My favorite spot in the summer is in the back yard next to a little fountain with this strange little figurine peering up at me. It is quiet and peaceful until the neighbors mow the grass. The figurine is harmless but herein lies a tale about the connections and crossings of our life up here in the North country.
I woke up one summer morning along time ago and arrayed in my backyard were several of these figures. I think it was seven but memory is not serving right now. Now this may sound strange but there is something unsettling about looking out your window and seeing these figures arrayed like a foreign army studying your battlements. How did they get there? Who put them there? Why are they staring at my window like that? I went and made coffee and I swear that when I came back and looked again they were a few inches closer to the window than they were before. There was intentionality there that was a bit strange too. Someone had to come into my yard late at night and arrange these things this way. They had to come from somewhere and they didn’t look cheap. Yard ornaments like this are not my taste – the little guy by the fountain is as far as I want to go – but some people spend alot on stuff like this, so I called the police.
At that time the local constabulary had in it’s employ one of my members who came over and seemed amused when I said that I had not touched any of the figurines so he could take fingerprints. He also informed me that they were obviously the Seven Dwarfs minus Snow White and that too was a mystery. Where was she? He also admited that there was something cartoonishly sinister about the way they contined to peer at the house as if seeking a way in. He left without “dusting” for prints and said, “if we find Snow White, we find the owner”. The man was a regular Columbo because it wasn’t an hour later and we found Snow White and we found the owner.
Her name was Ella Ganssle and she lived across the street from me. She had been attending Zion but was a member of St. Pauls in St. Thomas. Had I not been so unnerved by the gang in the back yard I would have remembered that I had seen them in her plant beds before. Anyway Ella was one of those unique Saints that we are losing at an alarming rate. Fiercely loyal to her church; intensely protective of her family; frustrated by the ways of the world (the kidnapping of the dwarves was proof); willing to give a witness to the hope that she had; and absolutely ready to sing at the drop of a hat, or the peal of an organ. She loved the old hymns and she had a real love for the song “In the Garden”, which I detest. We had some great arguments about that one. She was born within a month of my Father and had the same kind of tough hardscrabble up bringing and so she and I would often talk of life “back in the day”. My Father was always in love with gardens and growing things as was Ella. She loved her garden and felt that there she could pray and she also liked to put figurines in her garden, hence the story so far.
Ella passed away last week and I went to her funeral up at St. Paul’s in St. Thomas. St. Paul’s was the Mother church for most of the congregations up here in the Northeast corner of the State. Once large, it now has to struggle to get servers for funerals like Ella’s, but they continue. The church is served by Rev. Mark Chepulis and I have to admit to some trepidation. As a preacher, when I hear a sermon I tend to think about what the preacher should be saying rather than let him preach to me. That is a danger of the job. We need to hear the living voice of the Gopel preached to us as well rather than sit in judgement. At the same time our President Matthew Harrison has said that one thing he is disturbed about is the state of preaching in our church body so it was with a sense of concern that I prepared to listen.
Chepulis started with Martin Franzmann’s famous statement that “theology is doxology – faith must sing”. He then proceeded to give a marvelous exposition of Law and Gospel. His sermon was winsome and to the point. It was personal without being cloying; it was touching without being distracting and it did what a sermon is supposed to do – proclaim the “Good News”. Witnessing to Christ while telling the story of what he has done in the life of another person is difficult and can be dangerous. Preachers walk a fine line between ignoring the person that we are burying and turning the sermon into a eulogy. Rev. Chepulis did a masterful job. He quoted Ella as saying that “Jesus Christ has been her Lord and Savior from the day she was baptized” and that He would be after she was dead. I left the service as everyone should – trusting in Christ’s defeat of sin, death and the devil, bouyed by hope, sad at the loss of another sister in Christ, yet looking forward to the grand reunion in life everlasting.
So why have I gone into all of this? What exactly are the connections here? Well first if all – President Harrison when you read this, I agree on the state of preaching in our church, but as far as Rev. Chepulis is concerned, you can rest easy.
The policemen mentioned at the beginning moved with his family to Northern Minnesota. His wife is a nurse up North and over the years there have been at least 5 occurences, where relatives or friends or members of my churches have been treated by her in the emergency room when they have been traveling or on fishing trips. My brother-in-law took his friend in with chest pains and remembered her from the old days at Zion.
Ella’s extended family is all over and many of them are raising families of their own in Minnesota North. I hope that they carry on a connection with the LCMS. Ella”s daugther and Son-in -Law live in Breckinridge Minn.
Ella’s sister, Anna had a daugther. The daughter had a son. The son is Kyle Novak who went with me to Africa and who is now talking about Project 24 and Mary Okeyo Scholarship fund. If Ella knew that I had taken her great nephew over there I would have never heard the end of it. Come to think of it when I meet Ella again, I probably won’t.