“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5
You have seen them – those pro-life billboards between Freeport and Avon. Designed by Profile Across America, these ads offer hope and help to those in need. They are cute, tender, and touching, with facts and an 800 telephone number for help. Billboards are expensive, but there are people who recognize that this message is needed and work hard to get it out. The billboards in this area are the work of the Hartung family from St. Rosa and volunteers from the tri-parish cluster. Each year, for five days, all day long, volunteers run the fried bread stand under the grandstand at the Stearns County Fair. Armed with frozen bread dough, sugar, cinnamon, propane tank and fryer and a passion for the pro-life effort, yummy bread is sold, with all the proceeds going toward these billboards.
This effort was actually started in 1976 by Lawrence and Mary Ann Douvier, dear friends of Hartungs. When they wanted to retire, Hartungs took up the mission. It started with one billboard, then two, and, after last year, three are supported for a year, until the next Stearns County Fair and fundraising effort.
I have been privileged to work in the stand for a shift the past several years. The Stearns County Fair, much like an airport or shopping mall, is a great place for people-watching. I am struck each year by the reactions of people to the stand. A portion do not read the signs or recognize the cause, they are just hungry and fried bread is a great fair food. Others are very aware of the pro-life effort we are working for. There are words of encouragement, words of thanks. Sometimes people donate without taking any bread (clearly not recognizing the nutritional value and not knowing that bread is a “grain” in the food pyramid). Sometimes they want a partial portion, but pay for a full. Others just say “keep the change,” asking us to take their additional donation.
The dedication of the volunteers, especially the Hartungs, is truly impressive. Yes, it is hot in there. (We get that comment a lot.) Yes, it is really loud in there when the demolition derby starts. But sharing time and space (very small space) with people who share the same goal, commitment to life, and enthusiasm, makes fun. It is one of my favorite nights of the year. You leave oily, sugary, but smiling.
Parish fellowship is about enabling the gathering of friends and is usually found in church basements after Mass. I think it can also be about bringing the parish into community. Jesus had fellowship with small groups, sometimes just his Apostles, but we are asked to take our time and talents and be part of a larger Church that includes everyone – creating a community in Christ. You would not think of the Stearns County Fair as a community in Christ, but in this little corner of the fair, that is what happens.
“For where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
Until next year, keep an eye out for those billboards and pray for the unborn and those who find themselves scared and confused.