WAYNE FORD: .....one in Iowa and one in Miami. For this occasion, we felt that it would be important to look back at our roots. Because if you do not often turn around and look back at your roots, then you're liable sometimes to not improve upon the past as you go into the future. We are very honored and privileged today to have one of our founding fathers. In order to talk about, first, the Sonshine - the founding of the Sonshine Cursillo - today we're going to have as our speaker someone who was involved as spiritual director on the very first Sonshine Cursillo held in the United States, meaning the first spiritual director on the very first Lutheran weekend held anywhere in the world.
By the fact that he was the spiritual director makes him very qualified to speak on this subject.
REV. ED SIMONSEN
Thank you. I appreciate that, and the invitation to be here. Twenty years - it doesn't seem possible that many years have gone by so fast and so many things have happened in the Via de Cristo and to come to be on the first meeting of the secretariats and to come to this and see how much has really progressed and how organized the movement it is indeed a privilege to be here and experience with you. I'd like to share some things about the Sonshine, but also Wayne wanted us to share some of our own experiences and how it has affected us, and I'll try to do that as I share about the beginnings of the movement.
I am reminded of the story of two Lutheran pastors at the racetrack who felt that they finally found the way to beat the track. They noticed that a certain Priest before each race would bless a certain horse....And sure enough that horse would win. They waited until the 7th race and pooling all their resources, put their money on the horse blessed by the Priest. But, lo and behold, 20 strides out of the starting gate their horse dropped dead.
In shock, they went to the Priest to tell how they had watched him bless a certain horse for six races and then what happened to them in the seventh.
He said, "That's the trouble with you Lutherans, you don't know the difference between the last rites and a blessing."
Indeed, I do think that, in the gift that we have received from our Roman Catholic brothers, it has been a blessing in all of our movements.A young woman in college wrote the following letter to her parents in her first three months there:
"Dear Mom and Dad,
I'm sorry it's been so long since my last letter, but I didn't want to worry you about the fire in the dorm, and my concussion which happened when I fell out the window trying to escape. I've been anxious to tell you about that nice attendant from the service station around the corner who made me feel comfortable before the ambulance came. I'm out of the hospital now, and I'm feeling fine, especially since that nice attendant offered to let me stay with him at his apartment while they're fixing the dormitory. It's such a nice apartment, and he's such a nice person. I really liked him very much and I know how happy it would make you to become grandparents. In closing, let me tell you that you can stop worrying. There was no fire, I didn't fall out of the window, I didn't have a concussion, I haven't moved into anyone's apartment, there's no man in my life, and you're not going to be grandparents. I told you all these things because I received a "D" in biology, and an "F" in history, and I wanted you to put that in the proper perspective."
Perspective - seeing events in their full context, and viewing facts or events in relationship to other facts or events. You know the drudge of preparing the family for a summer vacation is endured willingly when seen in the context of the fun that everyone's going to have. And the medical student grinds it out, because he or she knows that the hard work and sacrifice are necessary conditions to becoming a doctor. And the good physician puts his or her long hours of practice into proper perspective, while acknowledging that the goal of excellence can be achieved only through discipline and preparation.
And so, tonight, we're looking at that perspective of twenty years in which God has blessed us in this movement of which we are all a part. Perspective. When I was in Maine, one of our members had us over for dinner, and a friend dropped in. He was so excited! He just came home from a weekend that had a really strange sounding name - it was called "Cursillo." Roman Catholics from all over New England had been on it, and he just talked and talked and talked. Afterwards, we wondered, "What in the world was that?" But it was Roman Catholic, so it wasn't for us.
Then in Chicago, in a meeting with a neighboring priest - even gave me the manual for the spiritual director, and said, "Read this. You might be interested in going." But then I moved on to Miami, and it fell by the wayside.
Then in Miami a layman from my congregation, Jim Heiman, went on a weekend. He's a restaurant owner, and he invited me to lunch. I always like a good meal free, and so we sat down. "I want to tell you about this weekend I was on."
"Oh, yes," I replied. "You did tell me you were going on a retreat. What was it called?"
He said, "Cursillo." About four o'clock he said, "Well, I think your wife is probably waiting for you. You come back and I'll finish the rest of the story."
I have to mention Pastor Whitey Schmidt of Miami, Florida and his important role in our history. His long service in that community is his first and only church -- Well respected amongst the Lutheran pastors and the pastors of the other denominations and also a community leader. "I've had some men go on that weekend, and they really come back and we ought to really investigate what goes on at that weekend. It really looks like a tool we should look at." Now Whitey was chairman of the board of theological education of the American Lutheran Church at the time. After we looked at the schedule of weekends and it always seemed that he was scheduled to leave Miami to go to a board meeting, and so it was decided that I should go first. The lay person who was head of my congregation said he would go along with me.
Recall again the opening where you're asked, "Why are you here? What are you looking for?"
I shared about laymen going and their enthusiastic response and I was there to observe the weekend. I wanted to see if it was something that Lutherans could use. My lay president said, "Well I'm here because people of the congregation want to know why their Lutheran pastor is going to a Roman Catholic weekend."
