Two-year-old Ella meets her ‘friend,’ Paul

April 19, 2021 by Emily Schultz

Our sweet Ella was 11 months old when the world shut down. Like everyone else did in 2020, our little family worked through the peaks and valleys. We missed seeing our family that only lived minutes away, we navigated a career furlough and all that entails, and, of course, schools were closed. We also got to be with each other for precious moments like Ella’s first steps and baby babble turning into real words.

In all of the difficulty of the world and the news and the anxiety, we turned to the church each week as a great way to “get away.”

In the early months, our little baby just loved listening to the music and dancing along anytime the organ played, but as the months rolled on and we were still Christians from the couch, she started to recognize faces each week.

Ella would say, “Watch church?” when the organ started to play, and week by week when Rev. Paul Rasmussen would some on the screen to share the welcome and announcements, she would wave and say “hi” to him.

Whether she was in school or not, we had seen family that week or not, for over a year, her little heart knew she would see Paul when she watched church and she could say “hi.”

Not only was watching this bond heartwarming, having that connection with the church while we couldn’t be in the walls was a tide that lifted all our boats. It was a moment of normalcy and the way things were in the midst of the “new normal.”

I have been a member of Highland Park United Methodist Church my entire life. My daughter, Ella, will be the fifth generation of our family to be a part of the membership of HPUMC. Yet somehow, while we could not be together, Paul’s weekly messages spoke to exactly what was on our hearts in possibly a more profound way than church has ever imprinted on me as an adult and especially as a parent.

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Fast forward through all those months to Easter morning 2021.

We rejoiced in a glorious in-person worship experience for the first time in over a year. Ella ran on the field and waved to everyone she could see telling them “hello” (because a child of the pandemic hasn’t seen a ton of new people). We took a picture in front of the flower cross and were then walking back to the car when Ella spotted Paul! She pointed and waved, “Mommy, Paul!”

Now, I know that Paul likely had so many things on his plate, including a meal with his own family after a long morning spent at the church and stadium, but I quickly told him the story of her saying “hello” weekly and he stopped in his tracks.

He knelt down to get eye to eye with a now two year-old little girl in her Easter dress. He asked her her name and took the time to talk to her.

It was a moment that still brings tears to my eyes.

Our church can sometimes feel very big because it is big. And then sometimes, it feels like a small-town church on a hill. At that moment, our church felt just the right size for a toddler who just wanted to say “hello” to her “friend” who just so happens to be the senior pastor.