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Column: Go and explore 'our Father's world'

'Many among us will have a Hallmark greeting card kind of Father’s Day ...'

102820 N DG Pastor Anne Hokenstad.jpg
Anne Hokenstad is the new lead pastor at American Lutheran Church in Worthington. (Tim Middagh / The Globe)

Those who gather in a Christian congregation for worship on Sunday, June 20 will find themselves singing “This is My Father’s World.” This is often the music accompanying the celebrations of Father’s Day.

This Protestant hymn standard was drawn from a poem written by Presbyterian minister Maltbie D. Babcock (1858-1901). Shortly after his death in 1901, his wife, Katherine, published one of Babcock’s writings, “This is My Father’s World.” Historians record that Babcock enjoyed “morning walks to the top of a hill north of town where he had a full view of Lake Ontario and the surrounding country.” It was said that he had a frequent expression before leaving for these walks: “I’m going out to see my Father’s world.”

“This is my Father’s world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.”

In 2018, I served a congregation where the leadership planned a “holy experiment.” Father’s Day would be a day of resting from regular worship — no worship that Sunday. Instead, worshippers were encouraged to “go out and see our father’s world.” We asked folks to see what God was doing in the world and to explore the rocks, trees, waters, bluff and coulees of the Driftless region of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and then come back the next Sunday to share their stories of God’s good world in worship.

We did. The holy experiment worked. One man stood and told how he baked several batches of chocolate cookies and placed them in sandwich bags. He loaded up the basket on his bike, riding down to the riverside parks to share these morsels with homeless men, women and young folks who found shelter in the shade. Others stood and talked about how they found the interruption to their normal Sunday schedule disquieting, and it took a while for them to enjoy the day. A few come to the microphone to share their memories of time with children and grandkids. Most talked about how they missed being in God’s House on Father’s Day.

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As the stories drew to a close, one woman — we will call her “Nan” — came forward to the lectern. She held pieces of paper in her hand. Her voice was a bit shaky, a frown on her face. She told us that she was not very happy with this “holy experiment.” She had never celebrated Father’s Day. It was a day of loss and pain for her. She admitted that she did her best to forget the emptiness of a life without her father in God’s World.

Nan is a practical woman, full of vinegar and courage. She decided she would participate in this holy experiment on her terms. She dedicated the weekend to reading a book, "The Monuments Men” by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter.

Nan told us that since she did not have a story of her own father to share, she would tell the story about men who provided fatherly care — preserving fine art, documents and monuments from Hitler’s Nazi greedy grasp. Nan had her first Father’s Day, and those who worshiped alongside were honored to witness it.

Many among us will have a Hallmark greeting card kind of Father’s Day with the men who father us with protective, loyal, generous, emotionally-engage love and support. Others will have experiences like Nan’s — a day of emptiness and painful memories. Some in our community will be mourning this Father’s Day, for it will be a first day without the men who acted with father’s care in their lives.

Our world is God’s — of this I am certain. However, I am curious what it would be like if we, the good people of Worthington and surrounding communities, engaged in a holy experiment. On Sunday morning June 19, 2022, we could step out of our church sanctuaries to “go out and explore our Father’s World.” And then, gather in the evening around picnic baskets and share stories of wonder wrought by God’s capable hands.

Anne Hokenstad is pastor at American Lutheran Church in Worthington.

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