Narrating Grace

Far Away and Familiar

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Tim and I stayed two nights in the village of Balestrand, Norway during our trip through the Sognefjord in June and while there we spent a morning in the fellow village of Vik, a 15-minute ferry ride away. Vik is known for The Hopperstad Stave Church, one of the oldest stave churches still standing, which is a miracle, given that it’s probably around 1000 years old and is made out of wood.

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We took an early ferry and walked into Vik before any of the shops were open, so we had plenty of time to explore. The church is a 15-minute walk from the harbor right through the town; we enjoyed leaving the beaten path to peek into the neighborhoods and catch a glimpse of everyday life in the village. Nestled into the fjords and built on a slope, the views in Vik are stunning no matter which direction you look.

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Bicycles rest outside a school early in the morning. No bike locks required.

We were delighted to find a church that could have been lifted from Vik and placed into the rural context of our first calls in southwest Minnesota without anyone noticing.

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Everything from the peeling exterior, to the glass case with congregational information and announcements, to the rolling cemetery, to the scent of old wood felt familiar. If someone asked me in that moment to step into the pulpit, lead a service, or do an interment in the cemetery, I would have known exactly what to do. It felt like home.

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It was home, because the Norwegian immigrants who came to Minnesota modeled their churches after home–some churches that have now stood on the prairies for a hundred years or more, baptizing, breaking bread and sharing God’s Word. Churches that once served to separate the Norwegians from the Swedes and Danes and Finns (and, sometimes, the Norwegians from the Norwegians) are now opening their doors to a new generation of immigrants.

Later that day in Norway, Tim and I took a different boat to Fjaerland, an isolated village near a glacier. We skipped the glacier tour and wandered into the tiny church in town that only worships once a month. There we found a record of Confirmations on the wall. Again, something we knew and had done in our own churches over the years. Far from home, but familiar.

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“As people of faith, our values call us to welcome the stranger, love our neighbor, and stand with the vulnerable, regardless of their religion…” -part of a letter signed by Elizabeth Eaton, Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, this past weekend.

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