Elliot Fergle: My first time going to Sunday school was the pre-k class. Unfortunately, it did not go well, so we tried again the following year for the kindergarten class. Thanks to my two great teachers, Bill Kruskop and Randy Greene, the interactive ways they made the bible stories come to life, like having us pretending to be David and throwing a sock ball at boxes meant to be Goliath, helped change things. I continued coming to Sunday school throughout my elementary and middle school years, and continued on to the senior high youth group when I entered high school.
In the summer of 2011, when I was in going into second grade, I attended day camp for the first time. I loved it so much that each year when my parents asked me if I wanted to go back again, my response was an enthusiastic “yes!” I went on to become a counselor when I was old enough and I look forward to my final year being one this summer. My core group of friends at Westminster who I’ve known since kindergarten, and my Sunday school teachers, helped me experience God’s love every time I came to church. My third grade Sunday school teacher, Wendy Ott, especially helped me feel welcome and included throughout the years. I appreciated having her as my mentor when I took part in Confirmation class.
As the psalm writer talks about God’s everlasting love throughout generations, I see God’s love through the welcoming atmosphere of the church and this congregation. A good example is shown through the welcome statement we as the congregation say to children when they are baptized, where we recite how we are all one in Christ and that we will support and love them. As I graduate high school and move on to college, I plan to still be a part of the Westminster church community. I will bring many things from my time at Westminster with me, such as the memories I’ve made and the morals I’ve learned. Like the psalmist, who asks God to be with us as we go forth into the future, I believe that God will guide me through college and beyond.
Hayden Tourtelotte: When I think about growing up at Westminster, what comes to mind is the mentors I have gained and the relationships I have built. I’d like to take it back to Hayden in preschool, going to choir on Wednesday nights, and eventually putting on my Cherub choir robe for the first time.
To be entirely honest, at the time, I didn’t think those robes were the coolest fashion statement. And while the choir thing wasn’t necessarily my calling, music, and the musical opportunities Westminster has given me is what has made me feel a sense of belonging. Those Wednesday nights began a pattern of involvement which has made me feel closer to the church, and in turn, God.
Whether it be playing guitar with the Psalmists and a variety of other occasions, playing piano with the youth choir, or trumpet today, Playing music with others has given me a place of usefulness in the church and helped me grow as a musician as well as a person.
Verse 16 of Psalm 90 states “Let your acts be seen by your servants; let your glory be seen by their children”. This resonated with me as I think about the way music has allowed me to share my gifts with this community that has cultivated them for so long. Playing guitar with the psalmists, and later with youth group, are memories I will hold close as a core memory of the love I have felt here.
Guitar has been a way to connect with other youth, as well as adult leaders. Even though Psalmists no longer meets regularly, some of the adult leaders I connected with there still encourage and check in with me about music and life. I have always held the belief that making music with others creates exponentially more connection than any amount of conversation. Learning to make music with others at Westminster has played a major role in music outside of church.
Whether it be a guitar and bass instrumental cover of Michael Jackson’s “Bad” at my elementary school talent show, considerable involvement in the band program in high school, or making my own music, I have consistently used skills I gained from my musical mentors at Westminster.
During Covid, I found myself playing guitar for hours as a way to calm down and, frankly, stay sane. This was a skill and love I picked up here, and a way I feel God’s presence even when I’m stuck at home.
I am grateful for the ways that adult leaders and staff at Westminster have lived out the baptismal promise “to love, encourage, and support you, to share the good news of the gospel with you, to serve that gospel alongside you, and to help you know and follow Christ” through music with me. They have mentored and made music alongside me in this community.
Next year, I plan on continuing trumpet at Gustavus, and playing guitar, piano, bass and saxophone whenever possible, in future church communities and in the world.
Victor Heinze: I am fortunate enough to be a part of many communities: school, sports, friends, and of course, the youth group. I love being a part of these communities, but not all of them are as supportive as others. The youth group has been a special place where people from all over the twin cities have come together and formed a bond that has stuck around for many years and through many different groups of people. Not all groups and communities are fortunate to have this bond. Sometimes all a group needs is something to bond over, something to cherish, something to remember. It’s not always a good thing, but significant experiences bond groups together. And this could not be more true for my cross country team and grade at my school.
