After a lifetime of attending an ELCA Lutheran church the Holy Spirit guided me to the Branson United Methodist Church. This is the story of how I was guided to BUMC.
The long story, but short journey, of how the Holy Spirit guided me to Branson, MO has been written. To my surprise, His guidance did not end there. My new house was being transitioned into a man cave and I could live in that cave by myself and be happy. Finding a new church was not high on my work list. The long long war in the Lutheran Church over gay-lesbian pastors soured me on the church. Seldom could you enter any ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) church without hearing a debate, sometimes heated, about that subject. I was just tired of all the fighting. Social issues, including the gay-lesbian debate, had consumed the church for more than twenty years. I just wanted to take my Christianity, as I believed it to be, and live in my man cave. Attending a weekly worship service was not in my plans. However, the Holy Spirit would not leave me alone and kept nudging me to find a new church. Through a series of events, I was guided to the Branson United Methodist Church (BUMC).
In the early spring of 2011, a non-denominational minister and his wife were trying to start a church within the Stonebridge Village development where I lived. The thought of a non-denominational church was attractive. I could leave behind the Lutheran feuds and the lethargy of a church council I had previously served on. The service would be held in a meeting room of the golf course club house at mid-morning on Sunday. I attended for three Sunday’s. The minister’s preaching was based heavily on the Baptist religion. Absent was any formal liturgy, reciting of the Creeds, and no communion. Combined with one previous experience at a non-denominational church funeral, I decided a non-denominational church would not work for me.
I researched Lutheran churches in the area. ELCA Synod churches were few and far between. Several Missouri Synod churches were located in my area. However, the ELCA and Missouri Synods have opposing views of Lutheran theology. Once I had attended a Missouri Synod church at the beginning of a three month business trip. In between the lines of conversation it was apparent they did not expect me to attend that church again. I can read the hand writing on the wall and knew it was useless to try attending a Missouri Synod church.
One ELCA church was about 19 miles from me and the other was 45 miles away. I decided to visit the ELCA church 19 miles away. The building was fairly new and the congregation was friendly. The congregation was elderly. At age 66 I was among the youngest members of the congregation. There wasn’t a children’s sermon because there weren’t any children on most Sundays. That was a plus for me. Two things I wanted in a new church were no children’s sermons and none of this shaking hands and greet everybody. I just didn’t like children’s sermons and the greeting was nothing but a means to pass germs through out the congregation. I had been a member of a church that almost split over stopping the greeting during cold and flu season. Finally the nurses in the congregation took things into their own hands. They bought bottles of hand sanitizer and put several in every pew and told people to use them. The elderly started to return to church and the feud ended.
For me to return to church, one of my requirements was an adult Bible study class. After twenty plus years of dealing with social issues, the ELCA church found most of their members had become Biblically illiterate. They began a concerted effort to teach members how to read and understand the Bible. I wasn’t illiterate but I wanted to gain more knowledge and have a deeper understanding of the Bible. This ELCA church did have an adult Sunday School class but it was held intermittently and lacked depth. It was not what I was looking for. I attended this church for several months but by late summer I decided this church was not a good fit for me. Maybe it was time to go back into my cave.
The Holy Spirit kept nudging me and I could see that leaving church and retiring into my cave was not going to be part of my future. I sat down at the computer, searched for data, and began a cursory comparison of different mainline denominations. I was already aware the theology of the Lutheran and the Methodist churches were not far apart. From the quick comparison it became apparent the theologies were very close to each other. I decided to try out the Branson United Methodist Church (BUMC).
I recalled the location from my visits to Branson to look for a house. As I drove by, my first thoughts were “Why in the world would anybody build a church in the middle of the busiest street in town? How would the congregation ever get to, or leave, services on a street that becomes a parking lot during the 10 month tourist season?” I would come to learn about the “Branson Wave.” Polite people in the traffic jam, stop and give you the “Branson Wave” and let you get out of the parking lot and into the line of traffic. Getting in and out of the parking lot is doable.
On July 17, 2011 I attended church at BUMC for the first time. The people were warm and friendly. I liked the appearance of the sanctuary. It was enlightening to compare the Lutheran worship service and a Methodist worship service. The Methodist service had a lot less formality and ritual. I was impressed. Good grief, the pastor’s robe was unbuttoned. In the Lutheran church a call committee would be forming before the service was over for a faux pas like that. I felt comfortable in this church and had the feeling that maybe this might be my new church. I decided to attend next Sunday.
A slip of paper in the worship bulletin asked for your name, address, phone number, and if you were a visitor. Pastor Ross, with his unbuttoned robe, stated that being in church was part of our gift to God and asked that the slip be put into the offering plate. I don’t usually fill out this kind of stuff but today I decided I’d do it and see what happened. I expected nothing to happen. I was wrong.
