and Marian Wedding September 15, 2013 Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Mim and Marian Wedding, September 15, 2013
Harbo Chapel at Augsburg College, Minneapolis

Sunday in church our pastor announced to the congregation that Mim and I were married in Minneapolis last weekend, after living together 40 years. Seated on the organ bench, which is near the front of the sanctuary, I looked out over all the people who had great big smiles on their faces as they applauded us. (There may have been a few looks of disapproval, but I didn’t notice them.) It was wonderful to feel the warmth of our church family.

After the service, while I was playing the postlude, several people patted me on the back or gave me a hug and said congratulations. One choir member asked me, “Why did you get married now, after 40 years?” Since I was in the middle of playing a loud, exuberant arrangement of “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand” I said I’d tell her later.

Mim and I have always enjoyed making music together.

We have always enjoyed making music together.

I guess that’s a good question – why did Mim and I finally get married? Probably many other people, including my brother and some of our nieces and nephews, are wondering the same thing. Let me explain by telling a little of our personal story.

Mim and I met each other in a small group Bible study in Chicago on February 1, 1973. After the Bible study, when everyone was talking over coffee, Mim learned that I was moving to Chicago to accept a new job as an editorial researcher for The World Book Encyclopedia, and that I was looking for an apartment. Mim invited me to stay with her until I could find my own place. We became friends, and I never moved out.

Sixteen years later, on January 24, 1989, our Lutheran pastor in Chicago officiated at a Blessing Ceremony for us in lieu of a wedding. Having a wedding wasn’t a legal option at that time. In our Blessing Ceremony, we made a commitment before God, our pastor, and other witnesses to love and be faithful to each other for the rest of our lives. The ceremony was accompanied by the signing of wills and power of attorney documents to approximate the most important legal protections a marriage automatically provides.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

With our pastor Steve at our Blessing Ceremony, January 24, 1989.

Our Chicago pastor kiddingly reminded me on Facebook last week that that was our REAL wedding, back in 1989! We agree. That’s when we committed ourselves to each other, and the church blessed our commitment.

This year many of the legal prohibitions against same-sex marriage have been dissolved, both at the federal level and in several states, including Minnesota, but not in Wisconsin. Mim and I have been planning for an eventual move to Minnesota in order to provide better protection to each other as we begin to face the inevitable challenges of aging. And then last month, a big change happened. The Federal Department of Treasury announced that the Federal Government will recognize all legally performed same-sex marriages, regardless of whether or not the couple resides in the state where the marriage was performed. The impact of that change is huge for couples like us.  We could get married in Minnesota and still live in Wisconsin, and the Federal Government would recognize our marriage.

The Department of Treasury made that announcement on Thursday, August 29, 2013. By Saturday, August 31, Mim and I were planning our wedding. The following Wednesday, September 4, we made a day trip to Minneapolis to get our marriage license and reserve the small chapel at Augsburg College, Mim’s alma mater, located near downtown Minneapolis, for our wedding.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

A small round table served as our altar in the chapel.

On Sunday, September 15, 2013 Mim and I were married in a small ceremony. The officiant was a spiritual director and former Augsburg classmate of Mim. The witnesses were two close friends of ours who live in the Twin Cities area. After the ceremony, we all enjoyed a celebratory dinner at True Thai restaurant near Augsburg. Mim and I spent Monday visiting friends in southern Minnesota and then we drove back home to Cambridge.

Are our lives any different now that we are legally married? Not really. Our day-to-day living is the same as it has been for many years. We have been a family since God brought us together. But now we feel a little more secure, knowing that, at least on the federal level, our basic rights as a family are protected.

We have not abandoned our plans to move to Minnesota in the future, because Wisconsin still does not provide us many important rights that other married couples have – such as the right to be treated as a spouse when the other member of the couple is hospitalized. Mim and I expect that all states, even Wisconsin, will fully honor same-sex marriages eventually. That may happen in a few years, or perhaps it may take a decade or two. Since Mim and I are already in our sixties, we don’t know how long we can wait for Wisconsin to catch up to Minnesota and other states in treating us the same as any other married couple.

But for now, we are happily married and residing in Wisconsin – already having celebrated our 40th anniversary of living together; being almost ready to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our commitment to each other being blessed by the church; and just beginning our first year of “legal marriage.”

We recreated the altar on our piano at home. Something old: The candelabra were used in her parents' wedding.  Something new: The flowers. Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church. Something blue: The votive candle.

We recreated the altar on our piano at home.
Something old: The candelabra were used in Mim’s parents’ wedding.
Something new: My sister-in-law had more fresh flowers waiting for us.
Something borrowed: The cross was borrowed from our church.
Something blue: We had lots of blue!

My Mom’s Wedding Ring

My mom's wedding ring is a simple gold band with seven tiny diamond chips set in the top quarter of the band.

My mom’s wedding ring is a simple gold band with seven tiny diamond chips set in the top quarter of the band.

I wore my mom’s wedding ring to church on Sunday. I sometimes wear the ring when I want to feel that Mom is especially close to me. Often that’s when I’m planning to play some extra special music on the piano or organ at church, and I know Mom would really enjoy listening to it. I usually wear it to church on Christmas Eve when I play lots of Christmas music on both the piano and organ, and lead the congregation in singing Christmas carols.

I wore the ring last Sunday because it was my last Sunday of being an organist of East Koshkonong Lutheran Church. I’ve been half-time organist there for exactly one year to the day. I may still play at East occasionally as a substitute, but I’ve decided to stop playing there regularly, and will be playing more often at my home church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison.

East Koshkonong Lutheran Church is a beautiful old country church about 5 miles southwest of Cambridge.

East Koshkonong Lutheran Church is a beautiful old country church about 5 miles southwest of Cambridge. The sanctuary has some of the most beautiful stained glass windows I have ever seen. The organ and piano are in the balcony.

For my last regular Sunday at East, I played an extended prelude, about fifteen minutes. First I played two arrangements of my mom’s favorite gospel songs on the piano – “His Eye Is on the Sparrow” and “In the Garden.” Then I played one of my favorite piano arrangements that weaves together two hymns – “It Is Well with My Soul” and “Be Still My Soul.” Then I moved to the organ and played a transcription of “Finlandia” – the original source of the tune for the hymn “Be Still My Soul.” I’m pretty sure my mom was listening.

After church I was honored with a special coffee hour. I was a little uncomfortable with being the center of attention. (I got that trait from my mom. My dad would have loved the attention.) But it really was nice to have so many people come up to me to tell me how much they had enjoyed my playing over the past year. Some of them have become good friends and I’ll miss seeing them regularly. Others I had not met previously, but it was nice to know they had enjoyed my music and they wanted me to know that.

I’m very thankful for the experience I’ve had over the past year of becoming a part of the church family that worships together at East. I guess I’ll still consider the people at East to be part of my “extended church family,” and I’ll look forward to subbing there occasionally to be able to worship together again.

That reminds me of a song written by Bill Gaither. It was a favorite of one of our assisted living residents, Mary Borgerud, and we used to sing it together frequently when she lived with us.

I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God –
I’ve been washed in the fountain, cleansed by His blood!
Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod;
For I’m part of the family, the family of God.

My mom liked that song, too. Maybe I should wear her ring more often to be reminded that we’re always in the company of a really big extended family, the family of God.

Moms Ring on hand playing piano cropped