Monday, October 31, 2016

6 Facts about North Dakota

the pavement ends in many places in North Dakota
1. North Dakota is the 4th least populous state and the 4th least densely populated (after Alaska, Wyoming, and Vermont). The state also has the highest percentage of people 100 years and older.

2. The state motto is "Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable."

North Dakota Historical Museum and state capitol building in Bismarck
3. Bismarck is the capital, and at 17 floors, the capitol building is the tallest in the state.

Sandy the Sandhill Crane in Steele, North Dakota
4. North Dakota is a big state, and they seem to appreciate large animals like Salem SueDakota Thunder, and Sandy, the world's largest Sandhill Crane.

5. The Geographic Center of North America may technically be near Rugby, marked by a stone tower. However, the title has legally been taken by Robinson, about 85 miles south.

Saint Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Almont, North Dakota
6. North Dakota has the most churches per capita of any state. Lutheran and Catholic are most common.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A Dozen South Dakota Churches, 2 Chapels, and a Park

Genesis NALC, Piedmont, SD
Genesis North American Lutheran,

Piedmont Valley ELCA, Piedmont, SD
Piedmont Valley Evangelical Lutheran,

Grace Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, Deadwood, South Dakota
Grace Lutheran,
Missouri Synod,

Saint Ambrose Catholic Church, Deadwood, South Dakota
Saint Ambrose Catholic,

Christ Episcopal Church, Lead, South Dakota
Christ Episcopal,

Trinity United Methodist Church, Lead, South Dakota
Trinity United Methodist

First Presbyterian Church, Lead, South Dakota
First Presbyterian,

Twin Cities Church of Christ, Lead, South Dakota
Twin Cities Church of Christ,

Blessed Emmanuel Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, Sturgis, South Dakota
Blessed Emmanuel Lutheran,
Missouri Synod,

VFW Memorial Chapel, Sturgis, South Dakota
VFW Memorial Chapel,

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, ELCA, Rapid City, South Dakota
Holy Trinity Lutheran,
Rapid City

Faith Temple Church of God in Christ, Rapid City, South Dakota
Faith Temple Church of God in Christ,
Rapid City 
Travelers Chapel at Wall Drug, Wall, South Dakota
The Travelers Chapel,
Wall Drug,
Methodist Memorial Park, Deadwood, South Dakota
Methodist Memorial Park,

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

We Go to Church in South Dakota

“Location, location, location,” is what the real estate people say are the three most important particulars for selling property. Of course, location is an important factor for a church as well. Let’s admit upfront that when you begin with South Dakota as your location, you’re unlikely to form a mega-church. At least not a mega-church like, say, Saddleback in Southern California. The population of Rapid City, South Dakota is about 70,000 people, so if if Rick Warren decided to take up residence there, it is unlikely he’d build another church with 20.000 attendees.

But location still matters within a region, and this week we visited two ministries that are making the most of the place God put them.

The Filling Station, Sturgis
Driving on I-90 by the small city of Sturgis (population 7,000), it would be hard to miss the large white cross along the roadside (illuminated in red at night). You won’t be surprised to learn the building is the Mission at the Cross, nor that ministry happens in a variety of ways.

On Friday night, we went to a meeting of The Filling Station (note the garage doors on the building). The flyer we’d seen encouraged people to arrive early for a time of prayer. We did, but the meeting’s leaders hadn’t yet arrived. Robin, who was waiting in her truck, told us Bill and Jeri usually arrived early to open up and make coffee. When Bill and Jeri arrived (still technically early, before the start of the 6:15 prayer time), they explained they’d been delayed by traffic from the Kenny Rogers concert being in town, in addition to a flock of bighorn sheep dawdling across the thoroughfare (not a likely problem for other locations).

After the coffee got started, we had a brief prayer time. Then, other people arrived for a time of worship and teaching. Though all the marked spaces in the parking lot are for motorcycles, most people came in cars and trucks. Cooler weather makes for fewer bikers.

Bill told us that during the summer, many bikers come to the spot. On motorcycle rallies during the summer months, almost all the stops available in small towns are bars. The Mission at the Cross is glad to host such events.

