Tag Archive | Messiah Lutheran Church

Remember Me?

Eight months ago I stopped publishing my blog every week. Now I post an entry sporadically, averaging about one a month. The one thing I’ve been consistent about is always publishing on Tuesday morning. Today that tradition ends, too. It’s Friday. Specifically, it’s Good Friday, and there’s something on my mind that I want to share with you.

SKM_C22717041309390For the past several years, our church, Messiah Lutheran Church in Madison, has published a daily devotional booklet to be used during Lent. In January, members of the congregation are invited to volunteer to write a one-page reflection on a Bible verse that will be assigned to them. Every year volunteer writers range in age from elementary school children to very senior citizens. The resulting booklet is a wonderful devotional aid for all of us to read throughout lent. Here’s a link to this year’s booklet on the church website: http://www.messiahchurch.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2017-Lenten-Booklet-MASTER.pdf

I’ve volunteered to be one of the writers every year. But the verse assigned to me in 2014 just didn’t speak to me. I had no idea what to write about, and I discussed that concern with my partner Mim. The verse was:

Jesus crying with a loud voice said, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” Having said this, he breathed his last. Luke 23:46

Mim said, “Oh, I can write about that.” And even though Mim hates to write, she did it. She started her reflection with, “Having been a nurse for 40-plus years, I have been with many people as they have breathed their last…” It was the perfect verse for Mim to write about.

This year my verse is also from the book of Luke, and again it’s the one scheduled for Good Friday.

One of the criminals said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Luke 23:42

I decided to give my reflection double duty by posting it on this blog as well as having it appear in our church’s devotional booklet.

fullsizeoutput_204dWhy in the world did one of the criminals hanging on the cross next to Jesus ask Jesus to remember him? Why was it important to this criminal to be remembered by Jesus?  Why was the question important enough to Luke that he included it in his Gospel?

We all want to think that we matter as a person. At the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail (where I volunteer as pianist), we take time to pray for each other.  The inmates, the chaplain, and I sit in chairs arranged in a circle. Each person shares what’s going on in her life as we go around the circle sharing our thoughts and feelings. Then we pray for each other by name. The person on my left prays out loud for me. Then I pray for the person sitting on my right. Then she prays for the person on her right, and so on. Each person is remembered. Each person is important in God’s eyes. And each person needs to know that.

I think that’s why the criminal on the cross asked Jesus to remember him. He needed to know that he mattered, that Jesus would remember him. Jesus reassured him that he would. In the very next verse Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”

One of my favorite prayers in our hymnal is “Jesus, Remember Me.” It’s a simple Taize chant that repeats the words of this verse over and over again. “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.…”

Yesterday I played the piano for the women’s worship service in the Dane County Jail again. I don’t play there twice a month any more like I used to. I just play occasionally for special services. Yesterday was a special service to observe all of Holy Week, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter. That’s a lot to cover in a little more than an hour. But with all of that, we took time to sing four hymns. One of them was “Jesus, Remember Me.”

There’s no doubt in my mind that Luke had a very good reason for including the criminal’s request in his Gospel. That’s my request, too.

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Feeling Safe in our Homes Away from Home

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1975: Mim and me with a friend in front of our favorite neighborhood bar – Moody’s Pub

“Paris” is the closest experience to “Pulse” (the gay bar in Orlando) I can relate to. Twenty-five years ago, when Mim and I still lived in Chicago, occasionally we would go with a couple friends to “Paris,” a lesbian nightclub on the mid-north side of Chicago. The four of us would sit at the bar, sip on a glass of wine or an imported non-alcoholic citrus flavored sparkling water, try to carry on a conversation over the loud music, and watch dozens of women dancing together. We never ventured out on the dance floor ourselves, because growing up in a Methodist family who considered dancing sinful, I didn’t know how to dance. Going to “Paris” wasn’t our favorite means of socializing, but there’s no doubt we could feel the positive energy in the room. It felt good to be in a place where we weren’t afraid to be identified as gay. Even though we didn’t know most of the people, there was a definite sense of community in the room.

We visited with friends in our home – or theirs – more often than we went out to bars, but there were three other bars in Chicago that we frequented more regularly than “Paris.”

