The above picture was taken on my wedding day. While my mother was fussing about getting everyone to the reception, my father had gone from the receiving line back to the church office and was finishing the paperwork that would make my wedding official with the state of North Dakota and then taking the time to enter the occasion into the church records. He liked to take care of those things right away. Sometimes it made my mother a bit impatient. There were times when after a baptism, the family would be invited to a dinner at the baptized family’s home and we would all be waiting, because after everyone had left the church my father would be in the office setting the information down in the church record books. He would be neither delayed nor rushed in these things.
The importance of church records was something my father understood. In 1930 the North Dakota state capitol burned down and the state’s official records were destroyed. Citizens who had lost their own copies of birth certificates and were needing official documentation for the purpose of collecting retirement benefits were able to make use of church records and my father was on occasion called upon to look things up and make copies for people. When St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrated its centennial a book was made that contained copies of all the baptism, confirmations, weddings & funerals in the church’s history. I could go on about this process and the way names of people changed during World War I to down play their German heritage and the challenge of reading other pastors’ handwriting but I digress.
My dad described the church office as a thoroughfare. The room, as tiny as it was, had three doors. One to the nave (seen in the picture), one to the chancel coming out behind the pulpit, and one to the small set of stairs that could then lead either outside or down to the church basement . It was a sort of all purpose room that held the office equipment, church records, paraments and vestments (in a small closet that had a full length mirror on the door), the sound system, the numbers for the hymn boards, folding chairs with arm desks (these were used for Confirmation instruction and any meeting with fewer than five people and thus the congregation could save money by not having to heat up the basement), a chalk board, the locked fireproof file cabinet that the trusties used to store the offerings before the official counting and a bank run was done. (Counting was done on the desk in the office after church. This use of my father’s desk lead to the need for what he called “the Saturday night drawer” where he put everything he needed to stash out of sight for a Sunday morning service. When we first moved there the altar guild even filled the communion ware on that desk, but my father convinced them that this could be done in the kitchen and then brought through the office to the altar.) The room contained a large portion of my father’s personal library and these added filled bookcases probably helped give the room extra insulation in the winter. Still as crowded as it was my father had my Confirmation class (all four of us) take a break to stand up and jump up and down and try to touch the ceiling. He believed that students could think better if they took time to get the blood pumping. If the weather was nice he’d tell us to go outside and run a few laps around the building.
For me as a kid the office held many wonderful little curiosities. There was a small bust of CFW Walther on one of the top shelves. My father had to explain who that guy was. The desk had a small North Dakota state flag that was a gift to my dad from the District President our first summer in North Dakota. The center desk drawer contained a small vial of water from the Jordan River that someone had given him as a souvenir from a trip to the Holy Land. His desk also had his smallest recorder that he would sometimes use to play the melody of a hymn over the phone to one of our church organists if they might be unfamiliar with it. There was also this really nifty push button phone directory with a slide-out drawer that the desk phone sat on. It didn’t have any numbers in it, but it was fun to see the drawer slide open to the corresponding letter that was pushed. On the bulletin board above the copy machine were various calendars and information and then there was a map of North Dakota marked in my father’s own fastidious colorful way. Every LC-MS church in the District was marked with a straight pin. The pins had colored beads on them with a different color for each circuit. Each pin held two beads but the congregation that was home to what was then called the circuit counselor (now circuit visitor) had three beads. Our circuit the beads were red then white with the circuit counselor having a green one added to the end of it (let the Hungarians understand) the District office had five beads. It was a fascinating little map.
One of the few letters my father wrote me after leaving home was written some months after this picture was taken. He was writing to me to let me know that he had received a request for the transfer of my membership from St. Paul’s to University Lutheran Chapel in Milwaukee. At the same time he also recorded receiving my nephew David as a member since my Sister’s family attended services at Wittenberg Chapel a place that was not officially recognized as a congregation by the district and thus could not have a membership roll. It was a bitter sweet moment for him to sever his bond as my pastor. He expressed his hope that I would remain faithful and always have a church home where the gospel was faithfully preached and the sacraments were rightly administered.
Happy Father’s Day Dad: my first pastor, who baptized me, confirmed me, officiated at my wedding and then made sure all those things were properly documented.