I took services today in Wolf Creek and St.Croix Falls United Methodist Churches. I pastored those two congregations for 11 years and retired from them in 2008. Wolf Creek is scrappy and has several new people, so attendance is about the same, if perhaps slightly smaller, than when I was there. St.Croix Falls is painful. Two weeks ago there were about a dozen people in attendance and about the same this morning. When I was there, the place was full, with a side room about half-full on most Sundays. The pianist, who is quite good, is a refugee from the now-defunct Church of the Nazarene. There was another woman I’d not known before.
Small can be beautiful. I’ve seen small become large; Birchwood almost doubled in size during the 9 years I served there. What happened was that the congregation decided they really did have something to offer, so when they invited someone to church, it was not “please come help us so we won’t die” but “we have something good here; come, taste and see!” People can “smell” the difference. In Birchwood, people who’d lived in town all their lives and had never set foot in that church except perhaps for a funeral started coming to church. In summer, the place was full because cabin people were around; I loved it when my counseling elder and his family showed up one Sunday and couldn’t find anywhere to sit because the place was jammed. That was fun and it made me look good; but it really wasn’t me: the people had let the Lord work and when you do that, things happen.
Yesterday, I attended a graduation party for the daughter of a couple whose wedding I did 20 years ago on the St.Croix River. Jon and Jen have two daughters, both sharp and gracious. They play tennis well and went to State for Mahtomedi. Maggie, the elder, was #3 in her graduating class and will go to Bethel. Grace, the younger sister, also is at the top of her class. I believe the two played as a doubles team in tennis and both expect to play college tennis. Great-grandma is Lucille Henry, of the Exeland United Methodist Church I pastored. She’s 98 years old and teaches Sunday School every week. Lucille cared for a sickly husband for 40-some years and owned the town’s cafe. She also took in her granddaughters when their home life became abusive. Lucille is a remarkable person, erect and alert and fun to be around. She is one of those people who is a good example of the payoff from decades of trying to live out a Christian life.