On the religion beat: Frozen Chosen worship on lake

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 20, 2012 - 8:40 PM

The Rev. Paul Johnson noticed a fascinating thing one day as he was driving past the frozen surface of Lake Minnewaska.

"I saw all these ice houses out there, and I thought, 'Oh it kind of looks like a community,'" Johnson said. "So I just started being silly with my family. I said, 'There must be stores and banks. Do you suppose there are any churches out there?' Then they said, 'Oh, a church. Well maybe you should have a service out there.'"

That's how Johnson came up with the idea for "Frozen Chosen," an annual worship service he's held on the lake the past three years for CrossWind, the Lutheran parish he leads in Starbuck, Minn., about 133 miles northwest of the Twin Cities.

During the one-of-a-kind service, Johnson gives a brief sermon and prays for the safety of people who use the lake year round (he throws in a prayer for a good catch too, for good measure). The service, which is only about 20 minutes long, also includes singing.

Instead of the hymn "Shall We Gather at the River," the congregation usually sings "Shall We Gather at the Fish House," Johnson said.

"I like to find God in places where we don't expect to find God," he said. "We always think of church. But we can also worship God outside. Just enjoy God's creation, as cold as it might be in the winter. It's kind of fun to do something different."

This year's service on Feb. 19, however, might not be so frozen. With milder temperatures this winter, Johnson said he's making plans to have the service on the lake's beach -- just in case there's more slosh than ice on the lake. At nearly 9 miles long, it's one of Minnesota's largest lakes.

Johnson hopes the small group of worshipers (usually about eight to 10) can at least venture out a few feet on the ice, yet stay close to the beach.

"This year we just have to wait and see."

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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