Gathering of the Faithful
Attendees at the 10th annual Cottage Grove Area Prayer Breakfast expected to hear the story of a successful businessman, husband and father whose life exemplified the tenets of his Christian faith.
Instead, keynote speaker Timothy Luther spoke of his failings, his weaknesses and the persistent sense of entitlement that kept Jesus at arm’s length.
Nearly 200 attended Wednesday’s interdenominational event at River Oaks Golf Course in Cottage Grove. It was organized by Michael and Paula Bushilla, owners of the Hope Glen Farm wedding venue.
It was the first time speaking at a prayer breakfast for Luther, a former professional baseball player who is now a private wealth advisor with Ameriprise Financial Services in New Prague.
While he appeared tentative at times, he managed to establish a rapport with his listeners and convey his message of surmounting adversity to become “an overcomer.”
“My mother used to tell me, ‘You do the dumbest things. And you rotate them,’” he said. “We’re not supposed to live mistake-free lives,” Luther said. “How are you going to get anything done if you don’t try? I tried a lot.”
Luther grew up in Waterville, Minn., the youngest of seven children of parents who were born in 1930 and weathered the privation and anxiety of the Great Depression. His father had to start over at 40 years old, when he lost the Ben Franklin variety store he operated.
His mother, who became a registered nurse, grew up on a farm and was familiar with hardship.
“There was one year the crops didn’t come in, so, for six months — lots of tomatoes,” he said.
A gifted athlete, Luther played football as a youth but found his calling as a baseball pitcher. That’s when people started treating him differently, he said.
“You’re 14 years old. You throw a baseball at 93 or 94 miles per hour...you start to think you’re more important than you really are.”
A collegiate all-American baseball pitcher, he got picked up by the San Francisco Giants farm system, where he played from 1991-93.
“I played one season of pro baseball. Got injured. Got humbled. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, that my arm got injured,” Luther said.
Not that it seemed like it at the time.
“I started drinking. I came home angry. My father asked, ‘What happened?’ I said, ‘I got released. Lost my dream.’”
At his father’s urging — and to keep living under his roof — Luther went back to school. After that, he took a job coach high school baseball in Albuquerque, N.M.
Self-awareness and humility continued to elude him, however. He had returned to Minnesota, where his marriage was on the rocks, and he had become “a closet alcoholic.”
“I fell away. I did stupid stuff. When my mom died, I said, ‘Help me.’”
The turning point came in 2002, when Luther met a young man at his church. The 22-year-old wasn’t even a member, but later told Luther that something had made him show up that day. They talked for hours.
“I saw wisdom that I had never seen before,” Luther said.
The prayer breakfast opened on a somber note as word spread of two police officers in Des Moines, Iowa, who had been shot dead in separate ambushes earlier that morning.
Jake Kerschner, pastor of Crossroads Church, paid tribute to police in a community prayer.
“As we’ve seen too often, they put their lives on the line,” Kerschner said. “They go places so that we don’t have to. They see things so we don’t have to see them.”
Craig Woolery, public safety director and police chief, acknowledged the loss and thanked the community for their support.
“All society’s problems seem to fall at our feet,” he said. One of those problems was the opioid epidemic that had resulted in a 28 percent increase in overdoses since last year.
“It’s a crisis we’re willing to deal with, and we’re willing to take that on,” he said.
Local officials including Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey and St. Paul Park Mayor Keith Franke attended, and veterans groups included American Legion Post 98. There was a presentation of colors by Park High School Air Force JROTC.
Civic groups included the New-Park Lions, Park Port Lions, Cottage Grove Lions and St. Paul Park Newport Lions. Other attendees included Michelle Rageth, executive director of Friends in Need Food Shelf, Mary Slusser of Spartan Promotions, Becky Fox of Rivertown Multimedia, and Wayne Butt, co-owner of John P. Furber Farm in Cottage Grove. Pastors from several local churches also attended.