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Local View: Some places will always be home

I still remember how the floor in the balcony sounded under my feet. The soothing tone of the pastor’s voice. The little boy who sat with his family in a mirroring balcony pew across the sanctuary from my own. Ah, and yes, my family. My grandmother and her sisters and their families. Cousins, second cousins, great aunts.

It was like a family reunion every Sunday at Bethany Lutheran Church, on the corner of Third Street and 23rd Avenue West.

“Your great grandmother was a founding member of this church,” my family told me. “Did you know the services used to be done in Swedish?”

Rumor has it my grandmother’s confirmation classes were in Swedish, too. The Swedish Lutheran Church in the West End. One of many, many churches built in this area. To me it was home. And completely timeless.

Even now, even though there’s a for sale sign out front, I can see it just as it was. My parents and sister sitting with me. The ushers in their suits. The kind librarian in the little room off of the fellowship hall. The lounge. The kitchen. The taste of watered-down Kool-Aid. The smell of coffee. The clinking of mugs. The offices. The stairway to the caretaker’s apartment. The indistinguishable dull roar of a roomful of people all talking and laughing together. Sunday school rooms. The nursery. The sub-basement where the haunted house was every year at the Halloween carnival (much too scary to go down into, of course!).

And the people. My group of friends was there. I met the person I was once married to there. And I have rarely felt such a strong sense of community and belonging as I did when I was a part of this church.

Oh yes, and the pianos, three in the fellowship hall area alone, between the hall, lounge, and choir room. Plus more in the Sunday school and youth group areas. And in the sanctuary itself. One was never in want of a piano to play at Bethany Lutheran Church.

As I got older and learned to do more than just pound on the keys, the sanctuary became my favorite place to play. One song I wrote even references the peace I felt in that space and the beautiful stained-glass windows surrounding the grand room.

There was a large mural on the wall behind the choir loft, also. I don’t know how much time I spent staring at that mural — through sermons and funerals and weddings. I’m sure it added up to innumerable hours throughout the years.

That sanctuary was one of the most beautiful and sacred places of my childhood. And beyond. It still sits there. Quietly. Sometimes, on a Sunday morning, I still yearn for it. As it was. When I would turn around in my pew and talk to my extended family sitting behind me. When I would tell my grandparents all my exciting secrets of childhood. And when I still believed nothing ever would be any different.

Jessica Korpi lives and works in Duluth.

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