My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Cameron Prayer Journey

A small hamlet sprang into being in 1879, eventually it was named Cameron by Colonel George W. Ginty, in honor of Hon. Angus Cameron United States Senator from Wisconsin for many years. The location was in the old Town of Rice Lake which was created in 1874. Old Cameron was located 1 ½ miles south of the present site of Cameron at what was known as Holman's crossing.” pp. 63-64
When the Soo Line started to build East and West from a point one and a half miles north of Old Cameron there was consternation in the village, some of the people wanted to move up to the junction and others wanted to stay put. Eventually everyone decided to move.” p. 64

The History of Cameron” by Mr. & Mrs. Ray Burton, chapter 4 of Pages from the Past: An early history of Chetek and surrounding communities by Hazel Calhoun (1971)

A week ago today, I drove eight miles north of Chetek to spend the day in the village of Cameron. Just as I had in Prairie Farm a few weeks before (see Prairie Farm Prayer Journey), my purpose for coming was essentially to wait on the Lord and pray for this community. But unlike Prairie Farm where I was unacquainted with that community, I am fairly familiar with this small town. In our early years in Chetek, our two oldest who had learning disabilities received good and quality care at the Early Education program run out of Cameron Elementary. One of the first pastors in our area that I became introduced to was Pastor Wayne Hall of Abundant Life Church on Museum Road. He reached out to me and invited me to his weekly Tuesday prayer gathering for pastors. Over the years I have attended various services at Abundant Life or participated in county wide prayer events led by Pastor Hall. While the Cameron Prayer Bank was in operation, we held a couple of prayer retreats at that facility. Some of the kids from our fellowship's youth group have been students in the Cameron School District. And frankly, not a week goes by when either myself or members of my family pass through Cameron on our way to work or shop in Rice Lake. All this to say that at the onset I was aware of the need for greater discernment as I engaged in prayer for this small town.

Just going by appearances, Cameron has a very different feel than Prairie Farm. There is no “Welcome to Cameron” or “The Churches of Cameron Welcome You” sign (later in the day I did find a very small city sign that did welcome people to the village but it was on a street that, compared to Highway SS or Highway W, is seldom rode upon and therefore hardly noticeable.) Here is a community three times as large as Prairie Farm but the welcome mat apparently is not out. My first stop on my day long journey was Guy Speirs Park, a small community park located on the west side of Cameron on Cranberry Creek just as you are leaving town. Unlike Pioneer Park of Prairie Farm, this has all the trappings of a small town park. A pathetic looking swing and slide placed a couple of hundred feet from a swampy area. The grass was long. No flag adorned the small monument raised by the VFW. While their shelters are clean and look like they have been constructed in the last 10 years or so, when I went to use the mens room I was greeted by two snakes who had crawled in under the entrance door. Taken as an aggregate, this park and by extension, this town, has the look and feel of neglect and decay. Much like the creek flowing through the park which is ringed with algae, the village has the feel of a community that has seen better days.

For several years I have been struck by the apparent disunity or, at the very least, disconnect of the different fellowships of Cameron. There are three Lutheran fellowships – St. John's (Missouri Synod), Faith (ELCA) and Living Waters (ELCA), four congregations in the Pentecostal/evangelical tradition - Abundant Life, Towering Pines Community (Assembly of God), Good Samaritan Ministries and Highway Gospel - and St. Peter's Catholic Church. At one time, there was a Methodist congregation here (a two-point parish the other being Chetek) but that has been closed for many years. A Baptist fellowship in the separatist tradition moved in but they have since disbanded. The building sits empty now and up for sale. A group connected with the Methodist Church did try to begin afresh a couple of years ago (calling themselves Cranberry Creek) but I believe that effort, too, has ceased. A few years ago a family purchased the old Cameron Bank, remodeled it and opened up what they simply referred to as the Cameron Prayer Bank. For several years they were open on Wednesday nights and on every 11th of the month from 11 a.m.-11 p.m. (on the basis of their persuasion that America was in its 11th hour) and some of us from the Chetek area would gather there to pray. But they closed up shop last year and have since moved on. From an outsider's perspective, there seems to be something in the water that is choking off new faith ventures. While I may be incorrect on this, I do not believe there is much cooperation between the active fellowships in this community.
Guy Speirs Park looking north