SKMBT_C28016061408070When I was going to grad school a couple evenings a week, sometimes Mim would meet me after class and we would walk to “Sherlock’s Home.” The atmosphere was just as I imagined a personal library in an old English mansion to be like. There was no bar to sit around. Instead the darkened room was scattered with small groupings of leather wingback chairs, end tables, and floor lamps. The walls were lined floor to ceiling with old hardcover books. Mim and I would usually share a plate of French bread, baked brie, and fresh fruit along with a couple glasses of wine as we talked about our days. It was a good way to unwind at the end of very busy days.

Whenever we had out-of-town guests, and we thought they would enjoy seeing the more elegant side of Chicago, we would take them to the lounge of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel atop Water Tower Place downtown. The lounge was like a very large living room with lots of groupings of sofas, easy chairs, and coffee tables. Each coffee table had a crystal dish filled with mixed nuts (no peanuts!). One wall of the room was all glass, revealing magnificent views of the “Magnificent Mile” – Michigan Avenue lined with Chicago’s most exclusive shops. There was a grand piano in the room, and usually a pianist was playing Broadway tunes.

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Moody’s cheeseburgers are often rated the best in Chicago.

“Moody’s Pub” was our most usual bar to go to. It was a neighborhood bar that had the best burgers anywhere. We’re still trying to find a bar in Wisconsin that measures up to the standard they set. We went there often enough that George, the waitress, knew what we wanted and brought us a bottle of our favorite wine when she came to confirm our order of two cheeseburgers, medium and medium well, no onion and extra pickles.

Although I grew up never darkening the door of a bar, I have learned that bars play an important role in our lives – a home away from home to get together with friends, share a meal or a drink, and enjoy each other’s company. A bar is a place of comfort, as well as a place for excitement. It’s a place to get together with like-minded souls.

The people who gathered at “Pulse” in Orlando last Saturday night – people who were celebrating their God-given gift of being created gay – suffered a terrible loss. A hundred of them were injured or killed by one person shooting a highly efficient assault weapon. And in addition to the tragedy of those deaths and injuries, thousands, even millions of people worldwide suffered a loss in their sense of safety. Is it safe to go to a gay bar any more? Is it safe to participate in a gay pride parade in any city – even Madison? Is it even safe to go to school? Or church? Or a movie theater? Can we feel safe anywhere outside of our homes?

Personally, I feel pretty safe living in Cambridge, Wisconsin. But I know I would feel safer if we had better gun control laws. I would also feel safer if we as a society made it a priority to learn to respect people who are different from us – a different race, a different nationality, a different sexual orientation, a different religion, a different socio-economic status… I would feel much, much safer if we placed a higher priority on loving our neighbor.

One of the Psalms we sing fairly often at Messiah Lutheran Church is “Psalm 27: The Lord is My Light.” Here are the words as we sing them.

Refrain:
The Lord is my light and my salvation,
of whom shall I be afraid, of whom shall I be afraid?

The Lord is my light and my help; whom should I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom should I shrink?

There is one thing I ask of the Lord; for this I long:
to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.

I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living;
hope in God, and take heart. Hope in the Lord!

Text:  Psalm 27:1-2, 4, 13-14; David Haas
Music:  David Haas   ©️1983, GIA Publications, Inc.

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Last summer Mim and I went back to Moody’s. We joined an old friend in the beer garden for Sangria and burgers.

I Planned and God Laughed

Marian at Messiah organ 5Thursday was just one of those days. I usually try to go to church to practice the organ for a couple hours about 9:00 every Thursday morning. Last Thursday I was running behind schedule because of being away at Christmas Mountain for a 3-day getaway earlier in the week, and I didn’t have any music picked out to play for the Saturday and Sunday services yet. I had tried to pick out the music Wednesday evening, but I was just too tired.

I always read the scriptures for the service and try to select a prelude, postlude, and any special music that relates to the theme of the service. Early Thursday morning I tried to think of appropriate music, but nothing came to mind. As I paged through several music books for ideas, I realized I’d be pretty late for my church practice time. I called Annette at church to let her know I was still coming, but would be there late morning or early afternoon. I got there about 11:30, carrying a dozen music books of possible preludes and postludes. The first book I opened up had the perfect prelude. The second book had just the right postlude. Amazing.

As I was practicing, my friend Peggy just happened to drop in the church. I hadn’t seen her in more than four months. What an unexpected, pleasant surprise! We made plans to go out to dinner that evening.

I went back to practicing, and then Clyde, the church director of music who just happens to work nearby, dropped in during his lunch hour. Great! I had some music questions for him about the hymns selected for Sunday. We had a good chance to go over them.