That person was Norm Wittschen, who was our first lay director and later became a pastor and was very active in the movement. But on that weekend, I did come as an observer. To look at this tool, to observe, to see if it could be adopted by us Lutherans. But along the way, God comes to each of us. I use in the Obstacles to Grace rollo the story of Zacchaeus at the end. Zacchaeus, that wee little man, who came to see Jesus and crawled up the tree. I often think he crawled up that tree because if he stood in the crowd they'd see that tax collector, step on his toe and say, "Sorry. Are you here for some religion, Zacchaeus?" So he climbed up that tree hoping no one would see him but maybe he would see this Jesus. At least the next day he could say to those who came to pay their taxes, "Oh yes, I did see Him." But you know something strange happened because as Jesus came along, He stopped at that tree and looked up and said, "Zacchaeus, come down. Today I must go to your house."
Up a tree. On many weekends, I see there are people who are "up a tree," figuratively. They are up a tree perhaps in regards to their spouse or children. They are "up a tree" because of their poor self worth. They are "up a tree" concerning a problem with their church or pastor. They're "up a tree" in their relationship to their God. However, sometime on that weekend, Jesus stops before them and says, "Come on down. You don't have to stay up there frustrated, angry, full of failure and defeat. Come on down out of that tree. Today I shall go to your house."
O, perhaps it is one of the speakers, or it's a song, a worship service or palanca, but it is a special moment when Jesus comes and stops to each candidate and team member and says - "Come on down out of that tree." Later we know as that relationship was renewed with Zacchaeus Jesus says, "that today salvation has come to this house."
Well, I was there. I was up a tree. I didn't know how much I was up that tree in that October of 1971 - well, it was the year that I was in the Catholic one, the first Lutheran one was in '72.
My mother and father were killed in an automobile accident on January 15, 1971. They had come to Miami to visit us and their only grandchild for Christmas and New Years. They left early on January 15 to go back home to Buffalo, New York in order to be there for their home church's annual meeting. They left at 8:00 AM and at noon just outside of Lake Wales on a clear, sunny day on a flat, straight road they were stopped at a construction passover to let some trucks go to their work sites. Traffic stopped a four car line my parents were third. The fourth car saw in his mirror a cement pipe truck speeding toward him so he turned his wheels. The truck hit the first car that flew off to the side because he had turned his wheels. My parents didn't see it coming. The truck crawled over the top of their car, crushing it resulting in decapitation, instant death.
An only son still carrying that wound, and as he knew what good people they were, still saying, "Why, God, why these good people?"
On Friday, the piety talk, Jesus stopped and said, "Ed, come on down out of that tree." It wasn't Jesus. It was Jesus in his faithful servant Julio Laguno, who was giving the piety talk.
He told about his father, who he had finally been able to get out of where he had lived in poverty and sickness. It was an opportunity to have proper shelter, food and the necessary medical care. However, his father was sick unto death. Julio said, "Lord, I know you can heal my father. If you will just help my father, I'll do this for you. Lord you have just got to heal my father. I'll keep my promises to you if you will do this one thing."When he got home, the telephone rang, and it was the hospital saying, "Your father has died."
He slammed the phone down, and shook his fist at God, and said, "God, why did you do that? You and I, we had a deal. How come you're reneging on it?"
Then God said to him, "Julio, Julio, how selfish you are that you just want your father around no matter what kind of condition he's in. You just want him to be there, even if he has to lay there in pain and suffering. But now he's with his Heavenly Father that he loved so well - that you know. There's no more pain, no more tears, no more mourning. He's free at last. Julio, how could you?"
And Julio said to us, "What I learned was it's all right to love, but when the time comes, you must give them to their Heavenly Father." That was it for me. I was up that tree. I became no longer observer of the method, but I was part of that Christian community, and those men who were caring and loving and presenting the Lord Jesus Christ, who comes to wipe away our tears, and to give us the good news that "they, indeed, are with me." These weekends have that opportunity that all of us know - no matter where we are on our walk - to be strengthened, to make our step bolder, and to walk ahead. And that Lord who comes to say, "today salvation has come to your house."
After the weekend and I had reported to Pastor Schmidt, we decided that we wanted our Lutheran Churches to be involved in this movement. The Roman Catholic movement had a real plan. I attended secretariat meetings and together we started forming the team for the first Lutheran Cursillo. Lutherans who had attended a weekend were gathered to observe the team training. They were going to be cha-chas, kitchen crew, set-up and tear-down crews. The speaking team was going to be 100% Roman Catholic. Father Barry and I would be the Spiritual Directors.
Ah, the site of the First Lutheran Cursillo - ugh, double ugh - can you picture a Roman Catholic school and the auditorium where we slept. Half was for sleeping and half was the rollo room. Downstairs was for eating. No showers, two bathrooms. In the men's they had two urinals and a seat and on the girls' side just a seat. One of them was always stuffed up, so we only had one bathroom. No showers! It became a joke, you know, "What, no showers? You mean for 72 hours we're not going to get a shower at all?" Oh boy, what obstacles to grace we had to overcome!
