Do you know how hard it is to preach to your cousins, your older sister, your high school classmates?
Well, most of us wouldn’t. But for Pastor Arlyn Tolzmann this was a real concern, as the two front pews were filled with relatives and friends when he delivered the sermon at Faith Lutheran Church Sunday.
As part of the ongoing 125th anniversary celebration, the Forest Lake church invited Tolzmann to be the guest pastor on June 30.
He spoke about his decision to enter the ministry, naming high school teachers and coaches who worshiped at Faith and who were influential in his spiritual development.
When he was Luther League president, he remembered, people would say, “Arlyn, you should be a pastor.” To convey what his response was at that time, he used the sound you might call a raspberry.
“Finally, after all those years of fighting, of saying no, right before I graduated from college I said, ‘God, you know what you’re getting.’”
That has been his faith, he said: “God meets us where we are.”
Since then he has served churches in Texas and Colorado. At a rural church in Texas, he said, he once started the peace greeting by having congregants repeat after him, “I love you, and you can’t do a thing about it.” Tolzmann called this “the peace greeting on steroids.”
One of the highest compliments he was ever paid was not intended as a compliment, he said. “Pastor, you’re a dreamer,” he was told. He said, “Thank you.”
That the church needs dreamers was part of his message. At his church, people would say, “Okay, pastor, what’s your crazy idea now?” He’d tell what was on his mind, and some of the ideas became ministries.
Tolzmann’s main message was that churches must take risks to do their job.
He said when Jesus called his disciples using two words, “follow me,” it meant they would be homeless, accepting handouts for food and lodging. “This was a tough gig,” he concluded. “No wonder Jesus had only 12 disciples.”
Instead of “I’ll follow, but I’m busy right now” or “I’ll give, but these are tough times,” Tolzmann said he has been blessed as a pastor to have people who said yes.
He used a story from Anne Lamott, author of “Traveling Mercies” and “Plan B,” to explain how the church should be in our lives. A young girl who was lost received help from a policeman, who drove her up and down the streets looking for a landmark. When she saw her church, she said, “Stop the car; I know where I am. I always know my way home from the church.”
“When I am down, lonely or frightened, I look for the people in my congregation. I try to hear their voices, and then I know I’m home,” Tolzmann said.
Tolzmann is now retired but is serving as an interim pastor. He lives in a suburb of Chicago.