Yesterday my husband and I drove from Minneapolis to Watertown South Dakota. I haven't been back to northeast South Dakota since I left 14 years ago. I returned to be a pastor in the big city where I was born and raised. But I loved it out on the prairie, and I've been thinking about an opportunity to go back and visit for many years.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the largest of the three small churches I served. Tomorrow I'll be a part of the worship there (along with many other of their former pastors, may I say), and each of us has been invited to give a small greeting at the Anniversary Program. (I haven't written it yet.... but I'm thinking about it.)
So we drove the old route that I used to drive fairly often, the one from Minneapolis to Watertown, mostly down highway 7 to 212 in Montevideo. (I haven't gone the last leg, to Vienna, yet.)
I remembered that the first time I drove out to interview, I put the music from "My Fair Lady" on the tape deck in the car (yes, it was 1994) and sang songs all the way out there. I had just come from my fifteen minutes of fame in a church production of "My Fair Lady". I had learned the part of Eliza and graduated from seminary: I thought I could do anything.
I remembered the time we took the youth group to Valley Fair for the day, leaving early in the morning, and arriving back late in the night. We stopped at a pizza place in Montevideo for a late supper. I actually used someone else's cell phone (I didn't have one at the time) to call ahead and order the pizzas. The call broke up and I had to call back a couple of times, but I was finally able to place the order.
I'll never forget the looks on the faces of some of the youth when we arrived at the pizza place and the pizzas was all ready for them. Later on, I marvelled at the trust of the person who took our order at the pizza place.
I remembered how I drove back home to Minneapolis on empty roads on Christmas Day. I remembered how, at my interview, one of the questions was, "how do you think you will adjust to the wide open spaces?"
I started thinking about the high points of my ministry there, and it seems to me that those high points are small things.
At Montevideo we hit a snag: some really complicated detours due to road work. We ended up in towns I had never been before, veering south, and then north to Madison. We did see some things we had never been before.
Finally we drove into Watertown, to a hotel that was just being built when I left. We ate at a restaurant that wasn't around when I was in town 14 years ago. We saw that there were new coffee shops that did not exist when I lived there before.
Tonight and tomorrow, I will see again some familiar faces. But, the faces won't all be familiar. The children that I taught for their first communion, the 9th graders that I confirmed two weeks before I left: they are all now grown and married, with children of their own.
What will I say to them? I'm grateful to them. I'm glad to be back. There are memories and there are detours, and both of them are necessary and I'm not always sure which is which.