Bill said there are three main parts of their ministry. First, there is the Filling Station, the event we attended. It’s a worship and fellowship time designed to encourage and equip believers. The second is Hellfighters, a ministry focused on evangelism. Hosting events for bikers falls under that ministry, but they also bring tents to events for bikers where they offer to pray for people and share Jesus. The third area of focus is meeting needs. The ministry is working on a toy drive for needy children in the area, which includes Indian reservations. They also try to meet practical needs such as providing free oil changes for single moms and others struggling financially.

Not only does the ministry try to reach ordinary bikers, they also try to reach outlaw bikers (the 1% of biker gangs that participate in criminal activity). In the past, such groups have helped with the toy drive, and they have seen members of such gangs come to faith in Christ.

Hills of Grace, Rapid City
We worshiped in another unique location on Sunday morning at the Rushmore Mall. Located among outlets for hair cuts, cutlery, and home furnishing is an outlet for the Gospel of Jesus, Hills of Grace Fellowship. (Tom, who occasionally stands near the door during services, said he enjoys watching people as they pass by during worship services. During the worship, we also thought it was fun to look over occasionally at shoppers peering in the windows.)

We arrived a little before 9:30 am for Sunday School. Along with classes for children and youth, there are three adult Sunday School classes: one for women, one for men, and the mixed class we choose.

Before the class got started, a pastor appreciation card was passed to be signed and a discussion of the fires caused by the lithium batteries in Samsung Galaxy 7 phones led to talking about the futility of finding an ideal energy source. More chairs needed to be brought in, as the table was surrounded by a capacity crowd (16 of us). Then the real discussion began on the first chapter of John and whether John the Baptist did indeed fulfill the prophecies of Elijah’s return from Malachi. There was also discussion of the different forms of baptism, with Tom noting that this wasn’t an issue of salvation, but a step of obedience. The discussion went until nearly 10:30 am, when the worship service was set to begin.

We walked across to the storefront where the worship service is held. Announcements, including a video for a revival (Refresh Rapid City) that the church would be sponsoring in November, started the service. A guest speaker, Dr. Cliff Ozman of Calvary Baptist in Beaumont, Texas, greeted Hills of Grace via video to encourage people to invite others for this Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday night event. People were encouraged to look at the empty chairs (there were not a lot, but there were some) and imagine God filling those chairs. There was also an announcement for the Lottie Moon Christmas offering, which goes to the international work of the Southern Baptists.

We happened to be seated near the single restroom for the sanctuary area. Quite a few children made their way to that door during the service. The church has quite a few families with small children, and after a time of singing, offering, and a brief children’s sermon, most kids were dismissed to Children’s Church. Still, we noticed a number of children who stayed for the sermon.

There was a greeting time during the service, and I talked with Wayne (who had been in Sunday School and brought up the subject of phones on fire). I asked him what had drawn him to Hills of Grace, and he said that “the church I was going to before didn’t cater much to kids, but they do here.” He pointed to an elderly woman sitting in the back row and said, “Miss Jean has cared for all of our kids.” He said Hills of Grace is open to everyone, and that there’s a family feel to the church.

Pastor Jimmy Dettman began his sermon by noting that the week before, a representative of the Family Heritage Alliance had preached, noting “I do not like giving up my pulpit.” He also noted that he and his wife had just been to a pastors and wives retreat (“The first time we’ve had without our children for seventeen years.”) Dettman preached on Ephesians 4: 1 - 3 and the need to strive for unity in the church and to learn to love one another.

I'd had an opportunity to talk with Jimmy before the service. He’s been the church’s pastor only since May. The church was founded nine years ago, but when, a few years ago, the church planter left to care for his parents, the church lost some members. Another pastor took over for a couple of years and then left.

Jimmy (who’s been a member of Hills of Grace for the past several years) was called to be pastor of the church. He’s a full time teacher, and said he believes calling up someone from a congregation to minister is a good Biblical model.

When you go to Hills of Grace Fellowship, you can’t help noticing that it’s situated next to the “At Home” store. It seems that a number of people at the church would use that store’s name for their fellowship.