A few minutes later Pastor Jeff came into the sanctuary where I was practicing. We chatted for a few minutes, and then I reached for my phone to check my calendar to see if I would be available to play for a funeral in the next week or so.

As I finished up my practicing I thought about how good it was that I had practiced later than I had planned. God knew that a later practice time would enable me to meet up with all these people!

blueberry6ozAs I was sitting in my car, ready to leave the church parking lot, I called Mim, who was away for her 3-day getaway at Christmas Mountain. (We had split the week between us.) Our youngest resident (only 94) had asked me at breakfast if we could get some more fresh blueberries from Costco. They had been so big, sweet, and juicy, and she loved to have them on her cereal. Mim had been at Costco earlier in the week, and I wanted to ask her if she knew if they still had those special blueberries when she was there. If so, I would go to Costco on my way home. Mim said she thought they had some, but she suggested that I stop at Metro Market, right by church, instead. They have a big produce section and would probably have good blueberries, and they were much closer than Costco.

So that’s what I did. I left the church parking lot and drove to Metro Market. Unfortunately, they didn’t have nice big blueberries, but they did have honey crisp apples. So I bought a bag of them, checked out, and went to the car.

o-IPHONE-6-facebookI reached for my cellphone in my pocket, and it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out of my pocket when I got out of the car, so I searched the ground near the car, but I didn’t find it. I searched the car. No luck. I re-traced my steps through the parking lot into the store and throughout the store. No luck. I went to the information desk in the store to see if anyone had turned in the phone. No one had. A check-out clerk suggested that I take her phone, call my phone to make it ring, and re-trace my steps throughout the store. It must have fallen out of my pocket somewhere. I did what she suggested. No luck. I asked her if I could take her phone out to my car to see if I could hear my phone ringing in the parking lot or in my car. She said sure. Again, no luck. I returned her phone, and left my name and home phone number at the information desk at Metro Market so they could call me if anyone turned in my phone.

Pretty frustrated, but appreciative of the helpfulness of everyone at Metro Market, I left the parking lot and drove to Costco for blueberries. They still had them – and they really are delicious! About an hour had passed, so I decided to stop at Metro Market again before heading home – just in case someone had turned in the phone. No luck.

I arrived home about 4:00. The plan was for me to pick up Peggy at 5:00 and we would drive to a restaurant in Fort for an early dinner. I decided to call the US Cellular store in Fort to ask them to de-activate the phone and download my info onto a new phone for me to pick up the next day. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), my call went to voicemail, and I did not leave a message. Apparently, everyone was with customers. I tried calling the Lake Mills store. Same result.

I decided to call Peggy and suggest changing our plans. I said, “Let’s go to Lake Mills instead and stop at the US Cellular store first, and then go out to dinner in Lake Mills.” She was game for the change in plans.

I picked her up and we drove to Lake Mills. A US Cellular representative greeted us as we walked through the door of the store. I explained my predicament, and he said, “Let’s try to find your phone first.” I gave him my cell phone number and my Apple password. He keyed that info into his computer, and a green dot showed up on a map on his computer screen. There was my phone. The green dot was just north of Cottage Grove Road and just west of the Interstate. That looked like the location of church. The phone must have fallen out of my pocket in the parking lot of the church just before I drove away.

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I had parked my car in the first handicapped parking space, in front of the smaller window.

Peggy and I abandoned our plan to have dinner in Lake Mills, and drove back to Madison, to church. I looked around the handicapped parking space where I had parked earlier in the day. No phone. The church was locked, but I had a key, so we went inside to see if someone had brought the phone inside. It wasn’t in the gathering space. I checked my mail slot in the office. Not there. Maybe it would be in my music slot by the organ. As I walked toward the organ, I spied it sitting on the piano. That’s where I had put it after Pastor Jeff and I had talked and I had entered the funeral into my calendar in my phone. I was so happy to have my phone in my hands again.

As we were ready to leave the church, I saw an elderly man trying to get into the church, but the doors were locked. I went to see what he wanted, and he asked if this is where the “whittling” was happening. I had heard people downstairs, so I asked him to wait with Peggy while I ran downstairs to see if that was the group. Sure enough, it was a wood carving group meeting. I went back upstairs, and showed him to the elevator so that he could go downstairs and join the “whittlers.”