Father Barry, Catholic Spiritual Director - oh what a wonderful man of God! If you didn't know he was a priest as you heard him speak, you'd swear he was a Lutheran, because he sure knew about grace! What a message of grace they brought to the weekend.
Wow! Double wow! What an impact on the Christian community those leaders of five or six Lutheran congregations who went home to say what a weekend they had. Then to start to prepare for the next. The next was 50% Lutheran, 50% Roman Catholic with 2 Lutheran pastors and a Catholic priest. The third one was 100% team with two Lutheran pastors. And the formation of a secretariat? Yes! Guided again by the Roman Catholic secretariat.
I believe in the weekend, as you know. I believe Lutherans take responsibility even if it has an ecumenical flavor. Someone has to be responsible to be the backbone and, if not, usually it just fades away because nobody feels responsible for it. Then we were fortunate, along with the Roman Catholics to help the Episcopals get started. Then later to be called to Nashville as a couple Methodist pastors who had gone through the weekend were now on the national staff of the Methodist Church and they now wanted to talk about introducing this to their National Church.
And so, what started out as just an observation became reality that had a great impact upon not only the Lutheran Church but all denominations.Rev. Gene Hermeier, as we found out later, was involved with Lutheran Cursillo in Iowa. I called him to introduce myself and our Florida movement. In the course of our conversation he indicated that they were holding a men's weekend that next weekend. He asked me to send some palanca. My reply was "Better than that, I'll be there on Sunday for closing." After church I flew out to Iowa and someone met me at the airport and took me to Atlantic, Iowa. What a great sense of joy I had to see the movement so strong in Iowa.
Gene and I met the next day to share our experiences and we had a meaningful altar visit. I invited Gene and their Lay Director to come to Atlanta the next month to witness our weekend. They were able to come and brought greetings from the Iowa Movement. It was the beginning of several joint efforts to extend the movement to other parts of the country.
In 1976, I was called to a mission church in Virginia. Leona and Ron Fox moved from Panama City, Florida movement into our parish. We started the movement in the national capital area with several teams coming from Florida.
With the movement started in Virginia, Sandy and I (because of my mother and father's death) had some funds that we were administering in their names. Because of the richness that came from the Cursillo to strengthen our spiritual lives and the lives of other Christians we decided to contribute to this movement so it could spread throughout our country. We invited representatives from Iowa, Atlanta, Florida, Nebraska and Virginia to come to our mission church in Sterling, Virginia. Our contribution was "Come and let us talk together and see where God is leading us. What vision does he have for us? Don't let the transportation cost worry you. We'll take care of that cost."
With only a three week notice, everyone came. We sat down together and shared the experiences of our areas. Then the big question was asked, "What can we do together?" Out of that meeting came a consensus that we take back to our secretariats the invitation that next January we would meet in Atlanta to discuss the formation of a national network. And so it is a great privilege for me to be here today and to be with so many of you who shared those beginning days. God has richly blessed us.
Let me just close with this last comment for my part of this evening. There's a book that I like: The Magnificent Obsession. In fact, the pastor who preached at my ordination used that as the theme. I like that book. It has a scene in it that has stuck with me all these years. It's a story of a rich young man who got all of his money from his parents and he was living it out by doing whatever he wanted to do for his own pleasures. One day he was out in his motorboat on the lake. He had been drinking and he hits something in the water that throws him into the water. He would have drowned except somebody saw him pulled him from the water. They were working on him but knew he needed some oxygen. They knew that across the lake at Dr. Hudson's house was an oxygen tank, because he was subject to heart attacks. So they rush over and they get it and save the young man's life - at least to get him to the hospital where they can take care of him.
Dr. Hudson comes home. The servant tells him about the accident. He gets in his car and they race around the lake. Halfway to the scene of the accident, he has a heart attack and dies because there is no oxygen. Later the scene is in the hospital. The rich, young man lying on his bed has his eyes closed but is awake. Some nurses come in and they're working around the room. They're talking about the young man and the wild life he lives, how irresponsible he is. They talk about Dr. Hudson, a great surgeon and how he has helped people and without great fanfare, but quietly. But because of this young man he's dead. And they say, I wonder what he's going to do with the life given to him at such a great cost.
You know, whenever I put on my cross, I ask that question of myself. What am I going to do with the life given to me at such a great cost that the Son of God should suffer and die that I might have eternal life. Every weekend I'm on when I put that cross around the head of each of each candidate I ask that question of myself: "What are they going to do with the life given to them at such a great cost that the Son of God should suffer and die that they might have eternal life."
There's an answer. There's an answer for me, and I know there's been an answer for you and for those who have worked these twenty years in response to that question. It's a Biblical answer, and it's a real one. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Join with me in that statement. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Join me in that statement. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." God loves you, and so do I.
