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Worship with a country twang: First Lutheran stages themed service at auditorium

WORTHINGTON -- Waylon and Willie won't be there, but don't be surprised to see a few local country-western stars Sunday on the stage at Memorial Auditorium Performing Arts Center in Worthington.

First Lutheran Church has expanded the scope of its annual -- this year's the ninth -- Country Western Service by having it in a larger venue and including musicians from throughout the community. The service begins at 10 a.m. at the auditorium.

"The congregation wanted to do something more community oriented," explained the Rev. Richard Ricker, pastor of First Lutheran. "It's always been aimed at the community, but we wanted to get more of the community involved in it."

The themed service was already an annual event when Ricker came to the congregation, and during his tenure, out-of-town musicians have been brought in to perform at the service, which always falls on the same weekend as King Turkey Day. First Lutheran member Shelly Gieselman, who has sung in many variety productions at Memorial Auditorium, has spearheaded this year's effort and began recruiting local performers several months ago using those connections.

The slate of performers includes many well-known local musicians, including Cindy Anderson on piano; Galen Benton on string bass; Steve Lynn on drums; and vocalists such as Gieselman, Virgil Reed, Rich Liapis, Kris Pederson, Matt Russell, Kyle Fleming, Duane Anderson, Aubrey Anderson and John Widboom. There will also be a community choir, which will have rehearsed twice by the time Sunday rolls around, and opportunities for congregational involvement.

"It's been a lot of fun," said Gieselman. "It's tough to get people to commit during the summer, but I got the good ones to commit. To know so many talented people, it helps a lot."

Music will be woven throughout the service, with many old-time favorites in the mix. Some of the more familiar tunes will be "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," "I Saw the Light," "Softy and Tenderly Jesus Is Calling" and "Amazing Grace." Duane Anderson will reprise a favorite from a past auditorium show, "Go Rest High on that Mountain."

"I think that will be the emotional high point," said Ricker.

Ricker plans to do some "down-home" preaching for the service, although he promises it won't be of the fire and brimstone variety.

"I'm looking at something probably in the form of a story to tell," he said, adding that the service will be broadcast live on KWOA radio.

In addition to the country-western event, First Lutheran has also hosted similarly themed services such as a Hawaiian service and a clown service.

"I like things that will pull us out of our normal routine and help us focus on our spiritual life in a different way," reflected Ricker. "It brings us closer together and closer to God. ... We're trying to capture God's love with a country western twang."

The First Lutheran organizers hope that the service will continue to grow, perhaps in conjunction with other local churches.

"My hometown used to do that," Gieselman explained. "When I was growing up in Westbrook, we had Hospital Days, and all the churches would have one community church service at that time.

"We left ourselves plenty of room to grown," she continued. "Hopefully, it can get bigger and bigger and be a full community thing. That's what's nice about having it here, at the auditorium, because it can be a non-denominational thing."

Gieselman also noted that the service is particularly fitting in conjunction with this year's King Turkey Day theme, "Hometown Music Explosion."

"We're all hometown people, and I hope it's going to be explosive music," she said.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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