Lansing churches celebrate unity at Lansing Fish Days

Ecumenical worship service part of Lansing Fish Days ... The Lansing Fish Days ecumenical worship service was held Sunday morning, August 15 under the large tent along the river on the festival grounds in Lansing, with more than a hundred area residents and visitors attending (as pictured above). Pictured at right, left to right, the Reverend Laura Gentry of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, the Reverend Sedar Wembonyama of the Lansing United Methodist Church, and Father Sean Smith of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church helped coordinate and celebrate the service. Submitted photos.

To commemorate the opening of the Black Hawk Bridge linking Iowa and Wisconsin in 1931, a three-state festival called Fish Days was organized. The family-friendly event was so successful that it has continued as an annual tradition ever since. In recent years, a Sunday morning ecumenical worship service led by local church leaders has become part of the celebration.

After Fish Days had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, festival-goers were ready to return to Lansing for the event this year. Likewise, area churches were eager to participate in the community worship, held under the big-top tent at the festival grounds.

Worship organizer Karen Galema gathered Lansing pastors to plan for the 2021 community service: the Reverend Laura Gentry of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Father Sean Smith of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church and the Reverend Sedar Wembonyama of the Lansing United Methodist Church.

They put together an upbeat, unity-themed service featuring the song “We are One in the Spirit” by Peter Scholtes.

Part of the Fish Days tradition has also been to bring the church choirs together to sing for the service. Eastern Allamakee Community School District (EACSD) teachers Andrew Boddicker and Ian Zahren volunteered to direct and accompany this year’s anthem, “The Prayer of Saint Francis” by Bradley Ellingboe. The Lansing Community Choir, as the local singers were dubbed, rehearsed safely outdoors at the city park.

The pastors and Galema agreed that the service August 15 was a tremendous success. Nearly a hundred worshipers came together to worship. Laurie Burkhart of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church played keyboards for the congregational hymns and Pastor Laura Gentry played guitar. The Reverend Diane Koschmeder, also of Our Savior’s Lutheran, joined the pastoral leadership team.

The sermon by Pastor Laura Gentry focused on a reading from Ephesians, a biblical book about breaking down barriers between God’s people and living peacefully. “We belong to one another,” Gentry proclaimed and as a reminder of this, she gave each worshiper a magnet with a picture of the Black Hawk Bridge by local artist Scott Boylen of Waterville emblazoned with the message “We rise by lifting others.”

Longtime community member and retired teacher Marlene Duffy commented: “After these past tumultuous months, it brings peace to one’s heart and soul to see the three faith communities unite for worship on Fish Days.”

“It was full of positivity and messages of unity,” said Choir Director Andrew Boddicker, who was enthusiastic about his participation in the event. “Seeing all the Lansing faith leaders in one space, sharing in community, and united with a message of love and togetherness was a much needed experience. And joining in song is always an uplifting and grounding moment for all.”

“It was so joyful! I still have the ‘Prayer of Saint Francis’ running through my head.” said Jean Ann Weymiller, church musician for Lansing United Methodist Church and Lansing Community Choir member. “I encourage everyone to come next year and if you like to sing, join the choir.”

Dr. Sarah Updegraff, Principal at Kee High School and Middle School in Lansing, agreed that it was fun to sing in the choir and thinks that the Lansing Community Choir could “become a thing” that would perform at other events around town. She also noted that the great weather added to the experience. “It was a beautiful morning to sing, pray and commune next to our river which connects all of us,” she shared.

Organizer Galema is thrilled. “People loved it. There was a resounding exclamation of: ‘Whoa, that was so great!’ Someone even told me they had never felt so unified before that service.” She believes it’s something that they will definitely continue.

Ninety years since the first Fish Days was held, the event continues to celebrate community and connection. The loose offerings collected at the ecumenical service, which totaled $177, went to support the Lansing LIFT food bank.

The entire Fish Days worship service from this year can be viewed at the homepage of