Monday, December 12, 2011

Monday Memories--I was a stranger and you invited me in

After Dad returned from the service after WWII he was assigned a new territory by Standard Oil, and he moved our family to Forreston, Illinois in 1946. Poor Mom! Housing was scarce and the old farm house Dad bought didn’t have a bathroom and the indoor water was a pump in the kitchen. I was only 6 and thought it was a great adventure--horses in the pasture next door, a new puppy, a different school and new friends.

Our next door neighbor, Helen Vietmeier, was beautiful, kind, gentle and soft spoken. Her family lived in a lovely home where I often visited and played. Although I didn’t usually call adults by their first name, she was always Helen to me which is what her lovely teen-age daughters Doris and Betty Jo called her. Helen reached out to the strangers in that shabby house and invited our family to the Lutheran church, one of three Protestant churches in the town of 1,000 settled by Germans in the 1850s.

Although we were members of the Church of the Brethren 15 miles away in Mt. Morris and remained “visitors” the five years we attended, we children participated in everything--choir, Bible school, Sunday School, plays for special events like Mother’s Day and Christmas pageants, and those wonderful Lutheran pot lucks. Because we were so young, we effortlessly learned the liturgy, difficult hymns, the creed and the Lord’s Prayer through regular Sunday attendance. When I didn’t understand Pastor Hersch’s sermons I would look at the amazing stained glass windows for which 19th century members had sacrificed. My sisters and I were all baptised in our former church, and they also attended confirmation classes at the Lutheran church. My oldest sister began her career as a church musician on the organ at little Faith Lutheran. We returned to our home community and church in 1951 after Dad owned his own business, and I didn’t see Helen again until my mother’s funeral almost 50 years later.

In 1975 we’d been living in Upper Arlington for 8 years. I heard about a speaker who was going to be at Upper Arlington Lutheran Church, so I decided to attend. I was a stranger and didn‘t know anyone, but I sat next to Dottie Wharton who invited me to attend services with her and a neighborhood Bible study at Denise Kern’s home. About a year later on Palm Sunday 1976, we were confirmed by Luther Strommen and joined UALC. I felt right at home.

Praise God for believers who reach out to strangers to extend a welcome and the Gospel. And praise God that the stranger is being Christ to the believer.


Anonymous said...

This is a welcome piece.I am visiting a strange church tonight myself as I am experiencing a restlessness in my church of my lifetime. Wonder out loud if it is too late to change but knowing how uncomfortable I have become. I hope I am greeting with the kindness you were. I will let you know. Wish me luck.

Anonymous said...

It's easy for children to relearn and find new friends. For older folks, the change is difficult. The Bible admires white hair--calls it wisdom--wish churches did.