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Prime Time: Evan Hazard: Playing ecclesiastical hooky Sunday morning

The Bemidji United Methodist (BUMC) bulletin for Dec. 23, 2012, said Pastor Gay would be on vacation Dec. 30, and announced a substitute preacher for that Sunday. However, it occurred to me that a favorite theolog, Linnea Papke-Larson, was an associate pastor at First Lutheran (FLC), and maybe she’d be preaching that same morning. I emailed her and, yes she would be.

I’d heard Linnea preach on Sunday only once before, ages ago, when she subbed for our then pastor, Marva Jean Hutchens (now pastor at Grand Rapids UMC). I don’t claim to recall Linnea’s topic then, but remember the sermon was well done, and learned at coffee afterward it had been well-received.

The one other time I heard Linnea speak at BUMC was at Elaine’s funeral in 2011. For decades, since before Neilson Place was built, Elaine had volunteered as lay chaplaincy assistant to Linnea at North Country Rehab and the two had become close friends. Linnea did the eulogy at the funeral (the day’s toughest job) and did it very well.

So, last Sunday of 2012, I played hooky. FLC has both 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. services. I opted for 10:30, same time as BUMC’s service. Made sure to be early to get a seat down front (“A” students sit down front). But first I bumped into several surprised Lutherans in the “gathering place,” including Larry Hegstad, retired forester who was once my advisee at Bemidji State University and Gloria Muth, a fellow Sanford Health volunteer, who was, with husband Roger, greeter that day. Then a real surprise: Eric Hucke, BUMC retired pastor, and his wife Kris. What were they doing at FLC?

Well, they had recently visited another retired pastor who was convalescing, and Linnea and her husband Mark, who is Sanford Bemidji chaplain, showed up at the same time. Linnea mentioned she was preaching Dec. 30, and they made the same decision I did. They did not, however, follow me down to the third row.

Someone else did. Mark Papke-Larson sat down next to me just before the service started. I am easy to spot from behind, and guess he decided to keep me company. It was a help; Lutheran services are more highly structured than most UMC services, and he pointed out one thing and another in the hymnal. But he got up and left right after the children’s sermon. I figured, wrongly, that it was something he and Linnea had decided upon beforehand.

FLC did all four Lectionary readings, something I attempt when I preach (even when I stray from the Lectionary). Linnea did the Gospel, which we rose for; Anglicans and Catholics will find that familiar. She preached mostly on two parallel selections, the beginning of young Samuel’s call to ministry and also that of 12-year old Jesus questioning the elders in the Temple after Passover, his parents’ desperate return to Jerusalem, and their search for him for three days. She referred to this experience as “grounding” him in his faith, but her wording, probably unintentionally, suggested that his parents may have grounded him for scaring the daylights out of them. (“No TV for a week!”)

After the sermon, the Apostles Creed (BUMC recites one creed or another occasionally), and intercessory prayers, we did the Sharing of the Peace. When I turned to greet those behind me, there were Nancy and Mark Haugen, parents of cellist Eric Haugen, whom I’ve written you about earlier. Eric was on break from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. My email that afternoon had a note from Eric asking that I alert my blind-copy music group to his Friday January 4 recital with Abe Hunter on piano, which I happily did.

I got talking with someone on the way out and was one of the last to greet Linnea at the back of the church. I told her, “You did good.” She asked about my lunch plans: she and the Huckes were thinking about where to do lunch, and I said for them to decide while I checked out the men’s room. Linnea was gone when I returned, winding things up at church. Then I realized why Mark had left. He’s on call much of the time, keeps his cell on vibrator when at church and such, and left for Sanford Bemidji on business.

On Eric’s suggestion, we went to what is probably Bemidji’s best chain restaurant, which my BUMC crowd sometimes picks for post-service breakfast or lunch.

Ordinarily, the place’s major drawback is noise from the sports bar area, but the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is a light day. Linnea and Mark were in contact via cell phone, so he knew where we were, said to go ahead and order our meals, and he’d get there when he could. Fortunately, the resulting delay was no problem since the lunch crowd was so sparse.

Kris and I were outnumbered, two laypeople to three learned theologs, but it didn’t get too thick, and we could have held our own anyway. Actually, we had a grand, extended sociable lunchtime; couldn’t ask for better.

Evan Hazard, a retired BSU biology professor, also writes “Northland Stargazing” the fourth Friday of each month.