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John Eggers: The homecoming at Good Shepherd Country Church

At first they thought it was a good idea.

But at the end of the day, Pastor Paul Olson and his wife, Judy, agreed this would be the first and last time they would celebrate homecoming at Good Shepherd Country Church in northwest Minnesota.

On the Sunday before the celebration, Pastor Olson announced the idea to their congregation of about 70 members. Judy read off a list of homecoming events.

There would first be a parade. Each member was to have a float with a theme. A $25 gift certificate from the local hardware store in Hallock would be awarded to the winner.

The parade would be followed by selecting a king and queen from the congregation. Every member would be eligible and the winner would be the one receiving the most votes.

A potluck would be served at noon and each dish had to have something to do with the homecoming theme, which was “Coming Home to Jesus.”

After the potluck there would be a bonfire in the church parking lot. All this week members could bring anything they wanted to burn and put it in a pile. If anyone had an old outhouse, they were to bring it and this would be placed on the very top of the pile.

Being a former Concordia Cobber football player, Pastor Olson thought there should be some kind of “athletic” event. Judy suggested they make a circle around the bonfire, hold hands and see how fast they could squeeze the hand they held. The Homecoming King would say “start” and when every hand was squeezed, the Queen would say “stop.” Pastor Olson would time them and then they would do it a second time to try to break their record.

Yes, Pastor Olson and Judy figured it would be a great day.

It had been 50 years since Paul Olson and Judy Hermanson were selected as the Homecoming King and Queen for Concordia in Moorhead. They delighted in all of the festivities and they never missed a Concordia homecoming.

They had just received a letter from Concordia announcing this year’s homecoming. As Pastor Olson and Judy began making plans to attend, Pastor Olson said, “Ya know, we should have our own homecoming right here at Good Shepherd Country Church”.

The congregation was an elderly group. They always put their trust in their pastor and did whatever he suggested. So the idea of a homecoming event for the church, which, at first, seemed kind of strange, started to sound like fun.

Things went array from the onset when people arrived with their floats. There were about 27 in all. They were to circle the church several times. Unfortunately, with everyone pulling a float, there was no one to watch the parade. The people brought lots of candy to throw to the kids, but there were no kids to catch it. The three dogs that belonged to a nearby farm wandered over to check out the commotion and enjoyed their fill of suckers and Tootsie Rolls.

After the third time around the church, Pastor Olson told them to stop and view each other’s floats. They were to vote for the best float, which included the one made by Maynard Spitsack. It said, “Lassie, Come Home,” which made no real sense, but because they had their collie dog riding in the back of the pick-up, it came in second place.

Most floats simply said, “Good Shepherd Country Church, Homecoming 2013.” The winning float belonged to Eunice Bittner, who happened to be a veteran of WWII, and was now approaching 90 years. The theme for her float said, “Praise the Lord and Pass The Ammunition,” which made even less sense than the collie float, but because Eunice was the oldest in the congregation and she did spend some time decorating her car with red, white and blue crepe paper, she was declared the winner.

She was also voted to be the Homecoming Queen — again, probably because she was the oldest. There was a seven-way tie for the King but since Judy only made one crown, they had pass it to each other as their names were read off at the conclusion of the service.

The church meal consisting of a dozen or so hot dishes, salads and desserts all with a “home” theme such as: “There is no place like home apple cobbler,” “Bring Home the Bacon Hotdish” and “Eat Until the Cows Come Home Jell-O salad.” The winner was “Man’s Home Is His Hotdish,”

The pile of trash for the bonfire had taken on gigantic proportions. Everyone had something to donate including the old outhouse on top.

After the meal they all gathered around the bonfire, which Pastor Olson had already started in spite of the warning given to him by the president of the congregation, Mr. Stevenson, that it “seemed just a little too windy, not to mention, dry”.

Judy tried to get the people to form a circle around the fire, but the heat was like a blast furnace and there were flames and sparks shooting a hundred feet in the air. People ran for cover. The old outhouse melted.

At the end of the day, Judy and Pastor Olson were sitting around their kitchen table hashing over the events of the day. “I think it was going pretty well until the neighbor’s soybean field caught fire,” said the Pastor. “Well it was lucky the firemen came as quickly as they did or we would have lost the church,” added Judy.

“Do you think we should bring up the homecoming event at the next council meeting?” questioned Pastor Olson. “Maybe, they would like to do it again next year.” Judy just rolled her eyes.

JOHN R. EGGERS of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.