There’s a memory so vague in my mind that I sometimes wonder if I made this up. I remember an evening in the Pink House when I was six or eight years old. My brother Linn was there, maybe Eric, too. Mom and Grandma had to have been there, but the one other guest I think I remember was Pastor Keller.
There wasn’t much religion in Grandma’s family. Of her four kids, only my mother caught the church bug, and I think this was the night that marked their transition to Christianity. Pastor Keller baptized all of us that evening, and it started my long term relationship with St. John’s Lutheran Church in Jamestown, ND.
The church wasn’t the center of our life, but a lot of my activities took place there. We went to church most Sundays, and Sunday School was a big part of my education. I sang in the kids choir for a time, much to my friend Mark’s consternation. I still can’t carry a tune. There were a couple of key events that have stuck with me, events that taught me a lot about life.
I learned to listen to what was being said. One morning in Sunday school the teacher had us play the telephone game, the one where you pass the story around the room and see what story comes out the other end. I was the weak link in the chain. When the girl next to me told me the story, I changed and left out many of the key elements. Since then I’ve tried to listen well. That can cause consternation in church as the stories sometimes don’t match very well.
I learned patience, or demonstrated my lack of it when dealing with children. For some reason I was asked to help teach at Bible School. Once. The details of the event have faded to almost black, but the outcome is perfect in my memory. The student left the room crying, and I walked out of the classroom and didn’t come back. My tolerance for children has improved greatly since then, especially with my grand children, but don’t leave your young children alone with me. Perhaps I did not learn that lesson in patience very well.
Confirmation class played a big part of my Junior High and early Senior High life. Last week you read about my friend Sandy who was in the class with me. A couple of my buddies were in the class, too. Alan came over from Trinity Lutheran to learn the catechism with Mark and me. Mark was my best friend in grade school and remained a good friend for years, even to being part of our wedding. We all learned so much about the Lutheran Church, but memorization didn’t fit well with my life plans. I passed the confirmation final exam only because the church leadership had mercy on me. I needed a lot. This morning at church I had to get the Book of Common Prayer out to have the words of the Nicene Creed in front of me. I know what it says, but the words still escape me.
I learned my spiritual beliefs, and how they don’t match very well with traditional Lutheran dogma. This became clear to me one summer on a trip to a Lutheran Youth Convention in Grand Forks, ND. I was the president of our Luther League, so had the chance to go to the convention. The seminal event here was a long conversation with a young lady who fervently believed the Lutheran story. As we talked into the night I realized that while there were a lot of things I liked about the church, including that young lady, there were a lot of things I just couldn’t buy in to. Even today, if you watch me closely while I’m saying the Nicene Creed you might see my eyes roll.
My love of music developed at St. John’s. As a child, then a teenager, I listened to youth music, but the church pipe organ was what caught my ear. For whatever reason I fell in love with the sound of the pipe organ and truly wanted to learn to play it. My total and complete lack of talent got in the way. In next week’s post I will relate my experience playing the organ. My love of the pipe organ continues, I try to get to several recitals and concerts each year.
I learned a lot of other lessons at the church. How to make friends. How to organize a meeting and an event. That I have a lot of trouble memorizing. (I still cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer or the Creed.) That a church community is an essential part of my life.