First Lutheran to dedicate cross, garden | News, Sports, Jobs

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A cross rosemaled by Joan Varty hangs on the west exterior wall of First Lutheran Church.

A rosemaled cross and children’s memorial garden recently installed at First Lutheran Church will be dedicated this Sunday.

The cross, visible on the west side of the church along North Broadway, and the garden on the north side will be dedicated following Sunday’s service, about 10:30 a.m. 

They were projects spearheaded by Patrice Mitchell, a retired teacher who enjoys beautifying the church grounds. She said there was a space along the church’s west wall that needed an additional touch, but her plans for it were temporarily hijacked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, a project moved forward, with the help of Ron LaCount in creating the wooden cross.

Mitchell asked rosemaling artist Joan Varty to paint the cross before hanging it in place. The Scandinavian art is a nod to the history of First Lutheran, founded by Norwegian immigrants. 

Varty said she painted the cross in the Hallingdal style of rosemaling, which uses three shades of each color. The design included different types of flowers and leaves, each in three colors. 

“The Hallingdal design is a balanced design. It’s like a mirror image,” she said. “If you would fold it in half, it would match.”

In the middle of the design Varty painted Martin Luther’s Coat of Arms.

Varty said she spent much of the summer of 2021 working on the cross because the heat limited her painting time each day.

“If it got above 80 degrees, then, of course, it dries the paint before you can get it off the brush. I tried to paint early in the morning,” she said.

Varty used an acrylic paint that should stand up well in the elements, but the cross also is covered with plexiglass. The cross is about six feet tall.

The cross officially went on display outside the church several weeks ago when Rich Solberg assisted in mounting it on the church exterior.

Mitchell, with the help of Nancy Beck, created the children’s memorial garden last April. The garden in memory of children who have died features plants, ornaments, benches and a donated small monument engraved with Matthew 19:14: “Let the little children come to me.”

First Lutheran celebrates its children, but it’s also important to remember the children who never had the chance to share life and exercise their faith within the church, said Pastor Brandy Gerjets with First Lutheran. The memorial garden gives families space to both grieve and find promise in their faith, she said.

She credited Mitchell for initiating the two scenes that are both beautiful and meaningful.

“She has such a way of casting a vision and pulling the right people together to make it happen,” Gerjets said. “She does some pretty cool things.”

Mitchell said the congregation members have been generous and always willing to help. She views the projects as a way to say thanks for the blessings they have.

“It’s just fun,” Mitchell said. “It makes the world a better place.”

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