In this divisive political climate, it’s heartening to learn area churches, despite doctrinal differences, can come together to celebrate a sense of a wider shared community.
That is what will happen at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30 at St. Francis Xavier Church in Sartell. Pastors and congregations from 12 area churches will collectively hold a “Hope and Prayer” service to honor the Verso paper mill, its long history in Sartell, the man who died in the Verso explosion and its laid-off workers and their families.
As Celebration Lutheran Church Pastor Jeff Sackett said, the service will be a time for people to grieve together, to celebrate life and to pray together for a bright future. Sackett suggested the idea for an ecumenical “Verso” service. He had seen many times first-hand the effects of the plant’s closing on members of the Celebration congregation, and he was keenly aware of how the plant’s demise affected people far and wide in central Minnesota. One of Celebration’s reaching-out responses to the Verso disaster was to host a “Jobs Fair” for laid-off workers. About 120 people attended the event just last week.
That job fair inspired Sackett to come up with the idea for an ecumenical gathering. He no more than broached the “Hope and Prayer” service idea when other area churches quickly agreed to take part. After all, there is hardly a congregation in this area not affected one way or another by the Verso tragedy on that awful day of May 28. It was the day when an explosion killed employee Jon Maus of Albany, injured four others and ultimately caused the plant to shut down permanently. The catastrophe reminded one and all that the Sartell paper plant was not just a long-standing iconic bedrock of Sartell but of the much wider community, as well. Many of its former workers, for example, live in Sauk Rapids, St. Cloud, St. Joseph, Rice and other places.
As Sackett and others know so well, people are still grieving the loss of Verso, the loss of jobs, the loss of a life. That grief is similar to the sadness one feels after the death of a loved one, with all the tangled-up emotions death can bring: sadness, devastation, anger, depression, denial, near despair and – yes – even hope. This collective-church service is a good way for people to gather to share those emotions in what will surely be part of the ongoing healing process.
We are confident the “Hope and Prayer” service will draw an overflow collective congregation. We salute Sackett for his inspiration in organizing it.