REV. RONALD G. QUALLEY
CURSILLO:DEVELOPING HABITS OF EFFECTIVE CHRISTIAN
NATIONAL LUTHERAN SECRETARIAT ANNUAL MEETING
ATLANTA,GEORGIA JULY 24,1992
My name is Ron Qualley. I made Sonshine Cursillo #2 in Miami twenty years ago about this date. It's my privilege to share with you on this videotape. I've entitled this particular discussion: "Cursillo -- Developing Habits for Effective Christian Living."
It was the same ritual morning and evening as I was growing up on the farm in Northern Minnesota. After breakfast, mom would take down the Bible from the shelf and together we would have family devotions. It didn't make any difference if we were in the midst of the hectic season of harvesting or in the less hectic cold of winter. It didn't make any difference if I was getting late for my walk to school. You would always know we would take time taken for morning devotions. We would read the Bible and the daily assignment on "Christ in our Home" and mom would pray. Her prayers were filled with deep compassion and desire that God's will be done in our lives and the lives of others.
The ritual at night was just as certain. Our house was small. The upstairs was really one big room with a closet separating the room partially into two. But when the lights went off, the prayers started. I was always the first -- I was the youngest. But the prayers were spoken by all. And then just like on the Waltons, there was the final "Good-night." "Goodnight Bob, Goodnight Lyle, Goodnight Darrel, Goodnight Mom, Goodnight Dad." Then it was Darrel's turn to do the same.
Those were times I'll always remember and cherish--several of those loved ones are now gone physically from my life.
Those rituals or habits have made a deep impression on my life. My life would have less meaning if were not for such moments.
Cursillo, or what we know now as Via de Cristo, provided for me a similar experience of developing habits. The whole week-end of a Cursillo experience is basking in the grace of God. It is God's desire, it is God's will, it is God's choosing, it is God's habit to love us. The week-ends become a demonstration of love -- God's love for us in the vertical and our love for one another in the horizontal. So candidates and team are showered with love, provided the gift of hospitality, prayed for, encouraged, embraced, served not only fine food, but with the bread of life.
Cursillo is nothing new. It's God's story packaged in a new way. It's God's story written through scripture and written through you. For some, it is a profound gift. It is a time of sensing the presence of God in one's life. It is the sensing of angel wings brushing your soul. It is a time of resting in the arms of God after a desert experience of life. It is an opportunity to be reminded that God still holds the reins of this world.
A popular book has been on the market for some time written by Stephen Covey called, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It is an interesting book that describes principles of fairness, integrity, honesty, and human dignity that give us the security to adapt to change in our family and business lives.
Cursillo helped me develop habits in my Christian life.
Our character, basically, is a composite of our habits. "Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an action, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny," the maxim goes.
Horace Mann, the great educator, once said, "Habits are like a cable. We weave a strand of it everyday, and soon it is difficult to break. It involves a process of tremendous commitment."Those practices, habits that are a basic part of Cursillo have become an anchor for me in life as I grow in my faith. They are centered in three well known words -- Piety, Study, and Action.
Cursillo helped develop in my life the gift of prayer. There is a sense in which we constantly need to go back to Jesus and ask him, "Lord, teach me to pray." When we fall into a rut of routine prayer or if Jesus seems far away or when guilt blocks our communication with the Lord, we can always come to back to Jesus and ask Him, "Lord, teach me to pray: Grant me a new and fresh start, a special touch of Your presence to draw me back to You or replace my guilt with Your forgiving love and comforting peace."
It is good to know that God has entered into relationship with us and we can be assured of His grace and favor. He gives us the opportunity to call out to Him in the intimate terms of childhood, "Abba, Father." God loves us in a way that good parents love us.
We live in a sea of words -- from the clock radio that begins our day to the torrent of language that comes from every corner. Words on top of words until you wonder if there is any silence. It is in prayer that we ask God to break through the cacophony of noise and speak into our ears that we may know the certainty of His Word.
How often have I prayed for my family and concerns. How often have I bowed my head in gratitude for all the blessing that God has poured out on me. How often have I prayed with families with troubled hearts. How often have I stood along bedsides and prayed loved ones into the arms of God. There is nothing else that can replace the soothing power of prayer.
Cursillo helped develop that habit of prayer, importance of a devotional life, the need to truly Worship, commune at His banquet table. Cursillo helped me discover those moments close to Christ when all one can do is to say, "Thanks be to God!" There are so many times I find myself sensing the words of the Psalmist, "When I look at the heavens, the work of your hands, who am I that is not mindful of You, o God?"
The church today is in need of two renewals. One is a Biblical renewal and the other is an administrative renewal. Cursillo lifts up the importance of both. As I have taught Biblical studies, as I have traveled with people in the Holy Lands, the power of the Word is evident. It touches people's lives. It heals the soul. It brings music to the ordinary routine of life. It is Living Water in our desert experiences.
Cursillo gave for me a renewed hunger for that Word and a desire to share it with the people I'm in contact with. Not only to share it but to live it. To model Christ. As people join the parish I now serve, I tell them that they are not members of the church, but ministers.