I guess God needed someone to be near the main entrance of the church about that time to welcome this elderly stranger. I’m not quite sure why God chose Peggy and me to be the ones to welcome him, but I’m glad we were at the right place at the right time.

Prius VAs I was thinking back over the day, one of the most amazing things is that I did not consider at all the possibility that I might have left my phone in church. I knew I had my phone with me when I left the church because I sat in my car and called Mim to ask about blueberries before I left the church parking lot. My fancy new Toyota Prius V has the feature that my phone automatically connects with the car when I step into the car if my phone is with me. I make and receive phone calls through buttons on the dash and steering wheel. Apparently, there was a straight shot where I left my phone on the piano in church, through the church window, through my windshield, and to the phone interface of the car. And the signal between the phone and the car interface was strong enough to connect.

I’m sure God had a good laugh all day long about the intersections of my plans and God’s plans. When God finally let Peggy and me in on the joke, we laughed, too, as we dined on a great dinner at Angelo’s Italian restaurant on Monona Drive, not far from church.

My day certainly didn’t go according to my plans. God’s plans were much better – especially the way they ended!

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Angelo’s – a great place to end our day!

Amen, Papa, Amen.

My mom used to tell the story about one of her best childhood friends, Ruth Eckblad. Ruth’s father was pastor of the Willerup Methodist Church in Cambridge, Wisconsin for a few years in the early 1900s. One day when Ruth was a little girl, she got tired of sitting in church and being quiet for what seemed to be an awfully long time. Finally she stood up on the pew and said loudly enough for her father who was at the pulpit preaching (and the whole congregation) to hear, “Amen, Papa, Amen.”

1930s Willerup Preacher

Inside Willerup Methodist Church in the early 1900s.

Mom told that story often enough that “Amen, Papa, Amen” became a family expression that meant, “That’s enough for now. Let’s move on to something else.”

Well, it’s about that time of the year to say, “Amen, Papa, Amen” to 2015 and to welcome a new year.

Near to the Heart of GodLast Sunday’s hymn in the devotional book, Near to the Heart of God: Meditations on 366 Best-Loved Hymns was “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” composed by Peter C. Lutkin. As you read the words  below, I’m sure many of you who have been members of church choirs will hear this benediction being sung in your mind as a beautiful choir anthem, especially the 7-fold Amen at the end.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord lift His countenance upon you,
And give you peace, and give you peace;
The Lord make His face to shine upon you,
And be gracious, and be gracious;
The Lord be gracious, gracious unto you.
Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen.

The reflection for the day was on benedictions. The word benediction was defined as a “Latin-based term meaning a concluding prayer of blessing.” The author, Robert J. Morgan, cited several different benedictions given in the Bible. His favorite benediction is from Hebrews 13:20-21, “May the God of peace … equip you with everything good for doing his will.” (NIV) His wife’s favorite is Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (NIV)

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Pastor Jeff at Messiah

My favorite benediction is the one Pastor Jeff says at the end of every service at Messiah:

May God go before you to guide you;
Be behind you to encourage you;
Above you to watch over you:
And beneath you to support you.
But may you discover the presence of God within you,
And know that God will always be your friend.
Amen.

As I was drafting this blog post, Floey came up to me and asked, “What are you doing, Mom?”

“I’m writing my blog post, and it’s kind of a benediction as we move on from 2015 and into a new year.” I read to her what I’d written so far.

Floey sitting - profile cropped“I like that, Mom. It’s good to think about God blessing us as we move into a new year. I especially like Pastor Jeff’s benediction. I like being reminded that God is guiding me, encouraging me, watching over me, supporting me, being within me, and being my friend.”

“Yes. Isn’t it comforting to know that God is with us as we begin the new year,” I replied.

“It sure is, Mom. I was going to offer to help you write your blog this week, but you’re almost done. Can I blog with you next week? I want to blog about our special words for 2016. I’m so excited. I can hardly wait to tell you what my new word is. You’ll never guess it.”

“Great! We’ll work on it together next week. I’ve chosen my special word for 2016, too. We’ll check with Mim to find out her new word, and we’ll reveal them to everyone next week!”

Meanwhile, it’s time to move on to something else – just about time to begin our New Year! Amen, Papa, Amen!

