While my family and I have lived here in Seymour for the better part of two years, this year afforded us our first chance to engage in the flurry of activity that is Oktoberfest. Before we even stepped foot in Seymour, Indiana, we heard about the Oktoberfest. During the process that brought us to First Baptist Church, our first face-to-face interview was delayed because of Oktoberfest. Several people I know take vacation days while certain local businesses shut down completely in order to participate in the festivities. The kids and I were able to indulge in portions of the festivities last year, but due to emergency health problems for my wife, our involvement was extremely limited and spotty. Needless to say, the Myers family was all sorts of excited to get our first full-bodied experience of the famed Seymour Oktoberfest. We were not disappointed!
The entirety of downtown Seymour was transformed into a combination of a traditional German town and a fair. There were booths designed to look like traditional German buildings, food trucks and trailers offering a wide variety of German foods, polka music played consistently through loudspeakers hung in the center of town, people wore traditional German clothing and hats, a man walked around playing an accordion, and a live band played polka music and encouraged people to dance at one end of town. As if this weren’t enough, the town went so far as to change the street signs from English to German! Now that is commitment! There were many other features to the festival that weren’t distinctly German that my family enjoyed. Carnival rides, food and music from other cultures, an incredible musician/juggler, and booths selling all sorts of crafts and goods. And, while all of these things were great, they weren’t what I enjoyed the most. What I enjoyed most was the sense of community, connection, and cooperation that seeped into every aspect of the festival.
The stated mission of the Oktoberfest is “to celebrate our German heritage and promote community cooperation and progress.”
The stated mission of the Oktoberfest is “to celebrate our German heritage and promote community cooperation and progress.” For me personally, the festival accomplished this purpose. People of different ages, socioeconomic conditions, religious convictions, and political leanings all came together for a moment in time. During our time at the festival we were regularly stopped by folks we knew to talk, but we also had the privilege of enjoying dinner sitting with folks we didn’t. I watched as folks who were enjoying the parade in the heat of the day offered their bottles of water to those marching in the parade. I observed a man stepping up to cover the difference for a young person who didn’t have enough money to complete his purchase. I watched as a young girl shared the candy she collected as floats passed by with another who had very little. For a few days I think I caught a glimpse of what Heaven might be like. I’m not looking at this through the proverbial rose-colored glasses. I know there were negative aspects to the weekend, but I refuse to allow that to shade the compassion, grace, and love I experienced and observed.
If Seymour has impressed me in any way over the last two years, it has been in the way our people value and make space for the community to come together for meaningful connection and interaction. It really shouldn’t be all that surprising, though, as this is the quintessential “small town” immortalized in the music of Seymour’s most famous son, John Mellencamp. Seymour is a town that is willing to slow down the speed of life in order to create space for people to be together. In a world that seems to be perpetually moving at ever-increasing speeds, and is increasingly fragmented and divided, this is a town that goes against the grain and values people.
Perhaps the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all.
What would our community be like if the character qualities that defined Seymour for the weekend were displayed every day? For those of us who call ourselves Christians, that should be the case. Jesus instructed His followers to love neighbors as self. Paul encouraged the Philippians to look out for the interest of others over the interest of self. It seems to me that the promotion of community cooperation and progress and the celebration of our community and those in it should be a mark of every day life for the followers of Jesus. Perhaps the kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven isn’t such a far-fetched idea after all. Perhaps it’s something that we can achieve with a little bit of compassion, a little bit of grace, and a little bit of love.