Aboard the MainStreet Boat – 5th Anniversary Reflection

 

On January 15, 2017, MainStreet Covenant celebrated our 5th anniversary. Exactly five years ago, I preached an inaugural sermon telling the story of Erik August Skogsbergh, a renowned Swedish preacher and one of the founders of the Covenant, and of his dynamic ministry in Mound in the 1890s. In those days crowds took the train from the city to Lake Minnetonka on Sundays, getting off the train in Spring Park and boarding Captain Deering’s steamboat for the trip across West Arm Bay to Skogsbergh’s Point.

At the point they enjoyed picnics on Skogsbergh’s lawn, sang songs and  listened attentively to Bible expositions under Skogsbergh’s mulberry arbor. People came joyfully, people came expectantly. They went home spiritually recharged and sometimes forever changed. The Spirit was stirring hearts, and many experienced the gift of New Birth on the north shore of Minnetonka those many decades ago.

I have drawn much inspiration from the legacy of Skogsbergh’s Point these past five years. I have read and reread his personal memoirs and biography. Since moving few miles north a couple years ago, I now drive past his cottage (still standing on Rest Point on West Arm Bay) every day and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving for his life and ministry. I try to imagine the crowd gathered on the shore, and the sound of his voice carrying across the bay as another heart is ignited and another soul won for the Kingdom.

Five years ago, at our Grand Opening service, I rallied people living in the Mound region to join our church-in-the-making by sharing the story of Skogsbergh’s boats. There were days when the crowds of Mission Friends (what early Covenanters called themselves) coming to the Point from Minneapolis on Sundays would not all fit on the steamboat, and so Skogsbergh built his own barge to provide an overflow taxi to his place. As the story goes, the people made it across the waters to the Point safely on the barge, but it was anything but a dry, comfortable ride!  

These past five years God has graciously used MainStreet as a vessel to carry people across the rough waters of their life to the hope of a fresh start at Grace Point. When people hop aboard the “MainStreet ferry”, we don’t promise a luxury cruise but a sometimes choppy ride into the unchartered waters of risky obedience and authentic discipleship. We should have a sign above the door at MainStreet  that reads, “Warning: You will get wet!”  As the saying goes, “If you want to walk on water, you first have to get out of the boat” — and that’s not safe or dry!

Also the “butt of many jokes on the bay” in those days was Skogsbergh’s family boat which his daughter described as “a viking ship with an ugly head and queer looking tail.” Apparently, no matter how skillfully you rowed, it had a tendency to keep going in circles. People laughed when they saw the strange boat crossing the bay, and didn’t always know what to make of it.

Similarly, MainStreet is learning to accept that we look and feel a bit different from other churches around the lake. We are embracing our uniqueness since church health studies continue to show that “normal” culturally acceptable churches are rarely producing spiritually mature Christians. Like Captain Deering’s steamboat or a modern Al & Alma’s cruiser, too many churches are offering a comfortable sight-seeing cruise through the Bible each week, admiring the Christian life from a safe distance, but fewer people are getting blisters by learning to row their discipleship boat and setting their own sails so the Holy  Spirit can carry them along day to day.

As I try to take stock of the ministry fruit of the past five years in a few paragraphs, let me share a bit of what I shared in my message on our 5th anniversary.

  1. Oak of Righteousness. Skogsbergh planted 11 trees on the point, one for each of his 11 children. He knew his children would outlive him, and the trees would outlive the kids. The trees still stand tall nearly 130 years later. We are always planting seeds for a future we cannot see. The many volunteers who helped us launch MainStreet over 5 years ago were planting seeds that others have had the opportunity to see sprout. People have come and gone these 5 years, but each has helped cultivate the unique soil of the MainStreet we now enjoy. We continue to get our thumbs dirty, sowing words of truth in sermons, scattering words of encouragement in Huddles and LifeGroups. Faithful volunteers keep busy tending the garden with all its beauty but also all its unglamorous tasks (mopping floors, budgets, nursery duty). But we always try to remember where our role ends and God’s begins: “One plants, another waters, but God brings the growth” (1 Cor. 3:8). Five years in, we are no longer a plant, but a tree. We are becoming what we prayed for at our Charter Sunday in March 2014: “MainStreet shall be called an oak of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of God’s splendor” (Isaiah 61).
  1. A seaworthy vessel. If we were to ever rename MainStreet, I would seriously consider Grace Point. We have become a place where people can get real about “the mess” in their lives, and at the point of vulnerability and honesty, they experience grace instead of condemnation.  Countless people have traveled the same route: choosing to get off the Train of Denial and Pretense, climbing aboard the MainStreet boat, and like Skogsbergh’s barge, being carried again and again to the hope-filled shores of Grace Point where the Songs of Salvation and messages of New Beginnings continuously echo across the rough waters of our lives. MainStreet has been the Jericho Inn, receiving and nursing back to health those battered and bruised along life’s roads. MainStreet has been a seaworthy barge, a wet and uncomfortable ride at times, but faithfully carrying people to the Cross at Grace Point. Regardless of which image we use, its all about grace at MainStreet!
  1. The Message of New Birth and the Response. If there’s one thing about Erik August Skogsbergh that has most shaped me and my ministry these past 5 years, it was his confidence in the power of the preached Word by which the Spirit brings New Birth. If I believed God’s transforming work at MainStreet depended on organized leadership, slick programming, sermon style and delivery, effective marketing, etc., I would hand in my resignation tomorrow and quit the ministry. Thankfully, God’s Spirit works in us and through us and, thank God, in spite of us!  In that spirit I close my thoughts on the past year (and five years) by sharing some of the fruit of God’s work among us.
  • Over the past 5 years, 24 people have been baptized or reaffirmed baptisms vows.
  • We’ve celebrated 9 baby dedications, 8 babies have been born during their time at MainStreet, and more are on the way!
  • We have maxed out our kids space and are currently adding on to make room for growth.
  • We gained 30+ new attenders the past 12 months, and over 100 who call MainStreet home.
  • MainStreet helped mobilize 8 other area churches last summer to go out for Sunday 2 Serve. In one morning some 850 volunteers served 14 cities by completing 60+ projects.
  • The majority of MainStreeters don’t just attend Sunday worship but are committed to spiritual growth through home-based LifeCourses and/or Discipleship Huddles, daily Bible reading, etc.
  • We’ve celebrated 7 MainStreet-related weddings, and seen other couples renew their vows.
  • The hope of the Resurrection showed up at a funeral for a classmate last year, and out of that deep sadness has come the blessing of several new MainStreet attenders.
  • Dozens of testimonies have been shared aloud, in writing and on video. Lives are being changed!

