After spending most of our married life in central Minnesota, my wife and I arrived in Northfield just in time to vote in the 2008 election. Election night was our initial visit to First United Church of Christ, the voting precinct for the Carleton side of town. We would later be blessed with numerous friends at this UCC congregation.
Within a few months, we had settled on Bethel Lutheran as our new church home, and we have continued to appreciate the way Bethel “does church” … a vibrant youth ministry, heady and stirring preaching, and a multi-faceted music ministry that draws on superior professional and amateur talent. Before long, I was invited to the men of Bethel weekly discussion group and then “volunteered” for the personnel committee. I taught a Sunday adult forum class and addressed Bethel gatherings on other occasions. Wednesday evening Bistro, a weekly congregational meal, helped us to meet new friends fast.
Northfield is a college town that boasts two of the finest liberal arts colleges in the Midwest.
Carleton’s founders were New England Yankees with roots in the Congregational Churches of the East, but Carleton is no longer affiliated with any church or denomination, and the gothic church building that sits sentinel at the entrance to the college green now hosts Islamic and Jewish gatherings, as well as Christian groups. Last Passover eve, the Bethel men’s group was hosted by the rabbi from the Twin Cities who serves the Carleton Jewish community.
St Olaf is one of the leading ELCA colleges in the country, and many Lutheran pastors, church leaders, and theologians have ties to St. Olaf, especially those of Norwegian heritage. The King and Queen of Norway will visit St. Olaf in mid-October. Although I have no personal ties to St. Olaf, I was privileged to speak at Boe Chapel, to sign books thru the bookstore on homecoming weekend, and to gain the friendship of many present and former professors and staff.
Downtown Northfield is an eclectic mix of shops, eateries, museums, libraries, and a village square overlooking the historic Cannon River. Summer concerts, art fairs, and a popcorn wagon grace the square, but the biggest annual downtown event is the “Defeat of Jesse James Days” held each September. Yes, it was here where the infamous Jesse James gang met its match, and the shootout outside the old bank building is reenacted multiple times on this September weekend. “Get your guns, boys, they’re robbin’ the bank” is the message printed on many T-shirts.
Tiny’s Hot Dogs recently closed, but you can still see the bumper stickers that read, “Eat at Tiny’s. Save the World.” Goodbye Blue Monday is one of several excellent coffeehouses downtown, and it is here that the local ELCA clergy from Northfield, Faribault, and environs gathers each Thursday morning for coffee and conversation. Though I’m laity, I appreciated the invitation to join this heady group and to participate in church gossip, text study, and a great deal of laughter that often drew wondering glances from the students and town’s folk: who are these Lutherans and why are they having so much fun?
But now it’s time for the next chapter in our lives. Next Thursday, the 29th of September, we will pull out from the driveway of our townhouse in a rented Penske truck loaded with our earthly belongings. Arlington Heights in the Northwest Chicago suburbs will be our destination.
It’s a family deal. Our middle daughter, Greta, has been offered her dream job as the Caribbean Product Manager for Apple Vacations, but that requires relocation to Chicago. The complication is that her husband, Guni, still has a year or more remaining on his PHD program at the University of Minnesota. Guni encouraged Greta to accept the job offer and to ask Mom and Dad if we would relocate with her to temporarily provide support for her and our two year old granddaughter until he could join them. So, we’ll all live together in a rented four-bedroom house in a three-generational family.
Our oldest daughter, Karin, a Yoga instructor and writer, has been establishing a Northfield following, but after a few days of indecision, she has also decided to join us in Chicago. She was a counselor at a battered women’s shelter in Chicago early this decade, so she still has close friends in the Windy City. Our youngest, Hal, will remain in the Brainerd, Minnesota area, but he has taken vacation next week to help us all move to Chicago.
So, Goodbye Blue Monday and the rest of Northfield. Though we leave Northfield with many tears, we also eagerly anticipate the opportunity to be part of rearing our granddaughter and to share the adventure that awaits us in Chicago.