Before last Sunday, I had never been to Lake Elmo. I also had never been to a Lutheran church service.

Later in the day, back at home in my own church, I was chatting briefly with one of the deacons about the religious, racial, and cultural differences many of us can find not only in our communities, but among our friends and even within our own extended families.

“Our differences shouldn’t just be tolerated,” he said. “They should be celebrated.”

His words were music to my ears, especially in light of the morning I had just experienced.

The reason I was at the church service in Lake Elmo was that I had been invited by a friend who’s the drummer in a band that often provides the music at her church. Some of the songs have African origins, and my friend – knowing about my work in Uganda and my love of the country – thought I might enjoy hearing them. She was right. I did.

Before driving to Lake Elmo, I stopped to pick up my Ugandan friend, who I knew would also enjoy the music and the service.

“This reminds me of Uganda,” she said as we drove past some lush, open land.

“THIS reminds me of Uganda,” I told her as we turned onto a dug-up dirt road – one of the summer season’s many road construction projects – to get to the church. We were both smiling as we walked inside.

I was a bit surprised, yet very much comforted, at how much the Lutheran service had in common with the Catholic Mass – the wording of the prayers, the flow of the service, the many hymns that were the same ones sung regularly at my church.

The pastor’s homily focused on a mission trip that a dozen members of the congregation had just returned from, working with the homeless in Denver, Colorado. It took my thoughts back to when my family lived near Denver just before we moved to Minnesota. And to the “Box Night Out” homeless awareness experience my daughter and I took part in through our church shortly after we got here.

People at the church in Lake Elmo were open and friendly, and it was clearly a place where everyone knows everyone else. One member’s family was here visiting from Peru, and they were all introduced as part of the service. My friend and I were warmly welcomed, and I recognized that everyone knew we were guests, and not regular members. Only later did it occur to me that my friend’s skin color also made us more noticeable. She and I often joke about how we forget when we’re together that she’s black and I’m white. It’s only when someone or something else reminds us of it that we even think about it.

When we get to know people, really know them, we often discover there are more similarities than differences between us. And the more we learn about others – their background, their culture, their faith – the more we learn about ourselves.

That, too, is something to celebrate.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on August 20, 2015.
©Betty Liedtke, 2015

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