Cursillo has taught me about the importance of the priesthood of all believers. I remember one thing that impressed me at my Cursillo twenty years ago was the Cha-Chas. I knew most of them and they were executive level people. But they took off work and came and served tables. It was a powerful witness to me of the Gospel. It provided me with a vision for the church where we all are to be servants -- to take up a towel and wash the feet of one another as Jesus did in the upper room on that night of nights.
It helped me to look again at the Greek words kleros and laos which in English mean "clergy and lay." It is related to the verb "call" and it is employed in the Greek New Testament when referring to the Holy Spirit calling a person by the Gospel into the Christian fellowship of the church. We are all called to be God's people. All Christians are God's called people.Cursillo has given a fine gift of renewal to the church. Having been renewed in faith, having developed a habit of Biblical study, they are energized to do the mission and ministry of the church.
That leads to the final word: ACTION.
People of faith need to know that "Every member is a minister and every minister has a mission". Our purpose for being is for people to:
To know Jesus and His love for you.
To grow in that love through worship, prayer, and study.
To go and share His love with others.
Cursillo provided me with a renewed faith and a vision of the priesthood of all believers working together to build the Church of Jesus Christ.
It is to hear the word anew from Isaiah, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good tidings to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound."The Fourth Day allows us to walk our talk. To let the Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on each one of us to melt us, mold us, fill us, use us.
It is to dare to dream what God can do through us to be what Martin Luther calls "Little Christs."
How grateful I am to those who have risked getting involved with a new dynamic of ministry called Cursillo. It has touched me deeply. It has provided me with habits that have become like a cable anchoring me into Christ.
I close with this thought. A surgeon was operating on a very beautiful woman to remove a tumor in her face. He carefully cut along the natural lines on her face to avoid unnecessary scars. When the surgery was over and she came out of the anesthetic, her mouth was deformed. She tried to smile her beautiful smile but her lips twisted to one side. of her face was the same as it had always been. The other side didn't move, and twisted to one side. She grabbed a mirror to look. She saw what she feared.
The doctor stood along side, and the woman said, "Doctor, will it get any better than this?"
"No," he said, "I had no choice, but to cut the nerve on that side of your face."
Her husband sat there, listening, and with great love said, "You look just beautiful to me." He reached over to kiss her. And with his lips twisted in like manner he met hers.
That is what God has done for us. He met us in our brokenness and pain with love. He kissed us and says, "I love each of you so very much." That's grace. That's Good News! That's the message we boldly proclaim.
May God bless You!
I am Allen Hermeier. I am currently the pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Ft. Madison, Iowa. I was part of the first Cursillo weekend ever held in Iowa. Will you join in the prayer for total security? Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be created and you shall renew the face of the earth. Oh, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, instructs the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit that we may be truly wise and ever rejoice in His consolations. Amen.
Looking back now,it's hard to remember all the things that happened so long ago. I remember, first of all, that my brother attended a Roman Catholic Cursillo in Omaha back in 1970. He had been bugged for a long time by a close friend of his, Robert Brau, a lawyer and a Roman Catholic Deacon. Finally, he relented. When he got out of the weekend, he called me up and said the greatest thing had happened to him since his baptism. Because he is a very enthusiastic person, I, of course, put a shield up and said to myself, "Now why am I going to participate in such an event?"
I went after much coaxing. I attended a Cursillo sponsored by the Episcopal Church at Old Stone Church in Council Bluffs, Iowa. My wife attended two weeks later. Several things came out of that. First of all, we finally decided to go forward with an adoption. Our daughter is now twenty-one years old. Secondly, we talked our bishop and a few laymen into attending a Roman Catholic Cursillo held at the parish center in Atlantic, Iowa. When they had attended, our bishop, Bruno Schlachtenhaufen, said to us, "When can you get this started for us?" That was a big question. We knew only one side of the Cursillo method. We knew the experience of being candidates, but we didn't know anything about how this thing is done. Fortunately, a sainted, great Christian, Bishop Maurice Dingman, then the bishop of the Roman Catholic diocese of Des Moines, said he would be glad to put the weight of his office and his people behind our endeavors. Richard Aller, a Des Moines insurance executive, was the Roman Catholic lay leader for Cursillo Des Moines diocese. He gave us countless hours of time.
Aller and Monsignor Ed Pfeffer, the assistant to the bishop, gave us not only their time in teaching us the method, they became part of our first team. In fact the first two teams, the men's and women's, were made up heavily of Roman Catholics, a scattering of Lutherans who had attended here and there. On those first teams were Mr. & Mrs. Russ Comnick, Ray and Carla Runkel, Gene and Ruby Hermeier, Bob Brag was lay director of the first weekend, joined by his wife, Kathy. They together with Helen and myself made up the core of the Lutherans involved in the beginning. All the leaders, with one exception, were pastors -- pastors and their wives. A weakness later was the difficulty in having enough pastors available for the weekends. With those people together with Dr. Einer Juhl and his wife Jane Ann of Atlantic, Iowa, we moved forward. We spent some weeks studying method. After we had studied method, we picked out a time. We, for a very low price, were able to rent the Catholic parish center in Atlantic, central to our southwestern Iowa residents at the time, and we went forward with team meetings. I remember that after the team meetings, held in Atlantic, half of the parties were held at our house, and half the parties were held at Dr. Juel's house, because we were the only couples in the whole town who had been through a weekend. We studied for ten solid weeks -- ten complete team meetings. Every single talk - every single rollo was rehearsed over and over again. We worked very hard, and there was a lot of prayer. There was a lot of prayer by the larger Catholic and Episcopal community, too. Truly the person who did the most in terms of leg work was Jane Ann Juel. She went here and there. We had material to gather. There was after all, no supply lines, no supply trucks, no support systems. Some had to find paper to cover the windows. We had to find some ..... masking tape to hold it in place. We had to find poster paper. We had to find pens. We had to organize everything that was organized. It was amazing what we had to do. We had to have books so we could sing. We had to have things mimeographed off for copy or put together one way or another. We had to have stuff for the supply table. We had to have food. We had to have people to prepare the food. We had to have so many different things. Now in this period of time, I wonder how we managed to organize all that.
