News from Maine

Who would have guessed that some of the most fascinating religion-related news in the last 12 months would come from Northern Maine. Two weeks ago, Richard Albert, who lives about 100 feet from the Canadian border, was fined $10,000 for crossing the border to go to church, something he has been doing for 40 years.

Albert lives right next door to a US Custom's office and was caught on camera passing a closed border station. A special program that allowed Albert and others to cross the border on a pre-approved basis was cancelled after September 11.

Here's the problem, according to the Associated Press, for those like Albert who need to cross from Township 15 Range 15 in Maine to St. Pamphile, Quebec.

The elimination of the special program creates problems for the people who live in this settlement. Family and friends, and such amenities as stores, churches and medical facilities are in Quebec.

"We're supposed to stay here and not move?" Albert said. "We're being treated like animals here. At 9 p.m., we're locked in the barns and at 6 a.m., we're let out to pasture."

The Kennebec Journal pointed out that Albert would have had to drive 200 miles
roundtrip to cross legally--not a great idea in the middle of a Maine winter.

It is not hard to understand why Albert and perhaps a few others might not have thought that the border patrol was serious about its don't-go-to-church-or-anywhere-else rule. After all, given the real threats posed by terrorists, a visit to a church in St. Pamphile does not seem to reach the danger level posed by drug dealers, smugglers or terrorists.

"This situation, it's like having a nightmare, and you feel that Big Brother is really controlling you and you can do nothing about it," Albert told the AP. He hasn't been to church since.

And then there's the sadder story of the Gustaf Adolph Lutheran Church, where 16 people were poisoned from drinking coffee laced with arsenic after church. One church member died while another committed suicide a few days after. He's the prime suspect, though the case is not solved. The national media swarmed the town after the poisoning but have long since left. Meanwhile, folks like 80 year old Ralph Ostlund, who survived the poisoning, are left with a long haul back to any kind of normal life. The Portland Press did a long follow up story in December.

Here's a little bit.
For a town eager to move on, to reclaim the simple peace and simplicity they say existed before the arsenic poisonings put New Sweden on front pages around the world, Ostlund's recovery and optimism are an inspiration.

It hasn't been easy.

"They've taken so long," he said of the legs that are slowly regaining a fraction of their old strength. "It's a long struggle." But then, as if to balance the ledger, he adds: "I wasn't supposed to make it. I made it. I'm around. I wouldn't wish what I went through on anybody. It happened. I have to put up with it."

The fact that the poisoning has not been solved has made healing harder. Dale Anderson, another victim told the Portland Press that having some definitive answers would put people's minds to rest.

"I'd know who I could get mad at," he said. "We'd like to clear it up so people can feel good about themselves and the town, so people would stop worrying is there somebody out there going to do something stupid again."

But then there's Mr. Ostlund who laughs as he describes being a guinea pig for doctors studying arsenic poisoning.

I had a good 80 years," he says. Then, smiling an infectious grin, he adds, "Well, 79 and three-quarters."

The piece closes with Ostlund leaving to visit relatives in Florida but promising to return.

"I wouldn't think about living anywhere except New Sweden. Why would you want to live anywhere else when you're in the best place in the world?" he asked, then added: "We thought it was the safest place in the world, but we found different."


Faith in the Fire

You never know what a congregation is made of until they face a crisis. That's what the members of the All Peoples Church of Dallas is finding out. The church burned down in Dallas Tuesday night. The Dallas Morning News has a quite moving story about it.

As fire investigators shoveled through the blackened rubble of what once was the laundry room of an Oak Lawn church, pastor Jacob Rodriguez talked of a task far greater than rebuilding the church's steel beams and bricks.

Instead, the 27-year-old spoke of the faith his shaken congregation would need as it moved forward from a fire that reached 60 feet high Tuesday night and left the All Peoples Church gutted by Wednesday morning.

"They can take away our building, but they can't take away our spirit and our soul," Mr. Rodriguez told a group of reporters who gathered by crime scene tape at the site Wednesday morning.

"Behind all that smoke and those ashes, there is a blessing," David Lara, another local minister told Rev. Rodriguez. "Just trust in God."

The parishioners of All People's are in for a long rebuilding process, especially if there's arson involved, which is a possibility. Six months after their church burned, the members of Grace United Methodist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota, met with the teenager who started their church on fire. This was no case of easy forgiveness.

When it was the congregants' time to speak, they told Rousseau about a structure that housed memories β€” weddings, baptisms, funerals β€” and rites of passage that would never play out in the sanctuary, which was lost to smoke and flames. While most offered forgiveness, it was too soon for Lynn Kilian-Krohn.

"My parents started this church," she stood and said, her voice quaking. "When you started the fire you destroyed memories we could never get back.

"My daughter was supposed to get married in that sanctuary in July. She couldn't be here today, but boy she's got some words for you. You're going to have to ask God for forgiveness, because I can't. I can forget, but I can't forgive."

The fire caused $1.5 million in damages, and landed the arsonist, who's 18, in jail. He originally got probation but violated it within two weeks.

"What a shame for his parents, all they have gone through" Pastor Jean Rollin told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I feel very incredibly sorry for them as well."


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