Wisconsin ministers debate: Is God on the Packers' side?
Written by Lee Foley
January - February 2004

Lee Foley

 Super Bowl XXVIII is upon us. Unlike the first couple of Super Bowls—which saw the Green Bay Packers of Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr and Max McGee—the Packers of Brett Farve, Al Harris and Ahman Green will not play for the NFL championship this year, despite a miraculous string of events that some fans are attributing to nothing short of divine intervention. Now this isn't a sports column and I'm going to get around to what all this has to do with the UCC, but I've got to give readers who don't follow football a little background here.

Simply put, the Packers won their last three games, including a 31-3 blowout of Denver on the last Sunday of the regular season and still would have missed the playoffs had not the Vikings, who started the season 6-0, folded like a cheap suit and choked losing to Arizona within seconds of the final gun in the Green Bay-Denver game. Certainly it must have been by the grace of God, thought the multitude. The Packers then proceeded to beat Seattle in the first round of the playoffs. During this remarkable span of time, the question debated by fans and clergy (clearly they are often one and the same in Wisconsin) is whether God is a Packer fan.

While many fans firmly believe the improbable run of luck was at the hand of God, those clergy, including UCC pastors, interviewed in the Wisconsin media seem to think otherwise. The Rev. Franz Rigert of Pilgrim UCC in Grafton, Wis., has a humorless approach to such talk, equating praying for a football victory to claiming God's favor in war. Says the Rev. John Tschudy, pastor of St. John's UCC in Slinger, Wis., "What we're seeing is a marvelous display of what the human spirit can do in the face of diversity. God is neutral. God even cheers for the Vikings." The Rev. Chuck Mize, pastor at Union Congregational UCC in Green Bay told the Green Bay Press-Gazette an old joke about a hotline from the Vikings or Bears locker room to God being a long distance call—from Green Bay's bench, it's a local call.

They take their football seriously in Wisconsin, but not a soul believed God had abandoned the team when the Packers finally, gallantly and narrowly, lost to heavily-favored Philadelphia in the second round of the playoffs.

 A Toledo, Ohio, preacher has taken on some second job. The Rev. Lawrence Cameron, senior pastor at Pilgrim UCC has opened the Toledo Bible Institute and Northwest Ohio School of Ministry at the church. Cameron tells the Toledo Blade, "Some of my parishioners here were really prodding me along, saying they really wanted some classes that are beyond traditional Sunday school or Bible study, something that has some real academic meat to it." Well, they sure got all that. Cameron's school has been recognized by accrediting organizations and seminaries. Trinity College and Seminary in Indiana, UCC-related Andover Newton Theological School in Massachusetts and the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago have joined in affiliation with it. The paper reports that classes are free, other than for textbooks and reference materials. Students who are gaining credit hours at the Toledo school will have to pay tuition to the schools where they are pursuing degrees through distance learning programs.

 There was quite a commotion this past autumn at Heritage UCC in Reston, Va. It was "lights, camera, action" as Brian and Shontya Washington were married on a Saturday back in October and The Learning Channel (TLC) videotaped the whole thing for its "A Wedding Show." This comes from the Loudoun Times-Mirror, serving that part of Virginia just west of Washington, D.C., in mid-January, when TLC carried the wedding service at Heritage. The program also followed them to their reception at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and showed the couple dating and making plans leading up to their wedding. According to the paper, the newlyweds didn't even get to see the show together, as Shontya was out of town on business, so they watched themselves getting married from different states.

 From the North County Times, serving the suburban San Diego area, comes the story of Fernando Suarez del Solar who came to Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad, Calif., to tell the North County Coalition for Peace and Justice about his son. Lance Cpl. Alberton Suarez del Solar was killed by a cluster bomb in Iraq and the father had recently traveled to the spot where his son fell. The elder del Suarez opposed the war prior to his son's death and claims the government lied to him about the circumstances regarding his son's death, and went to Iraq to "gather the truth." The paper quotes him as telling those at the church, "I felt better when I found the place. I put a cross in the ground. I also saw the children in the schools and hospitals and I know my son had a personal mission—to help the children. He died for the children, not the government."

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