Later that afternoon two men, Joe Probasco and Jim Daugherty, from BUMC, knocked on my front door. They brought me a coffee cup and we had a short conversation about BUMC. I was to learn that their appearance was BUMC’s screen door ministry. When visitors fill out that form, a team of two BUMC members call on them that afternoon and welcome them to BUMC. I had never belonged to a church that had that type of ministry. I was impressed.
I returned to BUMC on July 24th for the 8 a.m. worship service. The next day I returned to the internet for a more detailed comparison of Lutheran and Methodist theology. I found a side by side comparison that laid out the details I was interested in (that web page is no longer available). The theology was very similar and I felt more comfortable in this church with less focus on formality and ritual.
I continued to attend BUMC and on August 15th I began donating my money to the ministry of BUMC. BUMC had a men’s Bible Study on Tuesday nights. There was little promotion about it, which I was to learn is a common practice in BUMC, but I decided to visit and check it out. The men were cordial and invited me to have a seat and join in. Most were older than me and I enjoyed learning from their experiences on the journey of life and spirituality. The leader, Larry Henderson, a lay person, led the class better than most ordained ministers. I would learn the class had a long history of characters and stories. Through good times and bad times these characters had stuck together and kept the class going and making progress at helping men become better Christians. I like the class and attended on a regular basis.
The pieces of the puzzle were falling together. As I sat in a pew on Sunday’s I just had the feeling this was where I was supposed to be. Not everything was perfect but nothing was making me wonder if this was the right place. I felt at home. This feeling was not unfamiliar. I first had this feeling when Maxine and I started attending church on a regular basis the last quarter I was in tech school. The quarter was a very stressful quarter because I was determined to raise my average grade point above 3.0. Achieving that goal was mathematically possible but maybe not so probable. Sitting in the pews of her church I just felt at ease and all the stress was gone, at least for a short while on Sunday mornings. After her death I changed churches after more than 30 years in the same church. The images of a daughters funeral and then my wife’s funeral were too much for me. I needed to find a new sanctuary and moved to an ELCA church in a near by town. In my new church I found the same feeling I had during that last quarter of tech school. Another surprise was one of my sponsors. She was a couple of years older than me but she had played high school basketball with my wife (That would be six on six girls basketball. Not this imitation 5 on 5 game they play today). I knew I had moved to the right place. Later the interim pastor would tell me I had a calling to write my stories.
In the Fall of 2011 I decided to become a member of BUMC. Pastor Ross and the congregation accepted my membership with informality on a Sunday morning. I had found my new church home.
I believe the Holy Spirit had guided me to Branson to write and share my stories. Maybe BUMC was the place to share my stories. I shared the manuscript of my spiritual stories with a few people but the response was less than I expected. The response was positive and polite but no one was urging me to continue to share my stories. I tried several avenues but none really opened up. Somewhere along the line I read or someone told me, you know if the road is too steep and too rough maybe you are on the wrong road. I stepped back to take another look.
In 2012 I decided to quietly work on writing the history of the fire department I belonged to in Iowa. The quietly part didn’t last long. I mentioned to a friend in Iowa that I was exploring writing the history. He put an article in the local newspaper that I was going to write the history so it was no longer an exploratory project. From that point, doors opened, information became available, and the road smoothed out. I was now on the right path. This year, 2015, that book will be published.
While on the history book path, another big change occurred. In 2013 a new pastor came to BUMC. She was a story teller and wanted to hear stories from others in the congregation. I gave a manuscript of my spiritual stories to her. As she preached sermons it was apparent that some of her stories and some of my stories had similarities. Both of us had been guided to places that weren’t on the map of our plan for life’s journey. I also discovered she had a connection to Wisconsin. I was glad I was sitting down when I learned that. The Holy Spirit sends signs and He also sends SIGNS. This was a SIGN. Pastor Stacie is the fifth female pastor that has shepherded me on my spiritual journey and all five have a connection to Wisconsin. Pastors Vicky, Lori, Natalie, Diane, and Stacie have touched and guided my life. I also have five female cousins, all sisters, who were born in Wisconsin and still live there. To say my life has been guided by women connected to Wisconsin is an understatement. Pastor Stacie’s arrival verified the Holy Spirit had guided me to this church for a reason. I anticipated good things happening and they have. The only problem had been that my schedule was a lot faster than His (as Gomer would say, “surprise surprise”).
The fire department history book turned out to be a much greater project than I anticipated but it was a great learning experience. The project had tired me out. I was ready to retreat into my cave with my spirituality, as I believed it to be, to lead a quiet and obscure life. However, a series of God incidences in 2014 and early 2015 changed all that. I never did make it into my cave. A 700 mile journey to DePere, WI began closing the door to my cave but that is another story.