Just over a year and a half ago, Matthew Harries, one of my good friends, fellow runners, and bubbly figure of my grade, died by suicide on a Friday just before his 17th birthday. I still remember the night I found out, down to the smallest details. I remember sitting in bed, emotionless from shock. The tears eventually came and they came hard. At this moment, I felt exactly like the psalm writer when he says “Turn, O Lord! How long?” The psalm writer is going through a difficult experience and wonders why the Lord isn’t showing compassion. This was exactly what I felt and my connection with the psalm continues as it says “Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days”. Unfortunately, the next morning wasn’t any easier for me, but God’s love was definitely felt.
The morning had a gloomy feeling to it, showing up to cross country practice with the rest of my grade in a somber mood. All of the underclassmen hadn’t found out yet, and were being just as annoying as they always were, just confused why our practice didn’t seem normal. They eventually fell into line when the head coach, holding back his tears, addressed us and explained what many of us already knew.
Despite the sadness that accompanied that practice, it was a turning point for the team. Less than a week later, we had a time trial at our track. Many of us wrote his initials and age on our running shoes or on our shoulders for everyone to see as we ran. With many of us crying as the starting gun was about to go off, we ran for Matthew. Despite many of us not racing to our standards, we felt bonded and that we had grown as a community and a team. It also wasn’t long before the rest of the school knew what had happened. Going to a very big school, not everyone was fortunate enough to know Matthew, but everyone in my grade knew him in some way. A couple weeks after his death, and a week into our junior years, a remembrance ceremony was held at his church. Showing up in the middle of the school day and seeing hundreds of fellow classmates, as well as many teachers, coaches, and family friends showing up to honor his life… It was truly special. Ever since that day, my grade has been more connected than ever, with people who I rarely talk to checking in to make sure I’m doing okay. In the year following his death, I have gotten closer with my school friends and we have grown into the habit of checking in on each other. The rest of my grade has also bonded as a whole, going to events to honor him or supporting each other in many ways. These communities that were once distant were now bonded together by our grieving.
The bond in the youth group here is one that I will forever be grateful for. The youth group has been a place where I have gone to find comfort during my hardest times, and a place to enjoy the highest of highs.
I will always miss Matthew and what he brought to the world, but I know he is up there smiling like he always was, happy that we formed strong and amazing communities, and to that I say, Amen.
Kyle Digman: I have thought about this moment for a while now and what I thought would be meaningful to share and I want to cut to the chase. I am a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community and I would like to talk about my personal experiences with that in the church and as a young religious person in general.
For some, this might be a surprise, and something you might not have seen coming but me standing here today is a testament to what Westminster has done right for me. I have been raised by a family and a community here that taught me what loving and caring for everyone truly means and I am thankful. Unlike so many generations before me and even my generation, the reality for many in the LGBTQ+ community is unfortunately not as full of love. Much of the progress, while happening in my lifetime, happened before the issues could have affected me personally, and as such my generation is likely the first in this denomination to not remember a time when they feel like they were not accepted within the PC(USA). I had to look this up and if I was born only 10 years earlier I would not have been allowed to be ordained as an elder in this church if I was out and true to myself. I don’t even have a memory of when gay marriage was officially allowed in this denomination in 2015 even with Westminster’s advocacy to change both issues. I am thankful for the progress so many have fought for and that progress is what allows me to stand here today before you. As the psalmist says, “May the work of our hands last.”
I have never doubted this community’s love for me. Even though the times in which I doubted my faith I knew no matter what Westminster cared for me. My friends and leaders of this community have always said what I needed to hear. Even for me, a lucky young LGBTQ+ person who is in a faith community in which I am accepted, it still is hard if not impossible to ignore the expectations of greater society and the impact Christianity has had on that. With the internet being such a large aspect of modern life, the first go-to for almost everything is to look it up, and depending on how you phrase the question about Christianity, the bible, god, and the LGBTQ+ community, you will get wildly different answers and widely different interpretations of the bible.
When talking with my fellow LGBTQ+ friends who are or were Christian, all including myself looked up at some point different wordings of, “Does God love gay people,” “Bible gay people,” or something to that effect. My friends’ stories make it clear that this community is the example and not the average. I have heard stories of absolutely abhorrent faith communities in which their hatred hurts so many and the bible is weaponized. Yet I am optimistic because of this community and the work of so many for a future in which the Church can be a leader and not what is holding us back, a future in which children do not fear that they are going to hell for who they are, a future in which “coming out” isn’t even a thing, a future in which teachers are allowed to speak the truth on the topic. I have witnessed so much progress in my lifetime and I know that we still have much yet to do, but generation after generation, the Lord has been our help. Make the work of our hands last.
