By Marci Narum
Lutherans aren’t known to be a rowdy bunch, but when Pastor Craig Schweitzer announced in worship one Sunday morning that he and a handful of other Lutheran pastors had started a band and were inviting people to a public gathering called “Beer and Hymns,” a few members of his congregation made some noise. And it wasn’t a joyful one.
“Some members were very angry about it,” Craig recalls. “I invited them to come, and they did. At the end, one of them — one of the grumpiest of the group — came up to me and gave me a big hug. He had tears in his eyes and said, ‘I haven’t had this much fun singing church music in a long time, and we did some really good things by raising a lot of money for some people tonight.’”
That was five years ago. The gathering is still going strong and Craig continues to lead the flock at the largest ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) church in the Bismarck-Mandan area. Members embrace their senior pastor’s ideas — sometimes with “shear” faith. For the third year in a row, Craig is participating in Brave the Shave, a regional fundraising event to fight childhood cancer through family support and research.
“The congregation knows me well enough now; they know I’m not going to do things in a traditional methodical approach. They’re pretty gracious about all things,” Craig laughs. “They just roll with it.”
Pastor Craig raised around $12,000 in 2017, the first year he grew out his hair for Brave the Shave.
“I was egged on, ‘You really should do it; you’re one of those guys with great hair that makes it fun, makes it what it is.”
Craig had initially resisted because he was involved in another major community event and raising money for it was difficult. But then childhood cancer hit close to home. His high school buddy’s son was diagnosed with cancer. Then one of his cousins lost a 20-year-old son to cancer. And, Craig’s second cousin’s daughter recently finished chemo treatments. He has become passionate about the cause.
“Joe McDonough, the head of the B+ (be positive) Foundation (the research arm of Brave the Shave), says only 4 percent of research funding for cancer in the United States goes to children’s cancers, but we know for a fact that over 90 percent of the children’s cancers that we’re aware of are curable. So, the possibility of us finding a cure to get rid of children’s cancer is very real, and events like Brave the Shave that are held all over the country help make that a reality.”
Having his head shaved in the 2018 event didn’t bring in as much money as it did the year prior, but in his third go-round, Pastor Craig has been offered an opportunity to brush up his efforts: He’s been challenged by a Catholic priest — Father Nick Schneider of Christ the King Church in Mandan. To an outsider, it might appear odd, but it’s a competition in harmony. Craig was Nick’s guitar instructor long before either of them knew that God would one day call them into ordained ministry.
“Nick is bald but he has this beard he hasn’t shaved off since high school. So it’s a friendly competition. That’s the whole point of it. My hair grows back. Why don’t we have fun with it?”
“Hopefully both communities will embrace it,” Craig says. “It’s a great event that brings a lot of people in the community together — those who are affected by childhood cancer and those that aren’t. And it embraces all of them in loving, good way.”
Because Fr. Nick is shaving his beard, Craig says he will too.
“Somebody told me last year that if I got rid of the eyebrows they’d give me $10,000. I said, ‘You show me the check, and I’ll consider it!’”
Parishioners notice Pastor Craig’s hair is a little longer and curlier when they arrive for Sunday or Lenten services this time of year. Its distinctive, sophisticated, white and gray hues are also replaced with splashes of green and periwinkle.
More colors will be added before it all comes off in April, but the congregation doesn’t mind — the wacky hair nor their suddenly bare-headed reverend come Sunday, April 14.
At least no one is making noise about it.
“I think the congregation celebrates it. I think they embrace it and see it as part of who they are in the community that they’re a welcoming, accepting, inviting place and this is just an extension of that.”
In fact, about a dozen members of the congregation are joining him, including Amber Hill.
“I think women are much more brave when they do Brave the Shave,” Craig says. “That’s a bigger deal to me. Not just cutting off your long hair, shaving it. I think that’s incredible. I’ve given money to her.”
You can give online at BraveTheShave.net. Click on the “Donate” button. You can search for Pastor Craig or support any participant you see listed. The event begins at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 13 at the Missouri Valley Family YMCA. Doors open at noon.