It is good to see some reports start to roll in from the American Society of Church History's Spring Meeting this past month in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thanks to Barton Price for the In God's House review!
|The Kensington Rune Stone|
Both David and Michael have forthcoming books--be sure to put them on your reading list!
|Second Reformed Church, Pella, Iowa|
From my understanding, this desire to "Go Beyond Lake Wobegon" also featured prominently at the Midwestern History Association meeting last week. Perhaps subsequent correspondents can give insight there.
In helping us think beyond Lake Wobegon, I include my opening comments, which point to religious diversity in Lake Wobegon, or, if not Lake Wobegon, at least Anoka, Minnesota:
I started with a familiar line: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, my hometown...”
(That didn't generate the waves of applause I was hoping for, but perhaps it was too early in the morning, or the fact that we weren't meeting at the Fitzgerald Theater.)
Now, in addition to simply seeing if that could get some audience participation, let me begin by saying Lake Wobegon IS my hometown, or just about.
Garrison Keillor grew up in Anoka, Minnesota, which is literally just a few miles from my house, down Highway 14 and across the town-line. Since Keillor built his evocation of Midwestern life on his memories of Anoka, I think I can claim that Lake Wobegon is pretty close to my current hometown.
But this panel is interested, not only in the Midwest generally, but in religious experiences in particular. Again, consideration of religious experiences in the Midwest is normally vague: Anglo, perhaps European ethnic, Protestant and Roman Catholic. In this regard, I think about the church stories told by Garrison Keillor, dating back to his Lake Wobegon Days (1985). In Keillor’s telling, there were only three major groups--the Lutherans who receive a lot of attention, the Catholics, and the “Sanctified Brethren,” (the Plymouth Brethren of Keillor’s youth).
And yet, by digging deeper, we can see a lot of diversity beyond that stereotype. A quick search of Anoka, Minnesota’s church life today demonstrates this flowering of religious options. There are still Lutheran churches--7, to be exact, although you can select from ELCA, Free Lutheran, and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod options. There is also a large Roman Catholic parish, St. Stephens. Going beyond this, things get a lot more complicated. St. Stephen’s hosts a vibrant Latino Catholic congregation that shares its space, albeit at different times. And then, the Protestant options proliferate. There are 6 Baptist churches, for instance. There are 8 non-denominational churches (Gracelife Church, anyone?) including 3 that have “community church” in their names. There is a United Methodist and a Wesleyan Congregation. There are several Holiness or Pentecostal Churches, including an Assemblies of God. There is an Evangelical Covenant Church (Anoka Covenant), which snagged the great URL www.anokachurch.org. There is both an Episcopal (Trinity Episcopal) and a Seventh Day Adventist option. Clearly, the inhabitants of Lake Wobegon don’t lack for church options.
But there are even more religious opportunities. There is a Latter-Day Saints Ward. There’s a Jehovah’s Witnesses outpost. There’s a Baha’i gathering. There’s even a well-known Buddhist temple. The Wat Anoka Dhammaram Buddhist Meditation Center in Anoka has now been going strong for over a decade.
Put together, this suggests many more options and experiences than would be expected at first blush. The Midwest has religious stories that need to be told and that illuminate Midwestern history, religious history, and even American history.