I did not mention in my last blog about the house hosts who are providing for Matt Lawler and I (Steve Bogie) a place of shelter and rest during our stay in Nebraska. Matt and I are tremendously fortunate to be invited to stay with Jerry and Glea Haupt. The Haupt's are two of the sweetest people who treat us both like family.
On Wednesday, May 21, 2014 we visited multiple rural church communities such as, Keystone interdenominational, Grace Lutheran, Saint Mark’s Lutheran, and Berea Lutheran church. Each of these churches had special offerings of survival in rural contexts by working together as a combined community.
A unique example of a combined community working together for survival was demonstrated by Keystone interdenominational church. Keystone exemplified Lutheran/Presbyterian backgrounds that worked together hand in hand with Roman Catholic traditions in one building for the combined practice of worship. The need for a church in the community outweighed the denominational differences that typically would separate these traditions. Yet, as demonstrated in this church community one of the best traits of Nebraska is that the people happily figure out ways to work together as a community even through difficult situations.
Grace Lutheran Church provided a sobering perspective for our group with the difficulty of keeping a small church community together in times of struggle. Grace has a congregational size of eleven to nineteen parishioners on an average Sunday for worship. Vonnie Brown explained to our group the history of this congregation and its ability to continue forward even without a called pastoral figure. Vonnine shared with us about her father's life as the pastor of this community and his subsequent passing which led her to take over the responsibilities of leading this community to keep it afloat. Vonnie explained to us about a PMA which and helped us understand what type of role the Parish Ministry Associate embodies. A PMA is a ministry leadership role that is unique only to the Nebraska Synod. A PMA is trained to serve in a ministry role that allows them to preach and administer the sacraments in a single parish. PMA's can do most things in the church like a called pastor, but PMA's are not allowed to sign marriage certificates.
Saint Mark's Lutheran:
Saint Mark's is a gorgeous church that is lead by Brenda Tophoj a PMA who is filled with a beautiful fire and energy to serve God as well as her parish. Brenda emphasized to us that being part of a small community parish is a great gift because people of a small community work together through thick and thin. Brenda took over Saint Mark's as a PMA when its previous pastor left accepting a new call at a different church community. Brenda was a wonderful host filled with insight about how special it is to be part of rural ministries in Nebraska.
Berea Lutheran is an absolutely beautiful church that we as a group were fortunate to be able to visit. Berea and Saint Mark's Lutheran Churches are part of a four point parish community. Brenda Tophoj is the PMA for the congregation at Berea as well as at Saint Mark's. Members of Berea's congregation spent at least an hour with our group conversing about their outlook of rural Nebraska. We as a group were able to embark on conversations about school, social life, shopping, the police and fire departments, and crime in rural Nebraska. The conversation we had with these congregational members provided exceptional insight into the lives of the people who live in rural Nebraska. One member lived in Denver at one time in his life and at the end of our conversation he emphasized how happy he now is living in rural Nebraska.
It seems that life is good for the people who live in rural Nebraska. All of our hosts emphasized how happy they are living in rural communities of Nebraska.