The Filling Station
Service Length: 1 hour 21 minutes
Sermon Length: 32 minutes
Visitor Treatment: we (and two other visitors) were asked to introduce ourselves to the group; people greeted us before and after the service began, introducing us to others in the fellowship
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Count: 14
Snacks: cookies, coffee (but we didn't see anyone eating them)
Musicians: guitar (man), vocals (woman)
Songs: "Power in the Blood"
"Open the Eyes of my Heart"
"Amazing Grace/My Chains are Gone"
Miles to Church: 34

Hills of Grace Fellowship
Service Length: 1 hour 18 minutes
Sermon Length: 47 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted by several people when we came in, and one woman made sure we met the pastor. During the worship service, visitors were encouraged to fill out the visitor card (we hadn't gotten one); there was a connection card in the program that regular attenders were encouraged to fill out. We filled that out and dropped it into the offering basket. During Sunday School, we were invited to sign the pastor appreciation card (which we did).
Followup by Tuesday Morning: We had an email from Jimmy, the pastor, on Monday morning
Our Rough Count: 75
Probable Ushers’ Count: 100
Snacks: coffee cakes, donuts, coffee, hot water for tea or cocoa, ice water
Musicians: acoustic guitar (woman)
vocals (3 women)
Songs: "Lord Reign in me"
"Strength Will Rise"
"Open the Eyes of my Heart"
Bless the Lord, O My Soul/10,000 Reasons"
"All Who Are Thirsty"
Miles to Church: .5
Miles from Start: 39,561
Total 2016 Miles: 39,275

Monday, October 24, 2016

6 Facts Nobody Else Will Tell You about South Dakota

Welcome sign at the South Dakota, Nebraska border
1. The state is in both the Central and Mountain Time Zones.

2. The North America pole of inaccessibility is between two small towns in southwestern South Dakota (Kyle and Allen). This spot is 1,024 miles from the nearest coastline.

3. Close to 10% of the state's population is Native American; west of the Missouri River, that increases to approximately 20% (mostly Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota Sioux).

Preacher Smith's grave in Deadwood, South Dakota
4. The town of Deadwood was rather indifferent when Wild Bill Hickok was killed while playing cards. When a recent arrival, "Preacher" Henry Weston Smith, was killed almost three weeks later, the community was incensed. (He was a Methodist, but the Episcopal service was read over his grave by Seth Bullock.)

Deer in Custer State Park, South Dakota
5. South Dakota is divided by the Missouri River, which is also an economic line of demarcation. East of the river, agriculture is the primary source of income. It's also where most of the population lives. West of the Missouri, tourism, defense spending, and ranching are the primary sources of income.

6. The state's center of population falls in Buffalo County's seat, Gann Valley -- the least populous county seat in the U.S., with 14 residents in 2010.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bonus post! We Go to Church at a Boy Scout Jubilee in Nebraska

troop flags at Boy Scouts Mid America Jubilee 2016
“I hear there are Scout troops that take a French press for coffee on their camping trips.”

The conversation wasn’t an indictment of the Scouts for becoming soft, but rather a discussion of the importance of coffee in people’s lives. The coffee was especially appreciated that morning as we waited for the worship service. For many of these parents, it had been a long weekend without lots of sleep at the Boy Scout Jubilee.

So no one was doubting the value of coffee, but there was concern about the glass in the French press breaking in a backpack.

We were at the Mid-America Council Jubilee at Mahoney State Park in Nebraska along with over 5,000 Scouts and Scout-related people in attendance. We learned there is a regional Jubilee every two years (not the every 50 years found in Leviticus 25) and a national Jubilee every four years.

We were just looking for a place to pitch our tent when we went to the park office to make reservations at Mahoney. The woman at the desk warned us that during the weekend we’d be surrounded by Scouts. We thought that would be a good thing and it was. Certainly the Jubilee provided much entertainment. We missed the animal demonstrations, the lumberjack show, the concert by Hairball, and much more. But we did get to hear a live radio conversation with astronauts on the Space Station, watch an Omaha steak eating contest (Scoutmasters tackling 48 ounces of beef), and a pretty decent fireworks show.

