The Professional Guest: Lutheran Pot Luck

UnknownWell, things are humming along here in south Florida. I’m trying to get established in the business community. I attended a business networking meeting upon the invitation of the man who owns the service station where I got my car fixed. They already have a graphic designer in the group so I was invited to “observe” and maybe find connections to a different group. I’ve already found a good painter, good coffee supplier and an accountant.

And since I’ve experienced bouts of loneliness in this new state, I decided there is no better place to “connect” than to attend a church service. I went to a small church called Shepherd of the Glades Lutheran Church off Rattlesnake Hammock Road in Naples. Do rattlesnakes make hammocks? How in the world did the city founders decide to name it that? There’s another story to be researched. But if you find yourself in a strange land, you seek out the familiar and who is more familiar than a good Lutheran? Lutherans are bonded by common traditions, Scandinavian and Germanic roots, and good pot luck dinners. To my surprise and delight, it was Rally Sunday on the day I decided to attend!

For those of you who aren’t Lutheran, Rally Sunday is almost as old as Luther’s 95 Thesis. Every fall, after Labor Day if you live in the North, the Lutheran church starts its “school year” schedule of children’s programming.  Congregations across the nation rally their children back into educational programs. For many, Rally Sunday has risen to the level of a minor church festival. It is a blessing to nurture our children in faith, to introduce them to God’s story, some for the first time. There are special sermons, games afterward, and prizes and trays filled with fresh-baked goodies.

Depending on what Lutheran Church you were raised in, during the service there is a certain amount of standing and sitting, reciting responsive readings from a red hymnal and zesty singing of great hymns like “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” and “For All The Saints.” Everyone knows every line and every verse of these great hymns and the congregants quickly divide themselves into rousing soprano, alto, tenor and bass choir members. I’m an alto so I looked forward to harmonizing with great enthusiasm, but on this day none of the familiar hymns was sung. We mumbled through “happy” songs about living and loving that I had never heard before.

The children were called up to the front and the normally stoic service was filled with lively children, an effusive minister who didn’t stand behind the pulpit, he sailed around it in his flowing vestments, giving a children’s sermon to the nine or ten little faces seated on the front steps of the platform. Of course, I am the Queen of Distraction so I didn’t hear a word of his sermon, I was busy watching the kids. One brother and sister had a small dispute which they tried to settle with elbows. The sister leaned in close to her brother to bug him. He responded by elbowing her back away from him. She leaned closer. He elbowed her back. This went on for so long, I was surprised that they eventually quit fighting and paid attention to the sermon. That wouldn’t have happened with my brother.

And since the minister failed to dismiss them after his children’s sermon and immediately launched into his “big person” sermon, the children remained up front providing me even more distraction. A tall, bookish woman with a severe haircut and plain straight skirt and blouse crept forward to try to gain the children’s attention and usher them off stage. They either didn’t see her or didn’t care and remained where they were. About ten minutes later, another tall woman with the same severe haircut and similar plain skirt and blouse, who looked remarkably like the first woman approached the children, shoulders hunched trying to appear invisible. I realized they were twin sisters and probably the elders of the children’s ministry there at that church. If it had been 40 years earlier, these two would have been the missionaries to the Philippines, sisters who never married and devoted their lives to service to God. I adored them. There’s a special place in heaven for single women who devote their lives to God, refuse manicures and pedicures and stylish clothing. I want to see what their mansions look like on Heaven’s Street. Probably glittering with gold.

Afterward, we were invited outdoors for cookies and ice cream which melted rapidly in the hot Florida sun. As Lutherans are, none of the congregants approached me to introduce themselves so I decided I would have to do the “Annie Flack.”

Back when I was a missionary student at Bethany Missionary Training Center, a Lutheran-based Bible school, we were in class for part of the time, and we provided the student workforce for the rest of the time. That was what made the tuition cheap and my parents wanting us to all go there. It was theology school and cheaper than secular colleges. We were taught missionary medicine, the deeper truths of Scripture, and even music theory. As working students, we were on dish crews, cleaning crews, shop crews and printing and binding crews. We went to school in the morning, went to lunch, and then went to work. Lutherans know how to work. They spend half their lives “working out their salvation with fear and trembling.” For part of this time, I was on the cleaning crew and was required to meet with the others and our crew head, a woman named Annie Flack before starting our shifts. She would give us a small pep talk, impart her wisdom to us for twenty minutes and send us off to work.

Annie was a soft-spoken woman. She seemed like a fairly plain woman and she was without a doubt, a truly humble woman. She dressed modestly, didn’t shine, and didn’t care to. What she did do was look you directly in the eye when she was talking to you. For that moment, when she was engaging you in conversation, you were the only person on the planet. She had that rare gift.

On one of these pep talks, she talked to us about meeting new people. She asked us, “Do you sit in the back of the room and wait for people to come to you?” She shoved out her arm, hand outstretched, fingers wide open and said, “Look at what is on the end of your arm! You have a hand. REACH OUT. Start shaking hands and introducing yourself!”

I was the classic introvert so this was a startling revelation to me. You mean, I can actually move forward and start the introduction?? Do you mean, the responsibility is actually mine?? Wow. Life-changing! And ever since that day, when I am in a new social situation, I have stuck out my arm with my hand outstretched and said, “Hi, I’m Sheryl. What’s your name?”

I don’t know if Annie Flack knows how much she changed my life that day. But I will always keep that image of her in my mind, cleaning crew head, arm stretched out, fingers displayed. I learned apologetics at that school, theology, Biblical history and the accuracy of transcripts. It was Hebrew School for Christians. Sometimes I would sit in apologetics class and tears would roll down my face as I discovered what I believe and why I believe it. But right up there with the Book of Acts was Annie Flack’s School of How To Be Social.

I started my round of “Hi ya, how are you doing? I’m Sheryl” at the Lutheran church and soon met one of the ministers and several of the congregants. I was hoping against hope that some of them would be Swedish so I could really connect but didn’t find any. But they WERE Lutherans and for that we could be bonded. For a Sunday. And the cookies were good.


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