This morning we wandered around Watertown some more, looking into a couple of antique stores, peeking into a flea market that I used to go to when it was a different kind of store. I recognized the store and said I had bought a library table and a dining room set there. There was a man who took old furniture and restored it. "Oh, he passed away a long time ago," one of the current proprietors told me.
We had coffee and went home for a little while, before driving down the country roads to Vienna and Bethlehem. I wanted to get in a little early, so I could see a few things, drive down a few gravel roads, show my husband at least one of the other small churches where I served.
When we got to town, I saw that the post office was still there. The (large, agri-business-owned) Grain Elevator was bigger than ever. The small bar is still there.
The church looked lovely. There were cars already gathering for the pot luck. I felt a little shy. After all, it has been 14 years since I left, and they have had several fine pastors since I was there. Would anyone remember me? (Ok, I knew a few people would: I'm in touch with a handful of former youth on facebook).
Then I saw a familiar face. The woman who ran the post office. She always used to say to me, "There's a lid for every pot." I said to her, "Do you remember what you used to say to me?" I introduced her to my husband.
I saw a number of my former confirmation students, some active in the church and community with their own families. With all of the jokes about confirming young people and never seeing them again, do you know how it feels to see students that I confirmed, taught, got to know -- to see them in coming to worship with their own families? It's like getting to see the seeds you planted sprout and grow.
Lots of people came up to shake my hand, as if I was a really important part of their community, if only for four years. And one point, someone said that it was a big deal that someone like me, a single woman from the big city, would be willing to come out to the prairie, the wide open spaces.
But they were welcoming and gracious to me -- both as a pastor and as a stranger. It wasn't hard to love them.
They also make good pot luck.
Little Vienna, South Dakota -- it was only four years, but you changed my life forever.