On Sunday morning, two worship services were offered: a Catholic service and what was called both a Protestant service and an interfaith service. We went to the latter. While all of us were waiting outside for the service to start (after the coffee discussion), a woman from the park asked for help with the worship service. She told us that the Deacon who was scheduled to lead the service was sick. Someone had volunteered to give the homily, but readers and a song leader were needed. Since I don’t have any relation to the Scouts (besides being a Cub Scout as a kid), I didn’t feel right about volunteering. Another man volunteered to do the reading. But no one volunteered to lead singing. So I did.

Wagon Wheel District Chaplain Joe Haggerty arrived, and the service began. By this time there were about 180 people gathered outside the Mahoney Conservatory. There was first a reading of Psalm 100, and then Haggerty read an invocation from the bulletin.

I asked people to turn in their bulletin to “America the Beautiful.” In churches, I’m sometimes uncomfortable with patriotic songs. I become concerned about whether glory and honor is going to the country rather than to God. But I’m okay with such songs at a Scout service, because that is something all gathered have in common. And now seems like a good time to be asking God to “mend thine ev’ry flaw” and “confirm thy soul with self control.”

Next came a responsive reading. The adults read affirmations such as “The Good Samaritan showed the spirit of doing a Good Turn,” and the Scouts responded with “A Scout is helpful.” They also affirmed that a scout is trustworthy, loyal, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.  (The affirmation before “clean” read “Cleanliness is next to godliness”. I’ve always said that if that’s true, why settle for second best?)

The Scripture reading was Jeremiah 31: 27 - 34, which is not an easy passage. It speaks of God’s coming judgement and includes verses such as “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth set on edge.” Perhaps the Reverent Deacon who got sick had great plans for that reading, but it seemed an odd choice for this crowd.

Chaplain Haggerty then read a different Scripture for his message, the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10, from the Message (“this is a paraphrase of the Scripture many of you may be not be familiar with,” he said in introduction). Haggerty said that it is important for Scouts to follow the example of the Samaritan. He told about a troop of Scouts who found a baby floating in the Platte River. They rescued the child, providing CPR and a trip to the hospital.

We then read together the prayer of Saint Francis (I wonder if they read that at the Catholic service as well). We sang “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” and closed with a benediction.

It was a brief service, barely twenty minutes. If Chaplain Haggerty hadn’t been there to speak from the Gospel of Luke, I’m not sure Jesus would have been mentioned in the service at all. But God was honored, along with Scouting.

There was an interesting image at the end of the bulletin. It looks like this:

It means “Gone Home,” and it’s on the tombstone of Lord Baden-Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts It’s not a bad symbol for the conclusion of a service, a Scout weekend, a life.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

We Go to a Shrine in Nebraska

Holy Family Shrine, Gretna, Nebraska
You wouldn't expect to see it in the fields above the freeway in Nebraska: a glass and wood structure that seems to float above a hillside west of Omaha. But there it is. The tall, spiky crucifix at one end of the building confirms that it's a Christian house of worship, but what is it?

Holy Family Shrine, Gretna, Nebraska
A little research (and the nagging suspicion that we'd heard about something like this back when we were planning this trip) identified the building as a Catholic chapel, Holy Family Shrine. The chapel, completed in 2002, looked to me like buildings designed by E Fay Jones.* The branching wooden supports are intended to represent the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit) as well as resembling the grain growing in fields all around. The channels of water running through the rocks in the floor are intended to remind worshippers of the water of baptism.

Holy Family Shrine, Gretna, Nebraska
The site is probably requested as a wedding venue, but it's not allowed. However, Mass is celebrated every Saturday morning. We attended with about 70 others. We were glad when the priest prayed for those who would see and be inspired by the sight of the shrine as they drove by.

The shrine is open every day, and the visitor center displays information about the development of the property. Visitors approach the center through a door in the hillside, which is intended to remind them of Jesus' tomb, and the inside is designed to encourage guests to be still and seek God. The Shrine's website says it's a place for travelers "to seek out the intervention of the Holy Spirit, to be at peace, to heal, to be comforted, to pray, and to discover or rediscover the saving power of Jesus Christ."

Even from the road, it seems a place of peace.

*an apprentice of Frank Lloyd Wright, Jones designed Thorncrown Chapel and Mildred B Cooper Memorial Chapel in Arkansas. Thorncrown Chapel was closed the week we were in Arkansas (and we didn't know about the other chapel), so it was especially good to see this building.