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An Odd Gift

Some forty years ago, I received a really odd gift from my parents. I had recently graduated from college and was living in a small town in Connecticut. I had become a high school English teacher. My parents gave me, as a gift, their used manure spreader. It wasn’t a particularly practical gift for me. Since I was in the process of furnishing my first apartment, lots of other gifts would have been much more practical.

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This is kind of what my manure spreader looked like. It was definitely the oddest gift I ever received.

I can still picture Mom and Dad grinning at me when they told me about their gift. Dad had just retired from farming (mostly). He had sold the cows, and they no longer had chickens. Mom had already retired from her secretarial job in Madison, and they planned to spend a couple winter months down south each year as long as they could travel.

As a retired farmer, Dad no longer had a need for his manure spreader, nor most of his other farming equipment. However, my sister Nancy’s school-age kids were becoming more and more interested in farming after having moved to a 7-acre farmette a few miles from Cambridge. Dad gave them his old red “H” tractor to get them started with farming.

The old

The old “H” tractor

Dad gave his smaller and newer Ford tractor to my brother Danny with the understanding that he could still use it when he needed it. Danny was starting up a landscaping business and could make good use of the Ford.

Working up the soil for his last garden

Dad driving his little Ford tractor – working up the soil for his last garden – 1991

My parents felt they couldn’t just give the tractors to Nancy and Danny and not give me anything, so they decided I should get the manure spreader. Fortunately, Nancy’s kids had recently bought a small herd of goats to inhabit their barn. They quickly learned they needed a manure spreader, so I was able to sell it to them for a couple hundred dollars – which enabled me to buy more furnishings for my apartment in Connecticut. The gift proved to be practical after all.

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Manure spreader and tractor working together again.

What brought this gift to mind again was a trip that Mim and I took to Minnesota last weekend. It was Mim’s 50th class reunion from Kenyon High School. For about five hours on Friday we drove through western Wisconsin and southern Minnesota farmland to get to Kenyon. We saw lots of fields of golden ripe corn and soybeans ready to be harvested, many fields in the process of being harvested, and a few fields that were already bare. As we drove by some of the bare fields, Mim asked, “What’s that awful smell?” I agreed the smell was very strong and unpleasant. Then I saw a truck and some tubing in one of those fields and I figured it out. They were spreading aged, liquefied, and concentrated manure from the large dairy operations on the fields to begin to fertilize the ground for next year’s crops.

Mim and I talked about how it used to smell back in the 1950s and 1960s when farmers spread manure on their harvested fields. The odor wasn’t pleasant but it wasn’t nearly as strong as what we smelled on Friday. But what we smelled, and figured out, brought back very pleasant memories of the most unusual gift of my lifetime – a used manure spreader. Mim said I had never told her that story before. Even though we’ve lived together almost 43 years, I guess we still don’t know quite everything about each other.

Spending many hours in the car last weekend gave me lots of time to think. One of the things I thought about after telling Mim this story is GIFTS – gifts I have received, gifts I have given, and gifts I know about that other people have given or received.

Heifer CatalogThe children in the Sunday school of the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge where I play the organ a couple Sundays a month, regularly raise money and also invite the congregation to join them in making donations, and then they go shopping in the Heifer International catalog and decide which gifts to buy for families that need just those gifts – chickens, ducks, rabbits, honeybees, goats, or even a heifer.

Similarly, the Lutheran Church (ELCA) on the national level has created a program called “Good Gifts” where you can donate money and choose farm animals to give to a family in need. Last year, instead of giving Christmas presents to the people who work for us in our assisted living business, we donated money to the “Good Gifts” program in their name, so that a needy family somewhere in the world could receive a cow to help them live a better life. I know one year my brother’s grandchildren “gave him” several different farm animals for Christmas through the “Good Gifts” program. He was happier with those gifts than anything else he was given for Christmas that year.

After spending quite a bit of time last weekend thinking about odd gifts, practical gifts, generous gifts, and the whole concept of giving gifts, I encourage anyone to do the same thing – to think about your lifetime of giving and receiving gifts. I really enjoyed remembering the gift of the manure spreader, and lots of other good gift stories of my lifetime. It reminded me of James 1:17, “Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above …” [New Revised Standard Version]

I guess thinking about gifts ties in nicely with my word for 2015 – gratitude. I’m grateful to God for the many gifts I have received in my lifetime – even the manure spreader, and especially the gift of the foul smell this weekend that brought back these wonderful memories. I’m also grateful to God for the opportunities I’ve had to give gifts and be able to share joy (my special word for 2014) through gift-giving.

