Building transformation

Published 8:03 am Friday, July 13, 2012

Across the Pastor’s Desk

By the Rev. Todd Walsh, Grace Lutheran Church

It was my privilege to visit Grace Lutheran’s sister congregation in Valka, Latvia, in May of last year.

This trip was my fourth trip to Latvia, and it was wonderful to renew old friendships and meet new people. We met the new pastor at the church, and he took us on a whirlwind tour of churches in the Valka area our last day of the trip. That quick tour gave us not only a look at buildings but a reminder that a church is not just a building. It is a people.

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We visited the town of Ergeme. There on the main road is an old one and a half story house. People driving by would think it was a house being renovated. But it is a house being turned into a church.

The inside revealed a remarkable transformation in progress. The inside walls were largely removed. The main floor ceiling was also gone with only rafters remaining. Then there was the lumber being placed to form an A-frame inside the house. Once the A-frame was in place, the rafters inside the A would be cut and removed to create a large open space inside what had been a two-story house. It was a remarkable transformation, and I admire the people who planned and were executing that plan before my eyes.

Consider the transformation that God can give the human heart and life. What looks like an ending becomes a beginning. What appears to be useless becomes a blessing for others. Careful planning and attention to detail can make a new life and new purpose. And a life that was once ordinary becomes sacred.

Then there is Trikata. It is a haunting church hidden in a grove of trees and only the steeple pops through to the sky. The building is about the size of Grace Lutheran Church. The church building entered a time capsule in the summer of 1940 when the Soviet Union invaded Latvia. So began the occupation that saw the murder or deportation of thousands of innocents and the closure of most churches in Latvia.

Today Trikata is open again as a church but the congregation worships during the winter in one of the rooms of the massive parish house. The church is run-down but unchanged through the decades. The terraced formal gardens are still there but untended.

The church members have begun restoration and wisely started with the roof. What’s the point in repairing the inside when a leaking roof will wreck any work done inside? The beautiful sanctuary ceiling has some holes in it but its faded geometric designs, common in Latvia, are still striking.

And the original pipe organ is still there and still plays through now with an electric bellows. You can still hand crank on the old bellows that used to give wind to the organ. (You can see pictures of Trikata on Google Earth. Its about a mile south of the town on the western lakeshore.)

Consider again how this church mimics who we are and who God makes. Are there gifts and treasures within you that are presently hidden even from yourself? I would dare say that all of us are a gift given by God that is yet to be fully revealed.

Time and life may wear us down but we can be restored with God’s forgiveness. Trikata is rising from the dead because those who care for that place believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

And as the people of Trikata see their church restored they see their own lives restored in the newfound freedom to make a church and a nation.