Preserving a bit of Yesterday for today.

Last Sunday I drove down to Nerstrand to join in the All Church outdoor worship service, where the Methodist, Congregational and Lutheran churches of Nerstrand come together for a community service in the park. After the wonderful service filled with some of my favorite hymns, we were treated to a fine Minnesota church salad and hotdish smorgasbord. The congregations in Nerstrand are warm and welcoming. It reminded me of the kind of rural church events I used to attend with my dad 40 years ago when we went to visit relatives back on the farm in Ruthton and Tracy, Minnesota. Many Minnesotans trace their roots back to the farm and what Norwegians called ‘farmer culture’ that was prevalent a hundred years ago.

Later that afternoon, I went to the St. John’s open house to dedicate the new fellowship hall. Vern Koester gave me the grand tour. They have added some very useful and attractive space to an institution with a long tradition in that place. The addition gives them room to grow and will allow them to stay at the location for a long time to come.

Several people commented how much they enjoyed my letter to the editor in the Northfield News the day before, and thanked me for speaking out about the economic repercussions of the choices both the State and National governments have made. Cuts made to health care and childcare for those who really need it make no sense.

This Sunday was equally full of events. I started my day out at the Rice County Steam and Gas Engine extravaganza.

They had a church service and fine gospel & blue grass music throughout the morning.

I wandered around looking at the fine refurbished tractors and generators.

Folks were busy visiting about all the changes they had witnessed, not only in agriculture, but throughout our society. Many have left the farm but keep in touch with the land by working on the machinery. There were Farmalls, Allis Chalmers, Fords, John Deere’s and my Great Uncle George’s favorite, Minneapolis Molines.

They had a threshing machine set up, but it wasn’t running when I was there,

as well as, a complete blacksmith’s shop. The Flea market was filled with all kinds of tools, machinery guides and handbooks of agriculture (and reminded me of the Belle Plaine flea market I had been to a couple of weeks ago).

A 1947 guide to trees caught my eye, a thousand pages filled with lore about Americas woodlands. But there were also tin cupolas, belt buckles, hunting knives, prized china and farm toys to make any collector happy. A couple of guys were raffling off a bright red tractor and talked me into buying a chance, even though I have no idea what I’d do with it I won.

Oh well, the money goes to a good cause — this is an important part of Rice County heritage. We owe a great deal to those hard working farmers that first broke the prairie sod so many years ago.

I then attended a marvelous church service at my church, First UCC Northfield, organized by the youth group who had returned from their service trip to Colorado. They talked about the marvelous experience they had giving of their time and energy to make someone else’s life better. It was clear that they had benefited from contemplating the lives of those less fortunate than themselves and this work made them aware of the difference they can make as individuals by increasing their awareness and doing for others.

My last excursion of the day was to participate in St. Olaf‘s Dialogue on the Liberal Arts and Vocation. After lunch and an inspiring lecture by Dr. Tomforde in Boe chapel, I met with two professors, Anthony Roberts and Kathleen Shea

and seventeen students to talk with them about the ideas of vocation and service to others. St. Olaf, as a community, instills the sense of belonging to the larger world and developing the understanding of how to find meaning and a place in the world through service to others. This is something not only St. Olaf, but my granparents and parents, instilled in me at a very early age. I am sure this led to my finding a career in education where I would work with students who have found schooling to be a difficult path.

The conversation was invigorating and a good reminder of the importance of passing on tradition and values to the next generation. I was very impressed with the student’s range of experience and attitudes demonstrating their commitment to service and concern for others less privileged than themselves.

At a reception after the symposium. I mentioned to Dr. Thomforde how much I enjoyed his comments and that the whole event reminded me of coming across a letter my grandfather had written to St. Olaf students when he was teaching in China at a Chinese boys middle school. My grandfather recounted many of the important topics of the day, including community, service to others and the close important close relationships he had established well as a student in the early 1900s. Most of this letter was quoted in a lecture I gave three years ago, Socratic Dialogue and Pioneers on the Prairie, as part of series commemorating St. Olaf’s Paracollege.

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