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These children received the gift of a goat through Heifer International. Through these gifts they also received the gift of milk, and the gift of hope for a brighter future.

Living inside a Broadway Musical

Last weekend was like living inside a Broadway musical – like “The Sound of Music.” Life wasn’t an opera – our conversations were spoken, not sung – but the whole weekend seemed to flow from one musical moment to the next. It’s almost like we were taking the message of the Psalms – to sing to the Lord – very literally.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
[Psalm 98:4-6 NRSV]

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Sam Hutchison at the Overture Center organ.

Saturday started with a magnificent Christmas Carol Sing at the Overture Center in Madison. By the time we arrived for the free sing-along (about 15 minutes early for the 11:00 a.m. event), the main floor was already filled and we were directed to the circle (lowest balcony), which was already filling up quickly. About a thousand people had gathered to sing Christmas carols under the direction of organist Sam Hutchison and the powerful Overture Center organ. What a sound we made – from the mighty organ leading us in “O Come, All Ye Faithful” to the gentle “Away in a Manger.” Hutchison introduced each carol with a brief explanation of its origin, and then directed us to sing with all our heart and soul.  Hutchison also played two organ solos. For the first one, “Chorale-Improvisation on In Dulci Jubilo,” he promised he would sound every one of the 4,000-plus pipes of the organ so that we could hear all the sounds possible from this amazing instrument. The Carol Sing ended with “The First Nowell.” Dozens of sopranos (including Mim standing next to me) sang the beautiful soaring descant on the refrain. What an inspiring way to end the morning!

After singing our hearts out, we went to a neighborhood bakery for lunch, and then home to rest up a little to be ready for more music. While at home, I practiced the music I would be playing for the Saturday evening worship service at Messiah. Then we turned around and went back to Madison for church.

Marian at organ-MessiahI played my favorite Advent prelude, an organ arrangement of “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Mim sang “Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah” as the Advent candles were lit. As usual, Jeff delivered an inspiring homily, one that included the song, “I thank you, Lord, for each new day.” The service ended with a new favorite piano postlude, an arrangement of “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.” This is the time of year for great church music!

Caroling in Overture Center

Caroling with the Madison Symphony Chorus in the Lobby of Overture Hall.

After church we ate a quick supper at Culver’s and drove to the Overture Center again for the Madison Symphony Orchestra Christmas concert. But the real highlight of the whole weekend came before this concert began. The three-level Overture Hall Lobby served as an incredible space for another Christmas Carol Sing-along. The Madison Symphony Chorus lined the second-level railing to sing carols a capella with their director Beverly Taylor on the lower level, where concert-goers gathered to join in the singing. Our voices filled the three-level space with the most beautiful sound imaginable. I think it was a preview of the sounds we’ll hear in heaven when we sing with the angels.

For the concert, the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Chorus were joined by the Madison Youth Choirs, the Mt. Zion Gospel Choir, and two soloists – a soprano and a tenor. The music was as varied as could be – classical, black gospel, traditional Christmas, and contemporary holiday music. It was a fun concert. My favorite piece came just before the intermission – the “Hallelujah Chorus” with the symphony, all the choirs, and the audience making wonderful music together.

Madison Symphony Christmas Concert in Overture Hall

My view Saturday night from the top balcony in Overture Hall. The Madison Symphony Orchestra, Madison Symphony Choir, guest choirs, and a few extra heads in my line of vision.

But the music of the weekend wasn’t over yet. On Sunday afternoon, the Monona Senior Choir – a group of about 50 singers – performed a delightful Christmas concert in the community room of our church in Madison. This was one of those concerts where my mouth just froze into a smile because I was having so much fun listening to the music. The concert opened with an arrangement that blended “Joy to the World” with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” A few songs later, a good friend of mine, dressed in a red union suit, sang “Winter Underwear” to the tune of “Winter Wonderland.” The concert ended with two little girls, granddaughters of the director, signing “Silent Night” while the violinist played the melody. What a wonderful ending to my weekend of living inside a Christmas musical.

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Some of the members of the Monona Senior Choir, with director Jan Piddington – taking a break during their concert.

Music truly is one of the greatest gifts God has given us. Advent and Christmas are special times to be reminded of this gift.

Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;
let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
[Isaiah 12:5-6 NRSV]

 

 

“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”