A church’s health and growth is not measured by attendance growth and budget lines, but a growing commitment to spiritual maturation and fruit-bearing. By this measurement, MainStreet is alive and well!

The gospel is being proclaimed!

Lives are being changed!

Disciples are being made!

People are empowered to minister to others!

MainStreet is bearing fruit!

I feel deeply honored to lead such a church, and I’m looking forward to the next five years!

********

IN SEARCH OF SKOGSBERGH’S BOAT

If you haven’t picked up by now, the story of Skogsbergh’s barge and his “goofy looking boat with a viking head and queer looking tail” (Dahlheilm) has become a personally meaningful image for me and our MainStreet ministry out here on Lake Minnetonka.  So, I always thought it would be amazing if, by some stroke of luck, a photo of it somehow survived. But what are the chances of that?

But then fortune smiled upon me this winter when I was reading a little memoir Theodore Blegen left detailing his own childhood memories summering out here at Saga Hill (the same part of the lake as Skogsbergh’s Point). I always fell off my chair when I read the following sentence:
“Not long ago in a biography of Skrefsrud published in Norway I found a picture of [Skrefsrud] and my father (John Blegen) fishing at lake Minnetonka in 1894, with a viking boat in the background.”
-The Saga of Saga Hill by Theodore Blegen
This set me on a thrilling library search this winter combing through all the old, obscure biographies of Skrefsrud, a well-known Norwegian Lutheran missionary of the late 1800s, written in Norwegian, in search of that photo.
After a couple trips to the Luther Seminary and Augsburg College libraries, I found it!  The book was published in Oslo in 1937 by J. K. Loth, and I was unable to understand a word of it. But there I saw that old photograph of two guys out fishing on what could very well be the sandy point where Skogsbergh and other cabin residents beached their fishing boats.
[drum roll please…]
Like Indiana Jones, I uncovered a photo of what has to be Skogsbergh’s fabled viking boat!  I can’t be 100% certain but the facts all check out:
  • The right time: 1894, the exact time period Skogsbergh was active on the Lake
  • The right place:  the same exact part of Lake Minnetonka where Skogsbergh lived – old maps show the Blegen family plot only a few doors down from Skogsbergh’s plot!
  • The right description: “A viking ship with an ugly head, a long neck and a queer-looking tail.” How many viking shaped boats could there have been on that exact point?

Erik Dahlhielm describes Skogsbergh’s boats in his biography A Burning Heart (1951):

Rowboats of the most common size were too small to accommodate his big family. Skogsbergh, instead of buying a larger boat, had one built according to his own design. But he was evidently more skillful as a church architect than as a designer of rowboats. The family boat, which one of his daughters describes as “a viking ship with an ugly head, a long neck and a queer-looking tail,” had a tendency of moving in circles no matter how skillfully the oars were handled. It became famous on the bay, and the butt of many jokes.

Then there was the barge, also the product of Skogsbergh’s brain….The barge, too, became famous. It was a picturesque sight when it was filled with people dressed in summer clothes, scarfs blowing in the wind and parasols open to protect delicate skins against he ravages of the sun. On calm days the barge was more popular than the steamboat. It was different, however, when a strong wind whipped the water into angry waves. Then all preferred the steamboat, and those who had to make the trip across the bay in the barge reached the Point in anything but a presentable condition” (122).

So, now I have a precious photo of that goofy looking vessel that once sailed these waters 130 years ago. What a fun discovery!

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