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Wood Working: Odd history creates blessed beginnings and joyful endings

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opinion River Falls,Wisconsin 54022 http://www.riverfallsjournal.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/27/0613/wooddave-c96.jpg?itok=dJesG7w0
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Wood Working: Odd history creates blessed beginnings and joyful endings
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

On Christmas Day the Beautiful Wife and I were traveling through Minneapolis when she proposed: "Let's go to church at Trinity Congregation."

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Bright idea.

Trinity is today located on the campus of Augsburg College where I taught for many years. B.W. also sang in Trinity's choir for many years.

Trinity is a very friendly, down-to-earth congregation with a rather odd history.

In the 19th century it boasted the largest Lutheran congregation in the rapidly growing city. Most members were Norwegian immigrants who worked in the burgeoning flour mills nearby.

And so it kept offering its services in Norwegian until deep into the 1930s. As the congregation matured and became Americanized, young folks complained about a lack of English sermons.

And every time they complained, the establishment offered to build them their own church so they could understand what was being said. Several churches resulted and Trinity became smaller.

It suffered a blow when I-94 claimed the beautiful old Trinity Church. Trinity sued the state, claiming that the building was worth more than just its bricks and mortar.

The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed and settled a substantial sum on the old congregation. Did it build a new church with the cash?

Absolutely not.

Some members quit when it was decided not to move to the suburbs. Others hung on and agreed to rent space from the nearby Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church.

That's where they were worshipping when Ruth and I, immigrants from Ohio, joined.

But where to worship? That was the question.

First they moved in with a Methodist church on nearby Riverside Avenue. When that faded, Trinity did the unthinkable. It moved in with the Roman Catholics at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, a Bohemian congregation, one block from Augsburg College.

We got along famously, even holding Ash Wednesday services together. I wondered how that would work.

Here's how.

We filed in on Wednesday night. The Lutherans seated themselves on the right side of the altar, the Catholics on the other.

Up front was Father John Riley and Pastor Sheldon Torgerson. Both had a pot of ashes.

When we got up to receive our smudge on the forehead, the Catholics jumped over to our side and we jumped over to their side and accepted our ashes from the "wrong" holy man.

Not wrong at all, in my book.

This all seemed like an ideal situation and then the University of Minnesota reared its ugly head.

Turns out they owned the property on which Our Lady sat and had been renting it to us and the Catholics.

But that got to be too much of a bother, so they kicked both churches out.

The Catholic diocese disbanded Our Lady and we were once again without a building.

Augsburg to the rescue. Come and worship at our brand new Chapel, they said. And we did.

There have been many changes to the Cedar Riverside neighborhood since we joined 40 years ago. Old folks pass on, other folks move to the suburbs and new people move in. It's the American Way.

Many Somalis and Eritrean refugees arrived in the Twin Cities over the years. And several families had been adopted by Trinity.

Remember Trinity had money because it hadn't built a church so it could afford applying a bit of Christian generosity to the newcomers.

The investment paid off.

These same Somalis and Eritreans have grown up and they still attend Trinity. Some were children when we attended. They are now grown and are leaders in their neighborhoods and singers in Trinity's choir.

These days, Trinity has two pastors, Jane Bucklee-Farlee and Alem Asmelash.

The latter isn't a very Lutheran sounding name, but he's a Lutheran.

Jane and Alem conduct the service in English and also in Amharic and Tigrinya, a beautiful language similar to the one Jesus spoke.

Topping off our Christmas visit, the African contingent presented a beautifully sung sestet, with drums.

The hymn? "Joy to the World."

And to America at its best.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him a 715-426-9554.

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