I can tell you two simple reasons. First of all, because the Holy Spirit blessed us with some very real assistance and secondly, the Roman Catholic community was eager, at that time, to see us go forward, to see us succeed. Between the work of the Spirit, and the people upon whom the Spirit worked, it couldn't fail!
We went into those first two weekends full of naivete and maybe a bit of fear and trepidation. The men's weekend was over. Two weeks later came the women's weekend. I was the spiritual director. My wife was the one who gave the piety talk. Bishop Schlachtenhaufen gave the Sacraments talk, which seemed to be reasonable having the bishop on hand.
And so I gave the Actual Grace talk. Here in my hand I have what may or may not be visible to you on the t.v. camera, a dandelion set in a block of clear plastic. The last illustration that I used that weekend was of the dandelion. I said, "Our faith is like a dandelion. It ripens through many experiences and years of time in order that the breezes might blow and carry the seeds everywhere. The wind of the Spirit might blow and carry your seeds and plant them in other places.
And so the crop will flourish. So, too, the dandelion grows - and the thing about the dandelion I remember best is it came from a Gumps of San Francisco catalog an ad Jane Ann saw an ad for this dandelion set in clear plastic, and so she ordered it air mail-special delivery. I can remember being in the palanca chapel, just before I was to go in to give my talk, my Actual Grace talk, and someone handed me this small package. It's been standing on my desk, now these twenty years. There are a lot of things in this office, a lot of books, and some of them are expensive. I suppose in this world one could acquire a number of blocks of plastic with dandelions in them, but no one could have this one, because it's a symbol for me of where Cursillo has gone. They changed our name. We've learned a lot about method. We've discovered that other people have slightly different methods, and yet the same movement. We call ourselves, now Via de Cristo -- the way of Christ. We no longer have a Sacraments talk -- we've cleaned it up a bit theologically -- we call it a "Means of Grace" talk, but everything is really still the same. It's a vehicle, used by the Holy Spirit, to spread like these dandelion seeds the word throughout the world.
I was thinking the other day about all the things we did, thinking they were the only way to do it, only to discover there are other ways, other songs, other forms that did things well, too. Then I was thinking about a simple little thing. The first weekend is going on. It's late on Thursday night. The rector (the rectora, I guess we call them now), came to Pastor Ed Zaiser and I and she said, "What are the lessons for tomorrow's communion service?"
We said, "Huh?" No one had told us we had to pick out lessons. So we sat down that night, perhaps one o'clock, two o'clock in the morning -- I don't know what time it was -- and we picked out a New Testament lesson, a Gospel for the first day, and the second day, and the third day, and we gave them to her. Now wherever you go in Iowa, whether you do a prison weekend, or go at a camp or at a church or wherever they're at, and you'll discover those same nine lessons being used. They're written in stone, you see. They are the only way that it can be done, unless, of course, you have a different set of lessons that work for you where you are. Thus we encapsule things into tradition, but we better not completely encase the movement in rock.
Of course, I wouldn't want the structure changed. The three days, and everything about it, but this I would want us to remember: that the Holy Spirit restlessly looms over the church, and breathes upon us, like wind blows upon the dandelion, and the seeds fly as the Spirit deposits them where the Spirit will. But we have been blessed so much these twenty years. We would not want to go back and say, "Rigidly cast in stone everything about the Lutheran." Rather we might say, "Let the Spirit be the Spirit, but guard the method well, for it is a gift of God, among other gifts for the renewal of the church." De Colores!
I guess I could pretty much sum up the impact that it had on my life through telephone calls that I have received since. The last one from Carroll Lang, who called me here a few weeks back and asked me if I would be a delegate here as well as just say a few words about attending the first Cursillo and maybe a little bit about where we've gone since then. I didn't realize I was going to be speaking at a banquet, or following all these pastors. It's a good thing, I guess, the Lord doesn't always reveal the future to us because we might just turn and run, you know.
I did attend that first Lutheran Cursillo in 1971 at the urging of the brother of Al Hermeier, who you just heard. His brother, Gene Hermeier, was very active in the Cursillo movement, and between the two of them really got the movement started in Iowa. He was my pastor of Zion Lutheran Church for approximately ten years. In 1972, he convinced six of us that we should follow him to Atlantic, Iowa and attend this Cursillo, which, of course, we knew nothing about.
