I write this on Saturday night, February 27, at 8:00 p.m. I have just finished viewing “A Prairie Home Companion” live-streamed by NPR. It was a sentimental and nostalgic show since it was the final time that PHC will be broadcast from The Fitzgerald Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. That theater has been home for the show for many years. Across those years those of us who do not live in St. Paul, or in Minnesota for that matter, have developed a special attachment to the area.
Especially have we listeners come to know a mythical town that in time became real to us. We all feel like residents of Lake Woebegone. We imagine what the Chatterbox Café looks like, with its aging booths and its long lunch counter with circular barstools. We easily envision the properties maintained by the local Norwegian farmers. In our minds we can see the Lutheran Church as well as the Roman Catholic Church with its wonderful name, Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility. We know the hardware store, the auto repair shop, the high school gym that was home to the basketball teams and the annual prom, the summer gardens out back of white frame houses, and the fishing shacks that stood on Lake Wobegone when it iced over in winter. The weekly broadcast from St. Paul felt like home to us, reminding us of real life places that were not unlike the show’s fictional town. I grew up in a town like that, which is probably why “A Prairie Home Companion” appealed to me as it did. It reminded me of home.
Garrison Keillor has been the host since its inception. His slow, melodic voice and gifted story-telling abilities to many of us are inseparable from the show itself … just as is the knowledge that it comes to us from The Fitzgerald Center in St. Paul. Keillor is about to take the show on the road for the duration of his time as its host. Part of that will even occur here in New York City. But all too soon he will not be the host anymore. In fact, after he said goodbye tonight he will not be at the helm of the program when it returns home to St. Paul. He has embarked on his farewell tour. For many of us who have transitioned from young adult years to senior years listening to him every Saturday night, this evening was an emotional experience.
After the farewell tour is concluded, the new host will be Chris Thile. He is a very likable person and a gifted musician who will no doubt do a superb job re-crafting and leading the program. I will probably still listen often. But as we age, change is difficult. It's hard to let go of the old, even if the new is rich and refreshing. Because when we do so, we do not merely let go of something external to ourselves. Instead, we let go of a bit of ourselves – that which was shaped by, influenced by, and made to feel safe by that which used to be.
All this makes me think of the boldness of Christian faith. It is built on the strength and legacy of things which were, but it always steps boldly into that which is yet to be. Isn't that what St. Paul said? "This one thing I do, letting go of that which lies behind and straining forward to that which lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13) I am thinking tonight of what a difficult thing that is to do, especially for those of us who carry such warm memories of our yesterdays.
A friend in ministry said to me last week that she is glad her time of retirement is approaching, because The Church she knew is quickly morphing into something she doesn't recognize it all. It is becoming not merely a safe haven on the street but also, via the Internet, it is becoming an arm of evangelism and a source of community in the world. Churches are no longer small circles where everyone knows everyone else but instead are becoming what John Wesley predicted centuries ago when he said, "The world is my parish." I see it at Marble as every Sunday we have people worshiping with us on-line. They consider themselves part of this parish, but they live in all 50 states and in countless countries around the globe. I see it in a culture where denomination means less and less and specific fellowship and shared discipleship mean more and more. The future is upon us, and churches must be prepared to "strain forward toward that which lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
I guess that's enough for now. There's chicken on the stove. It's time to eat. Tomorrow is Sunday, so soon I will need to cloister with my thoughts as I prepare for Worship. Keillor will be on the radio next week and for numerous weeks to come, so I can still hear the voice and the familiar stories. But a huge chapter concluded tonight, and only the brief epilogue remains to be experienced. Change is in the wind, and the world moves forward. Hopefully something of the spirit of Lake Wobegone will move with it, making the world a better place. Hopefully, also, The Christian Church will always do the same, respecting and celebrating its past, but "straining forward toward that which lies ahead" with the goal of making a new world a better place.