"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Is Good Shepherd Church dividing flock?

The new Good Shepherd Lutheran Church will reportedly hold its first services for Palm Sunday. Photo by B.W.

I visited Good Shepherd Lutheran Church twice when it was in its previous location. This classic country church was located several miles south of Alberta. The family and I attended two lutefisk suppers there.
We got a good look at the sanctuary because that was the waiting area after you got those number slips. Not that our wait was real long. On both occasions we waited a reasonable period of time before going downstairs for the big meal.
We appreciated the relatively short wait because the opposite can happen. We had an ordeal at the Nora church one year. Eventually the risk of the long wait caused us to abstain from such functions.
But we have good memories of our Good Shepherd experiences.
You had to wonder how viable this church could stay. It was truly in the middle of the country, in a setting where the demographics had to be a staggering challenge.
I read that as recently as the 1960s this church was very stable with its numbers. But times have changed significantly since. The rural population has diminished.
Gone are the days when the countryside was dotted with towns each capable of fielding a high school basketball team. The Graceville Shamrocks are gone. The Appleton Aces are gone. And now the Chokio-Alberta Spartans are added to that list.
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church might have died. The only thing resuscitating it was getting moved to Morris. The structure was physically moved.
Our family is reminded of that every day because when Agralite switched off the power for 2-3 hours during the moving process, the main wall clock in our house didn't resume working when the power was turned back on. Praying for it to start again hasn't helped.
We never dreamt when attending those lutefisk suppers that this church would literally become our neighbor. It's right down the road from us basically.
We live on Northridge Drive. The church is just to the north of Dan Sayles' Cimaroc Kennels, along County Road 5. It's still surrounded by pastoral countryside but now it's next to a community, Morris, that we think is still viable.
Sometimes I'm not sure, given some of the closings and the desperate way we have to maintain some of our amenities. Look at the golf course issue. Certainly we have to worry about how much the rural population drain will affect Morris.
One of the things I enjoyed about living in St. Cloud for four years was that St. Cloud had no fundamental existential dilemmas. It had both feet on the ground and many of its challenges had to do with growth.
I looked through the Foley newspaper when visiting friends about three years ago, and learned this community was grappling with rising school enrollment. Foley is a bedroom community of St. Cloud. It's such a contrast to Morris.
Foley would probably give its right arm for the kind of public school campus we've developed here. Can we sustain ours? It's a good question.
But Morris seems to have no issues with churches. There are plenty of them to serve the many seekers we apparently have. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church adds to the mix. It's a more conservative Lutheran church than the so-called "mainstream" ELCA ones.
I surmise that the people who brought Good Shepherd here sought an alternative because of some of the supposedly progressive decisions of the ELCA.
When I was a kid and heard the initials "ELCA," the last thing I thought of was controversy. The ELCA was a pillar of faith. There might have been a line drawn with Catholics, but Lutherans didn't draw lines all that much among themselves.
Yes there are different synods. But the ELCA seemed monolithic.
Today it seems unstable.
When people spend considerable money to move a church building to their backyard, to escape the ELCA, it's concerning.
Not conservative enough? Not fundamental enough? When I was young, ELCA Lutheran churches were part of the web that us boomer youth called "the establishment." Today its progressive tendencies, which defenders say merely reflect society, are scaring off some of the old guard.
I did some checking around the web for Good Shepherd Lutheran there. I found a statement that it puts forward as definitive, saying "in code" that it rejects the trends it sees in the ELCA.
Without referring to the ELCA, Good Shepherd proclaims - I'm paraphrasing - that it reflects fixed Christian principles and not the trends in society.
Good luck if you ignore societal trends. Churches have always reflected changes in our society to a degree.
Even people with reservations about the gay lifestyle know the door is being opened to this faction of society, certainly on a legal basis. The tide of history is with this.
The ELCA's direction reflects that tide. But the backlash to this and other matters, like removing gender-specific language from church literature, has been marked. Many people have ingrained views.
The gay ordination decision was just a matter of inevitability, I feel. It's not unlike the inclusion of non-white baseball players in the late 1940s.
The people opening these doors aren't necessarily more broad-minded on a personal level than anyone else. But these are wise and prescient people who see the increasingly impractical nature of continuing an exclusionary policy.
It doesn't mean the ELCA is going to wildly start sending out gay pastors. It just shows sober prudence.
I'm sure the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America doesn't relish controversy. It certainly doesn't want to lose members or (more importantly?) money.
Without a doubt, the new Good Shepherd Lutheran Church of Morris is siphoning members and money from existing churches in the area. The hardship is felt.
My own church of First Lutheran in Morris recently voted to have one pastor instead of two. We're currently in the process of determining who that pastor will be. My family was hoping that Pastor Ali Boomershine would stay. But congregation members got a letter from her Thursday saying she's headed to Annandale, MN.
I would be willing to bet that Good Shepherd's pastor will be a man, a patriarchal type who exudes authority.
Be careful what you wish for, Good Shepherd parishioners. The boomer generation grew up to reject the kind of stern, unyielding authority projected by many pastors.
My former boss Jim Morrison says "our generation never took to churchgoing much."
We saw a lot of the madness around us, like the Viet Nam war and closed-mindedness on race, ethnicity etc., and withdrew to a more secular place where we could actually think.
Is Good Shepherd saying "we'll do your thinking for you?" I actually think so. It contradicts the ethos that most boomers embraced by the time they came of age.
Boomers have evolved a little to become more conservative, but I think much of that is in economics. We might have adjusted our political leanings.
But religion? Be careful if you transplant your conservative inclinations into matters of faith. Because if boomers stand for anything it's the principle of individualism and thinking for yourself.
Fundamentalist Christians might cringe at the words I just typed. They see an unyielding and judgmental God rather than an understanding and empathetic God.
I have been around fundamentalist Christians all my life and they have their place. But I don't usually associate "Lutheran" with them.
Good Shepherd Lutheran will be a conservative alternative but how successful will it be? Will it have novelty value at the start? Will it "hit the ground running" with all the expected amenities (like a decent parking area)?
I hope it's not a distraction for the nearby dog kennel. A friend and I jokingly refer to the new church as "the dog kennel church."
I personally have wanted to see County Road 5 stay as serene and peaceful as possible, i.e. undeveloped. It might be the best bike-riding route in the area. When I was a kid it wasn't paved. The rumbling school bus could kick up a lot of dust.
Today I can ride my bike along that road and see names on mailboxes that I remember from those school bus days. (When you get to the bald eagle chainsaw sculpture, you've gone a long ways!)
I'm reminded of Wendy Boettcher who died in a horrible horse accident when she was high school age. She was very attractive.
Rural school buses promote interesting bonding (or they can bring out bullying).
Since Morris is not a growing community and in fact seems to be showing signs of stress, I don't welcome a new church here. The existing churches would already be struggling to keep vitality.
A good source told me Friday morning that the Catholic diocese is going to spread its resources thinner in this area.
There might be a thrill with being part of something new. One of my Sunday school teachers of the 1960s has "defected" to Good Shepherd Lutheran. I suspect he'll at least have some private misgivings. He might have been influenced by family.
I can see leaving a church because of being disillusioned about faith. I withdrew from churchgoing for about 35 years. I suppose when I was a kid, our church asked us to pray for our troops overseas. I would have preferred praying for the Vietnamese people.
This schism took a long time to heal. I can comfortably attend an ELCA church today. Simply leaving to join a new, more conservative Lutheran church is not good judgment, IMHO.
Let the dogs have peace and quiet out there.
- Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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