Evan Ditzler: Despite COVID still being an issue last year, Westminster did everything that we could to make sure that we could still have a somewhat normal mission trip. We weren’t able to travel out of state due to the restrictions the pandemic put in place, but we were able to learn equally as much from our travels and experiences within Minnesota. Honestly, after spending so much time inside I was just looking forward to spending some time working and learning outside in the beautiful outdoors, regardless of location. The main focus of our trip was at an indigenous activist community roughly an hour north of the church. It was here that the Line 3 oil pipeline was actively being constructed, and where the group’s mission: to peacefully protest, was being done.
You see, the oil pipeline is planned to move across the entire country, spanning from Alberta Canada to Texas, which includes a portion built right through the middle of Minnesota. It was mainly planned to be used to transport oil from the tar sands up north, to huge oil tankers down south, where it would then be exported around the world to other countries. The pipeline was also being built through indigenous land, and had for many reasons caused negative impact to those communities.
When we got there, the scene was foreign, yet intriguing to us all. As we approached the site, colorful hand-painted signs lined the road, filled with words in an indigenous language I couldn’t understand. Perhaps it was due to how much I had been cramped up inside the house for the previous few months, but getting out and seeing such a place was very mentally refreshing to me. We exited the bus and got to the front gate of the property and met our guide, a kind and soft-spoken woman. She told us with her body language that she was eager to show us around, but also that we needed to be respectful of this sacred space she was inviting us into. The building and the surrounding camp were very “hippy” – lots of gardens, tapestries, and cars that had been converted to temporary sleeping arrangements. She gave us a tour of the property and introduced us to some of the leaders at the camp.
We spoke with a few leaders in detail, and they told us about some of the history of the indigenous Minnesotans and their struggles against the big oil companies that were invading their land. The battle had been ongoing for decades by this point, but the oil companies had enough money and won over any environmental protection boards that could’ve potentially stopped them. Truly, the way that profit was being over put over not only human life, but the gift we all get to enjoy, the earth, was truly heartbreaking to hear, and me and the rest of the youth group felt uneasy and disgusted that we had never even heard of this issue before that now seemed so large.
However, it wasn’t the negativity that stuck with me throughout our two visits to the property, but rather the peace and positivity that stemmed from the campsite and those who were living there. Everyone we met was so genuine, and was there to spread positivity in unity. Faced with a nearly impossible situation, the camp never looked to solve their situation with violence or hatred. It was clear how difficult the situation was for those opposing the pipeline construction, but they went about expressing their displeasure in truly inspiring ways. The stark difference between what it was like there, in the woods near the house on their property, versus just around 50 feet away to the cleared forest and whirring machinery of the pipeline was truly a sight to behold. While it never entirely slipped from the back of my mind, the peaceful trance-like state the camp would put on you when you entered almost made you forget about the atrocities being committed just a few dozen feet away. There was an inexplicable holy aura emanating from this community.
Nearing the end of the trip, we took a walk to the back part of the property that we had never seen before. There, our guide asked us if we would stop for a moment, and just listen to the woods and nature around us. So we did: we stopped speaking, stopped moving, and just stood there and listened. I thought to myself that we ought to start moving again after the pause became far longer than I initially expected it to be, but it was only then that I began to LISTEN. My ears became in tune with the frequencies of the birds chirping, and the leaves above rustling in the wind, the way that the branches slightly creaked in an intense gust, and the way that different creatures of all kinds would call to one another. It made me reflect on how I would be if I were to never have this experience again, if I were never able to experience the world which God has put forth for us all to enjoy.
The whole ordeal truly was a touching experience. The ability to live in tranquil unity with nature and tune out the ugly side of the world to focus on what truly matters, was something that I, for one, had not recognized up to that point was a goal I needed to have in my life. As is written in Psalm 90; “Lord, you have been our dwelling place for all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God”. The indigenous people of this country have always known to take care of God’s creation, and nothing could’ve guided me to this understanding of God’s creation like this experience has.