I was in St. Johnâ€™s Lutheran Church of Green Meadow Township, rural Ada, Minn.
When you walk into St. Johnâ€™s large sanctuary, your eyes are quite powerless. Oh they do glance to the right and to the left to appreciate the beautiful stained glass windows and the inspirational banners. But, mostly they stay fixated on the exquisite white-tipped-in-gold altar whose light lavender haloed dome embraces a large statue of Jesus.
Throughout much of funeral service for Lillie Mattie Mary Hasz, my eyes didnâ€™t leave that altar. Consequently, I felt touched by the Spirit of God.
We didnâ€™t know Lillie. We were there because her son and daughter-in-law, Herb and Gail Hasz, Grand Forks, are dear friends of ours. Lillie lived just eight days after her 102 birthday on Nov. 19. As a lifelong member of St. Johnâ€™s, she was blessed to be in the presence of this altar on Sundays for more than a century. St. Johnâ€™s is where Lillie was baptized, confirmed, married and actively involved. One of her greatest joys was making quilts for Lutheran World Relief.
Lillieâ€™s granddaughter, Patrice Gerber, sang â€œCome to Jesus,â€ ever so beautifully. After a delicious lunch served in the Fellowship Hall by the men and women of St. Johnâ€™s, I heard the song again coming from somewhere.
I wandered back into the sanctuary where Patrice was doing an encore at the request of family members.
I went near to where Patrice was singing and could almost reach out to touch the altar. I had to ask about it.
Bud Berglind, another lifelong member, supplied me with a couple church history books and hereâ€™s what I learned:
St. Johnâ€™s first tiny church building was completed in 1883, but by 1891, the congregation had grown so much that a larger church was built. The pastor serving at that time had a hobby of wood working so he helped design and build an ornate altar.
Not this one, though.
In 1926, lightning struck the tall spire of the second church building and it burned to the ground.
The altar was gone.
With the help of pictures and plans and patterns still in the possession of Ole Haaland and Oscar Haaland, who had worked on the first altar, an identical altar was built for the new church completed in 1927. That is the altar we see today, the one that takes my breath away.
Kim DeBruyckere, another of Lillieâ€™s granddaughters, took the above photo and e- mailed it to me.
Bud tells me that a large foot powered jig saw was used to cut the nearly 20 delicate spires on the altar. Each is topped by an equally elegant cross.
That jigsaw remains in the Haaland family and was demonstrated by the late Milo Haaland when St. Johnâ€™s celebrated its 100th anniversary.
I told Bud I could hardly take my eyes off the altar during Lillieâ€™s service. â€œThatâ€™s what we hear from everyone who visits for the first time,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s a beautiful view. Itâ€™s a handiwork and so spectacular. Itâ€™s someone using the gifts God gave them to create this altar. When you walk into another church and then come home to this one, itâ€™s a reassurance of your spiritual life.â€
Along with her family, Iâ€™m grateful for Lillieâ€™s life. If it hadnâ€™t been for her I may never have experienced the altar.