Thursday, January 02, 2014

Holding the stories

A. Hanson 2012
One of my absolute favorite parts of my ministry is to visit with people and hear their stories. Sometimes this is a formal setting, often times it is in passing.  Nothing brings me greater joy than sitting with someone and hearing what makes them happy, what makes them sad, and what challenges them.  It is for this reason that I almost always accept invitations for lunch, dinner, or coffee with parishioners and the reason that I have weekly office hours at the local coffee shop.  These stories give a richness to ministry that cannot be found by just leading worship or attending committee meetings.

The town where I live, St Peter, Minnesota, experienced a devastating tornado in 1998.  This natural disaster has formed the landscape of the town, the community of people, and the way that this town approaches life together.  Today I had the opportunity to have lunch with a couple parishioners who told me stories of that day and its immediate aftermath.  My congregation's building was untouched by the tornado, and it was the only church building in town that did not sustain some sort of damage. As a result, the church parking lot was used as the nerve center for relief efforts and the building itself was used as a meeting space for all sorts of community groups.  The Catholic church was destroyed in the tornado, and it was on Maundy Thursday in 1998, just about a week and a half after the tornado, that First Lutheran, along with St Peter Catholic church, hosted an ecumenical service. My parishioners talked about how touching it was to be in worship, celebrating Holy Communion, with all sorts of Christians from the town and this story moved me to tears.  This partnership of two congregations under one roof would continue for two years and is still talked about as a shining example of what churches can do when they set aside their differences.

On New Year's Eve I had the opportunity to hang out with my retired neighbors that live across the street.  They invited me over, saying, "it would be just like you get to hang out with your grandparents!" and I was happy to accept because they have a fireplace and the weather has been brutally cold lately.  I heard stories of childhoods spent speaking Swedish in the impoverished scandinavian Seward neighborhood in Minneapolis.

St Peter is also home to one of the state's behavioral health hospital, as well as the state security hospital (like a prison, except for people who are too ill to be in prison) and many of our members have worked there in various capacities.  It is so interesting to hear how the hospital has changed over the years.  I visited one homebound member who worked in carpentry for the hospital and how he took such pride in his work and how he trained and worked alongside many patients and just how important it was to treat everyone with respect and honor their gifts, even patients confined to a mental institution.

And this is only a small sample of what I have been privileged to hear this year. What an incredible gift it is to hold bits and pieces of these stories.

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