I'm not sure why, but I was a bit surprised to find out it was a country church, set outside town with enough distance to seem only tangentially related--which may well be true 125 years ago, when the place was a colony of newly situated Dutch-Americans. I've always thought putting up churches out in the country is a pattern of faith more true of the Lutherans than the Dutch Reformed, but there it was, all by itself, right across the road, not surprisingly, a little Christian school.
Fifty years ago, my father, who spent most of his life among the leaders in the denomination's regional churches spoke glowingly about the Baldwin congregation. It must have been roughly of the same size and composition as the one he served all the way across the state.
Yesterday, I went out of my way to drop by that church, probably in the fashion might parents might have long ago, when any Sunday travel they undertook had to include attending Christian worship, preferably with one's own people, a fellowship they'd dutifully find in the church yearbook.
|Rev. Bernard Van Someren|
One of those men was our preacher when I was a kid, a tall and somewhat stooped man who wore his silver hair, perfectly combed in a pompadour--nothing at all like Elvis, by the way. We thought of him as 60-ish when he was likely half that age, a preacher so devoted to psalm-singing that he'd xerox off copies of his favorites and make us recite them--in addition to the Heidelburg Q and As--every week, a practice I told him, decades later, I appreciated far more as an adult than I had as a kid.
He was a man of determined piety, but someone I'd still call a sweet, not given to the kind of untoward righteousness piousness so frequently creates. By whatever standards I had in mind back then, he and his tall wife were a near perfect match. She had the kind of voice that carried through those church on those very psalms he'd loved. Maybe just a hair flat, my mother would say, nonetheless approvingly. I can still see that woman sing.
Preachers were, at least to my family back then, men of crucial power in the community, their behavior absolutely essential to the spiritual and social health of the believers they served. This man, son of the Baldwin church, did well, I thought. He always struck me as a good, good man. I was too young to be critical.
Another pastor spent some years on a tractor in the fields between woodlands all around that old church. Sometime, out there, I'm guessing he listened to the call to ministry, when off to college and seminary as a Wisconsin farmer.
|Rev. Ted Wevers|
Years later, as an elder in my church, I called him because I wanted to know what he thought about a vexing problem in the congregation I served. He was long gone from the church where I grew up, as was I; but I trusted his thoughtfulness.
Those two sons of the Baldwin congregation were both fine, fine men.
My father wasn't wrong about preachers, and he should have known because his father was one. In any congregation, especially a half-century ago, the preacher, the pastor, like no one else, shaped the life of the community of believers he served.
So I found a motel in Baldwin, Wisconsin last Saturday night. Paid too much too. But I wanted to worship in a place where those two men learned their catechism and listened to a call so long ago.
I wondered what I'd find.
Tomorrow, I'll try to put my impressions into words.
*An untranslatable phrase from the Dutch language, meaning the kind of "house visit" that elders of a congregation were dutifully sent out to do, at least annually, with each of the families of a congregation. For many, many years, doing "huis bezoek" was taken very, very seriously. But then, Dutch Calvinists tended to do many things very, very seriously.