Each Saturday night for forty years, Garrison Keillor has shared the news from Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, the fictional town "that time forgot and the decades cannot improve." Keillor recently announced that next season will be his last as the host of "A Prairie Home Companion," a radio show with four million listeners. Many of us love the stories of Bruno the fishing dog, the Norwegian bachelor farmers, and the town handyman Carl Krebsbach who repairs the repairs of the amateurs.
In Lake Wobegon, the German Catholics worship at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility and the Norwegian Lutherans worship at Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church, home of the National Lutheran Ushering Champions, the Herdsmen. With a population of 942, I suppose it is no surprise that this mythical town in Minnesota has no Baptist church, but I cannot be the only one disappointed that Keillor has not imagined Lake Wobegon Baptist Church. Perhaps it is not too late:
Well, it's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, my hometown, out there on the edge of the prairie. It's the end of summer, the last week of reading books for the fun of it. The geese are packing their bags to head south. Red and orange are about to explode all over the woods. Drivers are hoping to get another season out of the snow tires. The temperature got up to 75 only once in August, but a few of the Baptists are still hoping they get to wear their one pair of shorts to the Labor Day picnic.
Lake Wobegon Baptist Church began when three displaced families who had never been north of Nashville got tired of the heat and didn't think to ask about the mosquitoes. These decent, hardworking people heard the Macedonian call to move to a state filled with pagans who had never sung a single stanza of "Just As I Am." When they arrived among the Yankees they felt like Lottie Moon getting off the boat on the Yangtze River.
The Baptists meet in a hunched over, elderly brick building with a little bell tower-complete with a bat-that they inherited when the Methodists gave up. The stained glass is a little too Methodist and John David had to build a baptistery that took a row out of the choir loft.
Hazel gets to church first. She works at the Chatterbox Cafe making softball-size caramel rolls ("Coffee 25¢, All Morning 85¢, All Day $1.25, Ask About Our Weekly Rates"). Hazel arrives at work at 4:00 on weekdays, but on Sundays she sleeps in until 6:00. She brings day old rolls to Sunday school and has never gotten a complaint.
Billy Ray is the only native Minnesotan. His parents moved to Lake Wobegon from Little Rock during the terrible winter of 1985, nine months before he was born. Billy Ray was the 1997 Minnesota State Bible drill champion. He does not mention that his only competitors were two nine-year-olds who entered at the last minute in exchange for the promise of getting to watch Beverly Hills 90210.
Pattie Mae has almost decided she would rather be down the street at the Catholic Church with the incense filling the gothic cathedral and the new priest who looks like Tom Cruise. Everyone knows that she's attended several Catholic dances. "How can I still be part of a church that takes great pride in not having wine at the Lord's Supper?" she wonders, but she's still around.
Barrett and Noelle brought their son for the first time. He is eleven days old and Noelle refuses to leave the baby in the nursery with Barbara Kay, who has been coughing, but Barrett really wants to show off Henry.
Ima Jean and Curtis have always been strict people with high standards who expect everyone to live up to them. But then Emily, the granddaughter they adore, turned out not to be much of a churchgoer. Ima Jean and Curtis are rethinking their ecclesiology.
Opal Ann started dialysis this week. She didn't tell anyone, though she knows secrets don't last long in Lake Wobegon. Opal Ann is the kind of person who listens without arguing. Churches don't have enough people like that.
Barry Wayne shuffles in late, because he was at the Sidetrack Tap last night-where old men sit and self-medicate. Barry Wayne says he's not a big hugger, but half of the reason he comes to church is his longing to be embraced by another warm body during the welcome time.
At 11:01, Pastor Billie Lou steps to the pulpit and says, "Welcome to Lake Wobegon Baptist Church. We may not recognize it ourselves, but we are God's beloved creation. We are the descendants of Abraham, the distant stars he saw shining in the sky. We are the children of our heavenly Father, our loving Mother. We are the church of Jesus Christ."
That sounds like the kind of thing preachers say all the time, but that's the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.