Contrary to appearances, the water is flowing
I think the phrase that best sums up my impression of Cameron from my day of prayer there is that it seems to be a city of contradictions: they boast a beautiful new Middle School and plans are in the work for a much needed elementary school. Mosaic, a local telephone, internet and cable company built their headquarters here not too long ago. St. Peter's Catholic is a gem of a facility to visit. Rausch-Lundeen Funeral Home is also a relatively new beautiful facility. And just a few years ago, the citizens of Cameron dedicated their new public library and community center. Sitting in Guy Speirs Park I am struck by the fact that you are never out of earshot of the din of traffic – people passing on Highway W/Main Street traveling to or from Barron, the roar of traffic on Highway 53 just west of the city limits or on Highway 8 just south of Cameron or the steady stream of vehicles passing north and south on Highway SS. So many people pass through or around this little burb every day but how many live here? How many have placed roots here and are seeking the shalom of the city that they now call home? The homes on Main Street (I mean the old ones) are beautiful and ornate. Chetek has nothing to compare with it but for all these signs of promise – the new construction, the flow of traffic, the growth in the population (nearly 2,000 as of the last census), I was left with feeling of stagnancy much like the Cranberry Creek flowage passing through the park.
There's treasure in Cameron
I had brought my GPS unit along and knew there was a geocache in the park. I quickly found it and was struck by what I found in the cache: a pocket New Testament. I immediately sensed the Lord say, “There is treasure in Cameron.” That find put me in a different frame of mind and for the rest of the day I was in search of that treasure. I pulled out my Bible and re-read my devotional reading from that morning – Luke 12:49-59. It's the passage where Jesus sets the record straight: He's not here to make nice with everyone nor help everyone to make nice with each other. He's here to make trouble – to make a person choose are you for him or against him. He chides his audience for being willfully ignorant. “You can read the signs for a change in the weather, why can't you read the signs of what you see?” (see v. 56). He then warns them to repent before it's too late. It's not what I would refer to as “feel-good” devotional reading. He doesn't want to put us in a contemplative mood. He wants to unleash a hive of bees among us. Sitting in the shelter at Guy Speirs Park I read that aloud over the city and then walked out to the southern most point of the park to pray where I made a discovery: though it appears entirely stagnant, Cranberry Creek's water is flowing steadily. So out on that point I prayed for Cameron to respond to the Lord while there still is time and then prayed for the Church of Jesus in this community as well as for the pastors and shepherds who lead her. I prayed that wherever there was a sense of stagnancy, the water would flow again in their individual lives as well as in the congregations they pastor.

I then drove west out of town to Rudolf Road and turned into the new subdivision where I had run a year or so ago on a cold, winter morning. In this neighborhood of new homes there is a small park and boat landing on the Cameron Flowage. Unlike Guy Speirs, Babe & Phyl Park is nicely kept up and better equipped with playground equipment. But it must not be used much as their seems to be lots of green weeds growing in the sand where kids should be playing. I walked down to the Flowage to find the next cache there and pray for awhile at one of the picnic tables that are located in a nicely maintained area along the lake. According to the DNR website, the Cameron Flowage is a 59-acre lake that looks more like a stagnant river than anything else. Great globs of algae fill every bay. Where the public dock is I noticed two forlorn bobbers that must have been cut loose by frustrated fisherman. I was able to fish one out and it sits now on my desk as a mnemonic device to pray for every pastor in Cameron, every frustrated laborer who has been discouraged because of their lack of a catch. I prayed for each of them that they would cast again. The DNR assures anglers that there are panfish, largemouth bass and northern pike out there. Jesus assures us that the harvest remains unharvested and in need of more hands for the work. 

I caught that one and it now sits on my desk as a reminder to pray

Looking at the Flowage caused me to ask, "Where's the flow?"
Looking at that gross, murky water that I wouldn't even dare to wade in, I was inspired to read Ezekiel 47:1-12 and so read it over the Flowage but especially v. 10: “ where the river flows everything will live.” I prayed again that wherever things are stagnant and murky and slimy that the river of God would flow fresh to renew the heart of the Church in Cameron.

Abundant Life Church
A third cache is located at Johnson's Landing on the Red Cedar River west of Cameron but there were way too many people at the take out area so I drove back across the river and into Abundant Life Church's parking lot to see if Pastor Wayne was around. I was fortunate to find him home cutting his lawn. We visited for awhile. Pastor Wayne shared with me that 2011 was a tough year for him. His small congregation split in two apparently over issues having to do with special offerings received for paying off their land. Yet despite the pain of the lost, he assured me “God is good! Our bills are paid and praise God I still receive my full salary!” Wayne has been here nearly 40 years – a generation – and if he took the time could fill a small book of God's move in this area. One of my favorite stories I once heard him tell was the Service of Reconciliation they once held in their sanctuary. Before white settlement in mid-1800s, this area was contended over by the Sioux and the Ojibwa. Eventually, the Ojibwa pushed the Sioux out only to be evicted themselves by the incoming Europeans. Wayne and his folks believe that their present sanctuary may have been built on or near a former Native American village due to the height of the banks at this part of the Red Cedar and for the ability to see up river and down quite easily. So he initiated a Service of Reconciliation between White, Sioux and Ojibwa. Wayne, speaking for the Europeans, a Sioux man from Pine Ridge in South Dakota and a contingent of Ojibwa from Lac Coutre Oreilles Reservation near Hayward sought and tendered forgiveness with one another and shared communion together. After the service, while preparation for the fellowship dinner was being completed, a great commotion came from outside. Twenty eagles were flying in great concentric circles over the sanctuary – a huge demonstration of God's favor (in any culture!) A good friend of mine who serves at LCO was also there that day and substantiates Wayne's story. Wayne and his wife, Karen, and the folks of Abundant Life, are part of the treasure in Cameron.
Abundant Life's property from Johnson's Landing
Home of good hot beef
 I had lunch at Crossroads Cafe in Cameron and was served by a friendly waitress. After lunch, I stopped in at the adjoining gas station and who should the attendant be but Jill, a woman who when she was much younger had attended the youth group I led in the 90s. Though we are friends on Facebook, we rarely chat there. I spent a few moments reconnecting with her before she got busy with customers. After lunch I drove back out to Johnson's Landing and spent some time in prayer there by the banks of the Red Cedar. The popular worship song from the 90s - “The River is Here” - percolated up from foggy bottom and began to run in my mind. I sang the chorus (all that I remember of it) and for the third time that day prayed that the Spirit of God like a river would flow through Cameron. Once again I found myself wrestling with the contradictory sensory experiences of the stagnant waters of the Flowage and the roaring din of the traffic on Highways 8, 53, and W. A lake crawls through this town but people race through it on their way to other points of interest.
The Flowage as seen from 15th Ave looking north

