My father, Evert Mainquist, joined Carlslund when it was a country Swedish church near Buffalo in 1919. His parents had immigrated from Sweden. The nave had a Swedish stenciled border around the walls and a Swedish Bible verse on the wall behind the altar. The old-country language was still taught in Sunday school, and old Swedish settlers rested in the nearby cemetery. The members were worshiping in town by the time the country church was torn down in 1939, and the congregation was later renamed Zion.
I was baptized there in 1953. My dad’s sister Dora, Swedish like my father, and her husband Arnold, of Norwegian lineage, were my godparents. I grew up among Andersons, Bensons, Carlsons, Christiansons, Johnsons, Markusons, Nelsons, Paulsons, and Petersons. Pastor Persson baptized me. My father’s last name of Mainquist and his best man’s last name of Ilstrup were marks of Swedish lineage as well.
My father and Vernon Ilstrup were farm neighbors. They attended the same country school and the same churches. They were friends for life. Vernon’s daughter and my youngest sister were confirmed together.
I liked Sunday school at Zion. The stories had exciting drama and moral meaning. They came in shiny folders with bright and beautiful color pictures on their covers. My books at home were printed in one color and the paper was plain. I remember best the Sunday school folder with the picture of Christ reaching over a cliff with wild brush to save a white lamb in the pitch dark. The picture told me that Christians should reach hard to care for individuals the way Christ reached for the lamb. Later in life, I realized this was not the case with many bureaucracies.
My mother, a woman of faith, bought me and my sisters black leather Bibles with our names stamped in gold on the covers. The small, dense text did not appeal to me. However, when I was flipping through to look at the full-page, color pictures, I landed on Ephesians 6:4. The verse stated,
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they turn against you.
I promptly memorized it.
When my mother chided me for being surly, she quoted,
Honor your father and your mother.
I answered her with Ephesians 6:4. She never quoted bible at me again.
In sixth grade Sunday school, Miss Effie Ilstrup was my teacher. Most likely, she had been my father’s and Vernon’s Sunday school teacher at the country Swedish church too. She was tall and thin, with grey hair in a pompadour style from the 1940s. When the fourth, fifth, and sixth grades met to sing anthems from “Hymns for Youth,” Miss Ilstrup asked if we had memorized any Bible verses. My hand, the only one, went straight up. Ephesians 6:4 came in handy once more, but Miss Ilstrup never asked for Bible verses again.
In seventh grade, two students were always chosen to play Mary and Joseph in the Christmas pageant. Mary wore a purple dress and scarf with sequin trim. Although I prided myself in my Biblical scholarship, I wanted to reign as a pretty princess to the entire congregation.
Muriel Johnson, a Sunday school leader, came in to the seventh grade classroom to announce who would get the pageant parts. Steve Pellinen, the smartest boy in the seventh grade, would be Joseph. I considered him my counterpart. However, Delrose Spike got the part of Mary. She didn’t recite inappropriate Bible verses. She was even a junior cheerleader. I didn’t know how to do my hair, I had buck teeth, and I had announced I would be the first woman president.
I expressed my jealousy in an odd way. I asked Mrs. Johnson why Mary had such a fancy dress when she was supposed to be poor. She replied, “Maybe Mary had one nice dress.”
Pastor Cornell confirmed me. At one eighth grade confirmation class, he asked us what the most important occupation was. I didn’t hesitate. I said, “Farmers, because they make the food we eat.” One summer morning, Pastor Cornell asked the farmers in the congregation and their families to stand. I stood beside my parents and my sisters. He said that farmers do the most important work because they make the food we eat. He honored the families, and he honored me.
For Youth Sunday, the Zion Luther League conducted the Sunday service. I was one of three asked to preach. I did not hesitate. Since many youth were rebelling against the Vietnam War, I chose the story of Jesus, at the age of twelve, in the temple. He asked questions of temple authorities. His parents didn’t know where he was. Jesus was doing his father’s work and following his conscience. Emmy Ilstrup told my father I should be a minister. Women were not ordained then, but Dad was proud, and so was I.
While I am still proud of my Gospel selection, what was remembered was my sermon introduction. As high school senior, I had decided that the most important goal of a speaker was keeping the audience awake. My introduction was “My mother always wears red lipstick,” in my snottiest, loudest teenage voice. That was 1970. In 1996 a Zion member approached me and said my introduction had indeed awakened her father and he still remembered it.
I still think I have something to say. When I advocated shoveling snow off sidewalks in St. Paul, the local papers and the Associated Press picked it up. The fire chief, in his formal uniform, knocked on my door and told me to quit asking his department questions. I even publicly confronted a mayor of St. Paul. At the next meeting, he and his aides promptly left when I entered the room. It is rumored that everyone in the St. Paul Public Housing office knows who I am.
Just who am I? I am a child of Zion Lutheran Church.
Linda Mainquist was confirmed at Zion in 1967. She now lives in Saint Paul and is a writer. She has had articles published in a number of periodicals, and many of her books are available at the Wright County Historical Society. She would be grateful if anyone could identify the painting of Jesus with the lost lamb.