fullsizerender-14I went home yesterday. Well, the place that used to be my home. It’s about 55 miles from where I live now – a tiny town of about 700 people – Henning, Minnesota.

It’s like many small towns in this area – a school, a post office, some business and more churches than it probably needs. Most of the places there that hold the largest amount of my memories are virtually unrecognizable to me now. My grandmother’s house was sold a few years ago and the new owner has painted it a garish blue. The school built a large addition shortly after I left and even my lovely little white church has been torn down and a new, modern worship structure is taking its place.

I drove across the roads that wound themselves between lakes and woods, snow skittering across the highways in the temperatures that hovered near zero toward the place that once was home. I saw the school bus dropping off kids near Ottertail, drove past the areas where many of my classmates used to live – the classmates who lived on the “other side” of town from me. The lake kids.

I went to see mom and dad. I hadn’t been there for many months. Although cemeteries are rarely full of fun, they are particularly desolate during the winter. When the weather is nice, I almost enjoy walking among the gravestones, observing the flowers blooming, the decorations and solar garden lights people have left behind for loved ones. During the winter, however, the cemetery is bitter and cold. I could only stand by their graves for a few minutes. I brushed some snow off their names engraved in the granite, a few tears freezing at the corners of my eyes, and then I shuffled back to the shelter of my car.

I drove around a bit more but it only takes all of five minutes to drive down every street of Henning. Then, I pulled up to the assisted living home where my mom’s best friend lives. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon, likely a good time to catch her. Norma was sitting in her room when I arrived. She makes a fuss over me when I come. I like that. Mom used to make a fuss over me and I miss that. We sat and talked about this and that. Shared some memories about my mom and dad. It’s a beautiful, bittersweet thing to talk to other people who miss the same people as you.

Finally, it was getting to be suppertime and the sun was going down. I hugged Norma goodbye and said I would be back soon when the weather gets warmer. She went into her big closet and brought out some chocolates for me to bring to the boys. She makes a fuss over them, too. I like that.

I left town as the sun set. I saw the water tower, the prairie, the sidewalks where my best friend and I would walk and laugh until our sides hurt, the café where mom and I used to like to go have pie and coffee.

I hardly cry about her anymore. She’s slipping from my daily memories and yet she’s always there. I hear her in my voice, I see her in my mirror, she rests in the background of every decision I make. “What would mom think? What would she say? I miss you, I miss you, I miss you.”

Past the snowy fields I made my way back toward the place life has brought me now. The moon was rising bright and cold. I drove up to my warm house – the lights welcoming me home. My husband and children were in the midst of the evening routine. I could hear Owen practicing his baritone as I got out of the car. Jesse was wrestling with his math homework. Chad was putting away the leftovers from supper.

This beautiful life. These days so near and yet so exceedingly far from my hometown.

Upsala Lutheran Church, Calloway, MN


I have an affection for country churches and I’ve been trying to figure out how to channel this into something that can be shared with any who might be interested as I am.  Perhaps it will turn into a separate blog but for now I’m going to share some of my country church adventures here.

Since moving back to Minnesota nearly two weeks ago I have come across a TON of Lutheran country churches – because there are just SO MANY here.  I always knew that but had kind of forgotten after being away and serving churches in other states for the last 16 years.

Upsala was not the first country church I went to find – but it is my favorite so far because it is so tucked away that one would not ever know it is there if you just stayed on the paved roads.  It is north of Detroit Lakes on highway 59 about 7 miles, then turn right on 240th avenue until you come to “Upsala Church Road” and turn left.  As you wind your way on the gravel road that cuts through the grassy hills, eventually up ahead you will see the steeple of Upsala peeking out above a grove of trees.  The church itself has a long driveway shaded by oaks – as I drove in I decided I would have to come back in the fall and take more pictures when the leaves are at their best.

Upsala was established in 1871 which makes it older than most of the other churches in this area.  It may even be the oldest but I need to do more research to determine whether or not this is true.  I walked around the beautiful cemetery and took many photographs, and of course, I had to check to see if the door to the church was open and fully expected it to be locked as every country church in Minnesota usually seems to be.  The front door was locked – but a back door was open!!  I was full of glee to be able to actually see the inside of this structure which has not been used for weekly worship since 1964!!  The altar rail and pulpit were very typical of the Scandinavian style from the late 1800’s.

There was an interesting article hanging on the wall about how the church had been used for Midsummer Night celebrations even after its’ closing and that there was a small group of people who were committed to caring for the building and keeping it nice.  I wonder who those people are now and where the church records are kept.  The article also said that the church closed because the area was simply “overchurched” at the time.  This is not hard to believe since one can practically see Richwood Lutheran (ELCA) from there if there weren’t hills and trees in the way and I believe Lund Lutheran (LCMC) is close, too.

The setting of this church is quite simply one of the loveliest places I have seen.  Unfortunately, a home has been built quite close to the church so if you look in that direction the illusion of stepping back in time is spoiled, but nevertheless, when one is in that church yard you can practically picture the early settlers arriving at worship in their wagons, the pioneers coming early to put wood in the stove to warm the church before service, or the preacher coming in on horseback.

I’m so glad this beautiful building has not been torn down so that we can still have a glimpse of what these original churches on the prairie really looked like.

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