I remember when I first got there, there were all these greeters that came running out and grabbed our luggage. They seemed so friendly, and I thought, "Wow, this is pretty nice."
And finally, I went into the Atlantic Center, the Catholic center where they were holding the Cursillo, and the first thing that I saw was a gymnasium full of about a hundred cots. I began to think, I don't know about this. We'd been told to bring sleeping bags, but I didn't realize that it was going to be Army cots that we were going to be sleeping on. I was beginning to think, "How did I get talked into this?" I know I'm not saying anything new to most of you because I think many of you have had those same feelings.
I went along with it, but really had my doubts that first day. Although I began to sense, first of all, that new experience of Christian community that I'd really never experienced. It was through table partners, the kinship that began to build, it was the openness and the sharing that began. We saw it so beautifully portrayed in the skit. I just lived through that whole thing as their skits showed. The new insights into the teachings that were being presented through the discussions.
Also, the next thing that really hit me was I was so amazed by the ability of these team members -- many of them were Catholic brothers -- and I'd not had a lot of contact with the Catholic community. I was amazed at their ability -- how committed they were. The powerful witnesses that they had, and I remember thinking at the end of that first day, "I hope that our pastors don't think that we should ever get involved with something like that, because our community doesn't have that to offer. There's just no way we could do something like that."
The next day, on a Saturday, I guess I began to realize where the power of those team members came from. I began to see Jesus in them, and I thought, "That isn't their strength that they're going on, it's the power of the Lord, and Jesus living in them that's coming out to us."The worship services just became alive! The morning and evening meditations was a new experience for me. I just began to soak that up. The communion services -- you know they are a celebration. I had not experienced them in that way. Chapel visits -- I had never prayed out loud in my life in front of a group. Here we were encouraged to be open and to talk to the Lord with our brothers and that certainly was a new experience!
By the last day, I was just hungry for more, and soaking up everything that was being offered. After leaving that first weekend, I really started to witness about it, and I started to recruit. I could tell my friends that in my life Cursillo brought a much more meaningful prayer life for me. It opened up the Scriptures to me. I hungered for Bible studies. I certainly became more active in the church, and I wanted to be involved in the church programs.
My marriage became stronger. My wife went two weeks later. As we shared, prayed together, and our marriage really, really bloomed because of that. We had Jesus right between us. The importance of the Christian community was a new force in my life through the group reunions. I found spiritual direction as a very important part of my life. That was something I didn't even know about -- the power of going to the community or have someone that you could seek out, and have them direct you, and give you insights.
I certainly was more open to being available for whatever calling I might have. As I say, the telephone seemed to be something that began to ring, and I was just getting these calls to help here or help there. One of the first things Pastor Gene did was ask me to work on the next Cursillo. I remember a number of us said, "Well, we'll be there. We'll do anything that you ask us to do. Just don't ask us to give a talk." As we went to that first team meeting, of course they started to read off who was going to do what. Sure enough, most of us were giving talks. I thought, "I'll never get through that!" But, we do. We worked as Pastor Al said. We had the ten team meetings. There was a lot of training. We really worked hard with our Catholic brothers to be able to give that presentation.
The next two Cursillos, I was asked to be assistant. My fourth Cursillo, I was asked to be rector of the first Cursillo held in Central Iowa, and that meant moving from Atlantic, Iowa to a Bible camp north of Des Moines, and setting up a whole new program. As Pastor Al said, you can't put Cursillo in concrete. But believe me, when we tried to move to a different facility, everyone said it can't be done. You've got to do it where you've always done it. But it did work and we've gone to a number of different places now, as you've heard. We've been to a number of different parts of Iowa.
Then this went into other ministries. Again, I got a phone call from my pastor. He says, "Bob, I want to go to a meeting, but I'm not going to go by myself, and I've got to find a layman to go with me, and if you'll go, I'll make the reservations. There's a gentleman coming from the state of Washington who has been a very active prison ministry. I want to hear about it, and I want to see if this is something that maybe we can get involved in."
Well, when he said "prison ministry," I was ready to turn and run, because that is the last thing I would ever volunteer for. But he said he wouldn't go if I wouldn't go, so I went. We heard about the "M-2" program that was being developed in Washington. The effects that it had on inmates coming out of prison, by matching Christian families with prisoners who had six to eight months left in prison, but had no family to return to on the streets. Christian families would help walk with them. I thought, "Well, I think that sounds like a good idea, but I don't know how practical that would be."
