Guest opinion

Thursday, July 25, 2002

A Place of Peace

Where we love is home, home that our feet may leave, but not our hearts.

-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

It sits at the intersection of two rural roads. Cornfield on the left, pasture on the right. There's nothing extraordinary about the country church that stands on land carved out of farm ground.

There's no towering spire or awe-inspiring cathedral.

No songs have been written about this house of worship. No famous sons or daughters have made their way from this place.

It's a church of the land, of farmers and immigrants and their sons and daughters.

Norwegian lost its foothold back in 1916, when English hymnbooks were purchased, but the Oles and Gustavs, the Hansons and Johnsons, continue to cling to their heritage today. The huge Norwegian Bible has a place of honor on the altar.

No, there's nothing especially unique about that church, one of hundreds doting the Iowa countryside. But, to me, that small country church is home.

There's a lot a talk these days about how disconnected we Americans are from our roots, our heritage.

I'm lucky, with just a short drive, I can reconnect with much of my family's past. When people ask me where I'm from, I usually say "Spencer." That's correct, to a point. I went to school there from

elementary age on, and it's there that I came of age.

But my roots belong somewhere else, and it's there that I returned for a recent weekend. I went back to honor the 125th anniversary of that little church in the country.

In that church, my parents were wed, my siblings and I were baptized and I returned to marry.

In that church, we honored my grandfathers at their passing. We've celebrated babies and anniversaries and the 85th birthdays of my dear grandmothers four years ago. God willing, next spring we will gather, from all over the map, to honor those grand ladies on their 90th.

There, in a small, wind

swept cemetery, lie aunts and uncles, grandfathers, great grandparents, cousins. There too, someday, will lie others of us.

A walk through the headstones reveals our family history, and tales of love and heartbreak. A child who died before she learned to walk, siblings taken in an influenza outbreak, a father old too early - the result of long hours doing the backbreaking work of farming by hand. It also reveals a pair married for over 50 years, finding the whole world that mattered on their 80 acres, together.

In that small country church, it doesn't matter what I do for a living, what kind of car I drive or whether or not I live in the right part of town. In that church, I belong. Among those people, it doesn't matter if it's been a month or five years since my last visit, I'm always welcome.

Sure, some familiar faces are gone now, and some new ones have replaced them. But I'm always guaranteed my fair share of hugs, and hearty greetings.

My son, too, is received as family, with "oohs and aahs" over his growth, plenty of grandmotherly love and attention and the occasional clandestine peppermint to get him through the long sermon.

There is peace, and contentment, in knowing

that the little church in the country is there, and had been there for 125 years. It's a touchstone in this time of

constant change.

And while my feet have left that place, I'm happy knowing that my heart will always be there.

Paula Buenger is the publisher of the Spencer Daily Reporter, the Pilot-Tribune's sister newspaper.