Arguing with Father Emil

Jun 18th, 2008 | By | Category: Ministry

It is cold and wet and it is miserable and thoughts of Lake Wobegon come to minds.

This blog visited Lake Wobegon last year, it should be a compulsory journey for anyone in pastoral ministry. Listening to Garrison Keillor’s News from Lake Wobegon on the Prairie Home Companion offers more sound advice than our professor ever did.

Garrison Keillor has created a wonderful society set around the imaginary town of Lake Wobegon in central Minnesota. Lake Wobegon is populated by Catholics of German descent and Lutherans of Norwegian descent. Lake Wobegon’s name is said to come from a native American word meaning “we waited all day for you in the rain”. The town has a population of 942 (it’s probably gone up, or maybe down, since I last checked) and its life revolves around the two churches: Lake Wobegon Lutheran and the Catholic Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility, where the Parish Priest was Father Emil.

It is Father Emil that came to mind as I prepared for a funeral, something he once said, years ago.

Father Emil retired maybe twenty years ago, the last I read about him he was in a retirement home. When he was retiring from the parish, one of the town’s Lutherans suggested to him that he would make a good Lutheran pastor if he was looking for something to do. I remember Keillor reading the story himself in a deep Midwestern accent. Father Emil commented very gently,

Lutheranism is my idea of a holiday. To take those truths we find difficult, and bend them a little to make life easier. Yes, Luther was a great man all right .

I wonder, Father Emil, I wonder.

I’m sure you meant no offence, but Lutheranism and my own tradition stand close, as you know.

Wouldn’t it be easy just to stick to reciting the stuff again and again? Wouldn’t it be easy just to recite truths learned years ago, and not to have to deal with the nasty realities of the contemporary world?

What would be easier to stand in church and read everything from a book, word for word, or to try engage with people?

Bending truths, Father Emil? Or attempting to make those truths comprehensible in a world where God has almost disappeared?

Leave a comment »

  1. Engage! Anyone can read from a book. It takes courage, thoughtfulness and conviction to truly engage.

  2. Your heart is with those you minister to,Ian,
    and your reading of the prayers and your words at the funeral will bring that across,to those in terrible grief. Trust that,and that the Lord will
    give you strength and words, when we cannot understand why a young life is taken away so suddenly.

  3. Ian,

    I have listened many times to voices from the pulpit or the prayer desk. Some were very learned gentlemen, who spoke as to an audience of University Professors, quoting left right and centre almost at breakneck speed not allowing time for absorption. The sermons I remember best were delivered simply and from the heart and the message will remain with me for a long, long time.

  4. Saturday afternoon, five o’clock, bbc 7. Garrison Keillor’s radio show. Lake Wobegon – where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average. Every body should listen.

Leave Comment