Saturday, October 31, 2009

My hometown--Worthington, Minnesota

Author Tim O’Brien recently wrote a fascinating article for the Smithsonian magazine about coming to terms with his hometown, Worthington, Minnesota. The article is here:

His words were especially interesting to me because I also grew up in Worthington, Minnesota. I’ve had the opportunity to live in many different places, but Worthington is my home-town.

Almost all of us have a home town; almost all of us have deep opinions about our home town. Sure, some folks move so often that they really don’t have a home town, but most of us do. And coming to terms with our home-town is a significant part of our journeys. Bruce Springstein sang about this. In his article O’Brien also shared how this coming-to-terms process never quite ends.

O’Brien graduated from Worthington High School eighteen years before I did. That time distance was enough for him to experience a much-different Worthington than I did. I never had to talk about the Vietnam War or wonder if I would be drafted. A person who graduated from WHS in 2000 will view Worthington much differently than I did in 1982. My graduating class was almost entirely white. That isn’t the case today. My mom—who still lives in Worthington—has shared with me that almost twenty different languages are spoken in the school system today.

My dad didn’t suffer from alcoholism, so my family didn’t experience the small-town, moral judgment that O’Brien mentioned. Small towns make judgments about their occupants. It’s like being forced to live on the different side of the tracks.

The people of Worthington were good to me. I experienced some success in athletics, music, and was active in my church. In their minds I lived on the right side of the tracks and received the support of the community.

These judgments define small town, Midwestern communities—and we never really escape them.

I could relate to O’Brien’s experience at age 7 of “ice skating in the winter, organized baseball in the summer, a fine old Carnegie library [I experienced a different library], a decent golf course, a Dairy Queen, an outdoor movie theater and a lake clean enough for swimming.” I experienced all of that too. Some of my best memories of Worthington were riding my bicycle to the ball fields every day in the summer to practice and play baseball.

Just this past week I received another coming-to-terms-moment of my hometown. I was helping out in my daughter’s third-grade classroom. I didn’t know the substitute teacher and started a conversation. After I told her I was starting a new Presbyterian church in Blaine/Lino Lakes, she told me that she grew up in a Presbyterian church. “Where,” I asked. “Worthington, Minnesota,” she replied. My jaw must have dropped six inches.

She went on to tell me about attending church at the church building that used to be downtown. I haven’t heard many stories about that place. The Presbyterians built a gigantic, new church building in the 1960’s. That building defined my experience of the church. This teacher was married when the building was new. “It was such a beautiful place,” she told me. “The purple carpet was beautiful, almost perfect for weddings.”

My home church still has that purple carpet. It has partly defined this woman’s view of her hometown. I won’t look at that carpet the same the next time I see it. It’s part of this coming-to-terms process.

I'm traveling to San Clemente, California with five others from Chain of Lakes for a New Church Development Conference. I won't be blogging again until Thursday, November 5.

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