Looking south
Living Waters Lutheran
 After prayer, I drove back into town but this time I went the long way – north on 19th Street and then east on 15th Ave that crosses the north end of the Flowage. I entered Cameron on Clayton Street and drove over to Living Waters Lutheran (Living Waters Lutheran Church.) Two years ago during our sabbatical summer, we had worshiped one Sunday morning with these folks. They were formed sometime in the last five years out some kind of family rift at nearby Faith Lutheran. While I have never worshiped there, on our field trip to Living Waters in 2010 we found them to be very friendly, welcoming people, worshiped to the same songs that we sing at Refuge and enjoyed the pastor's message from Luke 15. This past Friday, I tried their front door and found both Pastor Ted and one of his leaders in the office. They were talking shop about their fellowship's mission trip to Denver that was leaving town the next day. 35 young people and chaperones would be spending a week in the Mile High City's downtown neighborhoods. “One of our specialties is taking kids on affordable mission trips,” Pastor Ted shared with me. During the last two Liberty Fest parades, they have always entered a float full of worshipers who boldly proclaimed Jesus Lord over our area. He and these folks here are also part of the treasure in Cameron.
The former Cameron Prayer Bank

The former Methodist, former Baptist congregation
I wonder the story on this place

After a brief time of prayer with these brothers, I then drove over to Main Street and parked my van across from the VFW hall. I decided to engage in a prayer walk proceeding west on Main as far as 11th Street and then crossed and walked back on the south side of Main as far as 9th Street, over to Towering Pines Community Church (Pastor Mike was not in) and then further east on Arlington as far as 4th Street. While I walked down Arlington, I prayed for the “heroes” of faith that remain in this community, who are persevering, who are staying the course and believing for God's kingdom to come to this city of Comets (Cameron High School's mascot). In ancient times, a comet was a harbinger of doom, a messenger that bad things were heading this way. A week later as I try to collect my thoughts from this day in Cameron, I am brought back to my devotional reading from that morning (Luke 12:49-59). Jesus' words are like a shot across the bow, urging his countrymen to read the signs of the times and believe God's message before it is too late. I prayed in a similar vein for the people of Cameron as I walked down Arlington. I stopped in at Faith Lutheran but the pastor was not in so I headed back to Main Street. I stopped in at the Public Library and who should be working the front desk but Deb, a friend of mine who, along with her husband, used to be a part of Chetek Alliance Church back in the 90s. We visited for awhile. She told me that her ministry is to the kids who frequent this beautiful new facility. There is a sense of God's Spirit on her. She, too, is part of the treasure of Cameron. After praying for her, I stepped outside and headed to my van parked just a block away.

As I did in Prairie Farm, I finished my day of prayer back where I started – at Guy Speirs Park. I grabbed my guitar and walked down to the north shelter and spent some time worshiping there. Songs I sang and prayed there included,
Let the River Flow
Let It Rain
Let Our Praise to You Be as Incense
Lord Most High
Lord, Let Your Glory Fall

Cameron has much to be proud of – their new construction, the growth in their community, this southernly crossroads in our county. But part of her real treasure are the disciples of Jesus who live and worship there, faith communities endeavoring not just to keep the doors open but live out loud and vibrantly in honor of the Name. According to Pages from the Past, there was quite a bit of contention of moving the city from its original location to where it stands now. It may be reading too much into that to connect it to the present state of apparent disconnect between the various faith communities. It probably has more to do with a lack of intentionality on their part. So I pray John 17:21-22 for and over them – Pastor Wayne (Abundant Life), Pastor Mike (Towering Pines), Pastor Ty (St. John), Father Jim (St. Peter), Pastor Ned (Living Water), Pastor Loren (Faith Lutheran), Pastor Gene (Good Samaritan) and Pastor Jim (Highway Gospel) - that they would be “one...that [Cameron] may believe” that Jesus is God's Son sent to redeem them and that God will build his kingdom there.