Chaplain Ray Runkel, who's a good friend of mine, Lutheran Social Services chaplain, at the end of the meeting said, "We'll sponsor that. Lutheran Social Services will sponsor M-2 if we can just find three or four men to help organize it." Well, I ended up on that board and I'm still on that board, and it started in 1973. It's been a very slow process, but it has worked. The problem that we encountered was that we had four or five times the number of men in the prison, signing up to be a part of the program. We couldn't find that many Christian families. I know Chaplain ...... really burdened his heart that we couldn't meet all of those needs. So he got the idea, "Wouldn't it be great to bring the Cursillo into the prison?"Unbelievably, we were able to do that. I thought we were going to be laughed out by the lieutenants and the warden when we would go in and tell them -- what time we needed, all of the supplies we needed, the number of team members we'd have to have -- but the Lord had it all prepared for us, and the warden just opened up whatever we needed, and said, "I want you to put this Cursillo on." There was a warden in Montana who had had a Cursillo program there who was a good friend of our warden, and he had smoothed the way for us.
Dick Aller, who was the Catholic lay director, Pastor Gene and myself went to the prison on that day, talked with the warden, and that fall, in 1974, we put on the first prison Cursillo. That continued for some time. We had many of the men who attended outside Cursillos working on the teams, and going into the prison, and, of course, when you go in and see these overwhelming needs, you see what the prison is like and what Corrections has to work with, it's just hard to walk away and say, "Well, we've been there. We've got some Cursillistas, some brothers, there."
But, naturally, the Cursillistas who went home began to talk about, "Well, here's what we need." We soon formed a corporation called the MICA corporation, where we wanted to have a Christian impact on Corrections in Iowa. We wanted to have a Christian influence. We formed that organization and worked through the state legislators. We did research work. We raised some funds and did public education. We did have an impact on Corrections in Iowa. We really supported community Corrections, we kept a strong sentencing bill from being accepted by the state legislature which would have just filled the prisons that much faster, and that is still in operation.
Pastor Al, who spoke, has been a part of that group, too. Also, as a Christian community going into the prisons, we began to search, "What impact could we have? If we could do one thing that would have an impact for these men, what could the Christian community do?"We came up with the idea that at that time there was no transportation from central Iowa, where the largest population is in Des Moines, to the prison, which is 200 miles away. The prison is stuck way down in the corner of Iowa. There were the wives, the loved ones, children who couldn't get to the prison to visit, so we thought if we could start a bus ministry, and bring those people on Saturdays down to the prison, this could have a real impact.
We did that. We went out to the churches that had Cursillistas. We raised the funds, bought a bus, and started a bus ministry, taking the wives and the sweethearts and family every Saturday down to the prison. My wife became the ticket taker, collecting the money and making the reservations. We found Cursillistas with chauffeur's license that could drive the bus, and every Saturday we had a bus going down to the prison. It really was appreciated. It presented a problem to the prison, though, because they didn't know what to do with an extra 15-20 people coming into the waiting room, so they had to kind of adjust to that.
Different things like that certainly did develop, and it's from the concern of the Christian community where they see a need and they take action. We were finally not able to continue the Cursillos in the prison in Iowa because of a disturbance that happened, and they closed everything down. There was a lock-up for about six months, and no volunteers were allowed in.
However, in the history book that you have of the twentieth celebration, Pastor Tom Prochnow has an article about how the prison Cursillo started in Iowa, and he was a part-time chaplain at the prison at that time and attended the first prison Cursillo. About the time that we had this disturbance, Tom was moving to Des Moines and "Prison Fellowship" was also coming into Iowa at that time. The Washington office called some of us that had been involved with prison ministry, and asked us if we knew anyone who might be a good state director. We all came up with the same name -- Pastor Tom Prochnow. He became the first state director for "Prison Fellowship." Within a few months, we were putting on mini Cursillos, because they limited us to ten volunteers, and very few supplies. Pastor Tom was the chaplain who had been working with Cursillo and had the influence within the prison to allow us to come in, so we, with almost not skipping a beat, kept putting on what were really mini-Cursillos, but under the auspices of "Prison Fellowship."
Other things happened, of course, through that. The need, again, in Des Moines with men returning and the difficulty they find with walking and getting back into step with society when they come out on the streets is overwhelming. We formed an ex-offenders support group in Des Moines where we can be available to those returning from the prisons -- both women and men -- the women's prison is only about twenty miles outside of Des Moines. I've been facilitating the ex-offender support group for the last eight years. We meet every Monday night and we always have a crew - we have a couple of other volunteers that usually show up -- and we share the word with these ex-offenders and are there to be a support. We direct them to the areas that might help them in Des Moines by knowing the resources that they can turn to.
Just last week, I was asked to come out to the women's prison, and talk about our support group, and to support a life-plan seminar that they were working on, as they make plans for their future. While I was there, they did a Bible study, and as they were doing that Bible study, I thought, "Wow, that really is the story of my life in the Cursillo." It was from Matthew 13 -- the parable of the sower. They were sharing how various types of seed were scattered on various types of ground.
I thought as they were sharing that Bible study, that that's what Cursillo
did for me. It helped me not to be like the seeds that were sowed on the path
where we don't hear or understand the word. And it helped me not to be like the
seeds on the rocky ground, which withers away. And it helped me not to be like
the seeds among the thorny bushes, which were choked out and don't bear fruit.
But it did help me to be more like the seeds on the good soil that understands
the message and that can bear some fruit. De Colores!