Last Sunday evening we launched the holiday season at the annual Eidskog Lutheran church Hymn Sing in rural Big Stone County. Eidskog is everything good and lovely about a country church... white, wooden, steeples, and stained glass surrounded by a mature grove and a cared for cemetery. And the warm, wood walls inside are steeped with the smell of brewing coffee.
The name 'Eidskog' comes from a municipality in Norway and no doubt was named such by a homesick immigrant(s) who invested time and gave of their meager resources to build this beautiful, humble monument to community.
The word 'Eidskog' means a portage through the woods. And I'm guessing that it's unintentionally appropriate as it sits kitty corner from a slough and the 2.5 mile from our farm to the church means traveling on a road that takes 3 serious curves around sloughs and wetlands. That's unusual for a State platted with arrow straight township roads.
When we pulled out of our driveway and headed due south to Eidskog last Sunday night, the four of us were all startled to see and chattering about all the red tail lights on the road to the church. I've driven home in the dark 100's of times and have almost never seen headlights or taillights from that direction. On the rare occasion we do see a car and it's cause for conversation about who might be out this way and why. Nothing nefarious, but the curiosity of a rare event. But I digress.
The church was packed with more than 200 people. Bear in mind that our township and the adjoining township--a total of 72 square miles-- have a combined population of around 160 people.
The Hymn Sing began with Carl, the congregation's reigning patriarch who has been instrumental in hosting the event for the past 50 years, and his wife Jan singing a traditional hymn in a lovely duet. Carl is having trouble moving about these days and so it was touching to see him lead us off in 2011. You know, lots of people care for him and, like me, were moved to hear him and Jan sing. Let us pause to remember and be grateful for all the good things that our elders have put in place--like the Hymn Sing-- that we enjoy today.
From there on out, we enjoyed a medley of great music from all 200+ of us in the pews and musicians of all kinds from the area giving performances. The performers ranged in age from 15 to 90 years old. All the denominations were represented--and nondenominational folks too.
I smiled to myself as I stereotyped the different groups. The Baptists, of course, sang a couple of modern tunes with a guitar and tamberine. They were dressed better than anyone else in the place and they even, gasp, swayed to the music. (my husband's Baptist upbringing frowned on swaying or toe tapping as being too close to dancing) The songs were ones I'd never heard before, I'm sure they're from a big name current Christian band, but they stick in mind even 6 days later.
The Catholics--now there was a crisp, disciplined group of singers. They all showed up and sang a song that included some Latin, if I remember correctly. The 7th Day Adventists played a great brass ensemble and another with saxophone, guitar and piano. The Lutheran groups were just fine, thank you.
I'd been to church that same morning and the Advent scripture, sermon, and hymns struck me as repeating the word "peace" a lot. It made me wonder where else in the world people had been talked to and sung so much about peace that morning.
That Peace is central to the season was driven home to me again that night. As out on the pitch dark prairie--lit up only by the church and the stars--the 200+ singers at Eidskog Lutheran church in rural Otrey Township, Big Stone County, Minnesota lifted their hearts and voices to sing in spontaneous three part harmony "Go now in Peace. Never be Afraid... Go Now in Peace, in faith, and in love." And then we sang it one more time--as a blessing and Christmas gift that we gave to each other.