It was my good fortune, at the end of June, to enjoy a performance by a group which has been in operation for 44 years in our area, but of which until then I had never heard. Encounter, with its headquarters at Main Street United Methodist Church in Alton, presented the musical The Story, a quick overview of salvation history from the time of Abraham and Sarah to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The performers and singers are high school students from Alton and surrounding areas. The program for this year states that young people from four Catholic parishes of Madison and Jersey counties are taking part. The performance schedule reveals that Encounter generally schedules their shows fairly close to Alton. This year, I had the chance to see The Story because of the efforts of Pastor Amy Brooks of First United Methodist Church in Waverly. She arranged for a performance at her church; it happens that I am pastor of St. Sebastian in Waverly.
You still have three opportunities to enjoy The Story: today, Sunday, July 24, 6 p.m., at The Bridge Church, 504 E. 12th Street, Alton; and on Sunday, Aug. 7, 4:30 and 7 p.m., at Main Street United Methodist Church, 1400 Main Street, Alton. A free-will offering is taken up at each performance.
Keeping with the topic of dramatic performance on religious themes, I wish to note the conclusion of Garrison Keillor’s work of more than 40 years in bringing Upper Midwestern humor to an international audience on the public-radio entertainment A Prairie Home Companion.
On July 2, Keillor presented his final monologue of news from Lake Wobegon, Minn., “where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average,” a town where Norwegian Lutherans attend their church, while the German Catholics are members of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility.
For 33 years I have listened to Keillor, who has provided me with incalculable occasions for laughter about the human condition. I have especially appreciated his willingness to recognize religion as a serious source for humor (if I am not contradicting myself). We may recall, for instance, the Lutheran man who was in a mid-life crisis and went to talk to the Catholic pastor: “To get a second opinion, I guess.”
Keillor himself grew up in the Plymouth Brethren; the best information before me says that he is an Episcopalian.
I would like to point out something which, to date, no one else has mentioned in the various retrospectives I’ve read on Keillor’s radio career. He followed the Lectionary. The Catholic cycle of Sunday Scripture readings, in force since 1969, has been adopted to a greater or lesser extent by other Christian groups. Very often, I would hear Keillor describing the congregations of Lake Wobegon and the fact that their preachers were expounding on the same Scriptures we had just heard proclaimed.
In the first collection of News from Lake Wobegon recordings, from about 1980, there is a monologue entitled Letter from Jim, which is unequaled as a narrative on the idea of sin as social and structural.
In an earlier column I mentioned Dr. Amy-Jill Levine and her presentation, “Agreeing to Disagree: How Jews and Christians Read the Bible Differently,” to be given Thursday, Aug. 25, 7 p.m., at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 533 S. Walnut, Springfield. R.S.V.P. for presentation: (217) 787-7223, extension 18.