February 12, 2011
John S. Glas Fieldhouse in Bemidji, Minnesota
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GK: My next guest is a Lutheran pastor here in Bemidji, Pastor Aaron Torkelson who is the head of the Zion Hot Springs Bible Camp just north of here.

TR (MINN): Well, I'm not the “head” of the camp, I'm just the assistant pastor. We Lutherans don't have heads, we try to avoid that. You know.

GK: But you're in charge of the Zion Hot Springs Bible Camp.

TR (MINN): Actually we have a senior pastor, Marvin Peterson.

GK: Okay.

TR (MINN): He died a couple years ago but he's still senior pastor.

GK: He's still senior pastor after he died?

TR (MINN): It happens quite a lot, actually.

GK: And this is the Bible camp where the hot springs suddenly appeared in the middle of the softball field.

TR (MINN): Actually, right around home plate.

GK: A big bubbling hot springs suddenly came up out of the ground in the winter of 20003.

TR (MINN): Actually, in February 2004.

GK: Was this something that you Lutherans had prayed for?

TR (MINN): No, no, we'd never pray for this sort of thing. We'd pray for discernment. Not pleasure.

GK: Okay. I'm going to show the video now of the Zion Bible Camp hot springs, shot last winter. Run the video there, Sam. (BUBBLING, BUREBLING OF MUD. TROPICAL BIRDS CRIES. ECSTATIC CRIES OF MEN AND WOMEN AND GK/AS SING TO LATIN BEAT:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow,
Praise him for hot springs down below
Praise him for pleasures of the flesh
For warming us in the Midwest. Amen.

(MORE BUBBLING, BURBLING)

GK: Quite a sight, steam coming up from hot water flowing in a big pond and what appeared to be naked people dancing around in the steam, presumably Lutherans.

TR (MINN): I don't know. I didn't look at that part.

GK: So how did the hot springs come about, Pastor Torkelson?

TR (MINN): Well, it was on a very cold day and the ground shook and people ran outside and there was hot water coming up from home plate. And as you can imagine, word got around and it drew quite a crowd.

GK: I can imagine. Did this seem to you like a divine miracle?

TR (MINN): I don't know as I'd describe it as a miracle. A temptation, yes. A stumbling block, yes. Miracle, I don't know. It's not what we're here for. Have thousands of people lying around in a hot pond in January and February, having a wild old time.

GK: Were they naked?

TR (MINN): I believe that some of them may have been. And then you had your cripples, your halt and your blind, thinking this was the Lutheran Lourdes. It was a real management problem. We like to run a tight ship. It's hard to do that when you got naked people running around.

GK: Let's look at that video again from last winter. (BUBBLING, BIRD CRIES, CRIES OF PLEASURE.

GK/AS SING:

Praise God who came in human form,
Who was a body strong and warm
God was made us and so did bless
The joyful pleasure of the flesh. AMEN.

BIRD CRIES, BUBBLING)

GK: So I understand that the Zion Hot Springs Bible Camp is not open anymore.

TR (MINN): We're just not sure that it's a good idea. We're praying for discernment.

GK: Warmth. Joy. Singing. Dancing. What's the problem?

TR (MINN): It's hard to get people to go home. And it was very confusing to people.

GK: How so?

TR (MINN): We're Lutherans. We have a theology of suffering and finding meaning in pain. But pleasure is a problem. Pleasure doesn't draw us closer to God.

GK: Why not?

TR (MINN): It just doesn't. Have you ever been to Florida?

GK: So it's just you out there in the Zion Hot Springs Bible Camp all by yourself?

TR (MINN): That's right.

GK: You ever go in the hot springs?

TR (MINN): Not so much.

GK: How often? Every day?

TR (MINN): Once in awhile.

GK: Every day?

TR (MINN): I don't keep track of it.

GK: You lose track of time when you're happy, don't you.

TR (MINN): You could say that.

GK: Any plans to open up the camp?

TR (MINN): We're thinking about it.

GK: Talking to Pastor Aaron Torkelson, head of the Zion Hot Springs Bible Camp.

TR (MINN): Not the head. Just the assistant pastor.

GK: The big cheese, the No. 1 guy, at the Zion Hot Springs Bible Camp. Thanks for joining us.

Old Sweet Songs: A Prairie Home Companion 1974-1976

Old Sweet Songs

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