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Feature: Leap of faith

Published (5/2/2008)
By Brian Hogenson
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On any given Wednesday morning you can find a group of legislators conducting a vigorous discussion of the issues they find important and closely listening to one another’s innermost thoughts and ideas.

If this picture of serenity and civility, with doughnuts and juice served on the side, sounds nothing like the full-throated debate and political game of chess often witnessed during a House committee hearing or floor session, that is because you would be witnessing a fellowship meeting of legislators. Led by Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan) and Aaron Dogotch, state director for Capitol Ministries Minnesota, the 7 a.m. gatherings consist of prayer, Bible study, and even the occasional song.

Faith and religion are deeply personal, Buesgens said, and each person is able to take away something different from the fellowship experience.

“It allows me to speak to the core of who I am and learn through peers. It helps to create an inner peace and to be humbled,” Buesgens said. “We legislators tend to suffer from what the Greeks called ‘hubris.’ This allows us to regain our humility and grounding.”

Rep. Sondra Erickson (R-Princeton) said that sharing her faith with the group is important, and that being able to pray with her colleagues helps her understand where others are coming from.

“I do read my Bible daily, but I find it valuable to hear others comment on how a scripture text or several scripture texts influence their lives,” Erickson said.

Buesgens said it is a pleasure serving in a leadership capacity for the group, usually consisting of 12-15 members, while striving to offer nonpartisan leadership and support through fellowship and Bible studies.

“We may not share (political) philosophies or positions, but it allows us to help transcend the issues,” Buesgens said. “At the end of the day, who we are as a person is more important than pressing the red or green button.”

The Rev. Richard Buller, the House chaplain, says that meeting with others to discuss their faith is important for legislators during the session, as many members spend the majority of session away from their homes. “They need to be spiritually nourished somehow.”

Buller said that faith of all forms is valued in the state constitution. He views his role in the House as being the spiritual leader for a congregation of 134 members with a variety of faiths.

“Working together, recognizing all beliefs and coming together as a body is what I’m called to do,” Buller said. “We have a lot more in common than what separates us as God’s people.”

The fellowship meetings have taken place for more than a decade, led by former Rep. Arlon Lindner (R-Corcoran) before Buesgens began serving in his leadership role. Dogotch leads the Bible study portion of the fellowship meetings and leads similar groups for House staff and Capitol lobbyists. According to its Web site, staff Bible studies occur Tuesdays at noon in 346 State Capitol.

Having observed legislators on several occasions lamenting the loss of a collegial relationship because of a divisive political issue, Dogotch said that legislators and staff who attend the fellowship meetings seem to truly desire friendship in spite of the occasional disagreement over political issues.

“These groups act as a political refuge of sorts,” Dogotch said. “No one is lobbying or castigating the opposition. They are open to all regardless of political affiliation.”

According to Buesgens, all faiths are welcome. In the past, when Jewish members were present at the gatherings, the Bible study and lesson would focus on passages from the Old Testament.

A person’s faith can be a window into their soul. According to Dogotch, one’s concept of God affects everything about how one thinks and lives.

In agreement with that is Buesgens, who says that faith is a huge part of who he is and how he makes decisions. “Issues are filtered through the human mind based on your faith. My faith and upbringing form that filter. It is not possible to separate that from your person.”

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