I have just returned from a leadership conference provided by our SYNOD, in Arcbold, Ohio. We stayed at Sauder Village, which is a quaint campus that takes you back 150 years or so. It is frequented by scrapbook groups and knitting/quilting groups. Already decorated for Christmas with trees and white lights.
Driving there though the flat lands of Ohio, I was comforted by my memories of staying in South Dakota with my brother George, a Lutheran Pastor, and his wife, Ellen. The flat lands for me are far from boring but rather they put me in a space of peace.
My travels to South Dakota were between the ages of 6-9 or so. I would stay for a few months at a time playing baseball, hide and seek with our bikes, using the town of Humboldt (250- 500 pop) as our playground, spending a few nights on the farm every now and then to get a taste of the hard but rewarding life of labor.
The most impactful aspect to this time in my life was going to church each Sunday and watching George preach. He was powerful, with a booming voice bringing Jesus alive, maybe too alive for his flock from time to time. George was convinced that the Jesus he knew would not tolerate the racism that was all too prevalent at that time.
I always felt that he was a man of courage, but at the same time had the heart of a pastor ready to be with anyone in their time of need. For me those trips were a type of refuge taking me away from a household that never felt as safe as the Parsonage of South Dakota. My mother’s mental health was a focal point that defined our life in many ways. Much of the time she stayed at Elosie and then Northville.
Looking back my passion for the poor, lost, and hurting was initially formed by the observations I have just shared with you, leading me into a life of ministry. Over time it helped me formulate that a healthy life is, in fact, a bitter sweet experience. To strive for anything else is running away from the life of peace.
During the conference we talked about how we can tell our stories as individuals and as a church. It was a conference that was quite timely in that our leadership group at St. John, thru Kevin O’Brien’s leadership, is beginning to formulate plans to guide our congregation into the land of story-telling. You see, our stories become building blocks for the St. John community as we mobilize to be God’s Hands and Feet.
In the meantime, you might want to try your hand at building your story. Start with an outline that includes memories of early childhood - parents, siblings, friends, neighborhood, school, and church and any thing else that comes to mind. Focus on the first 10 years of life. Explore formative relationships, use your own voice, feel free to express the way you want to. Take the rest of this year 2023, to develop this part of your story and, as you do, take God with you.
Remember that you are sacred, valued, gifted, broken, and loved. Your story is and can be light for others.