The Great American Eclipse: A Report from the Front Lines

Date posted: Friday 01 September 2017

The Rev. Glen Bickford, interim pastor at First Lutheran Church in Rush City, traveled to Missouri to watch the recent solar eclipse. With a background in science, and now a pastor, Glen writes a short reflection about his experience.


When I first heard of the total solar eclipse sweeping through America in 2017, my heart leapt within me. Not only do I have a degree in meteorology, but I am also old enough to remember the partial eclipse that passed over Minnesota in February 1979. I was intrigued by stories of rapid cooling, weird shadows and daytime stars. We used pinhole boxes to view the ’79 eclipse and almost no ordinary folks had eclipse glasses back then. But this summer was a total eclipse, and only 400 miles or so away. So I told my congregation goodbye for a day, and headed down to Missouri with my family in tow.


Greater than ourselves

Our trip down to Missouri on Sunday afternoon was uneventful, and we saw few cars on the road from out of state. The weather forecast, though somewhat cloudy, seemed promising. We headed to Lathrop, Missouri, where the total eclipse would last for 2 minutes and 40 seconds. But as the sun crept closer to its shadow dance meeting with the moon, clouds and rain rolled in. The storms passed, leaving patchy clouds for the diminishing sun to play “peek-a-boo” with our dark-shaded eyes. The total eclipse was completely shrouded in cloud cover, but still it grew dark. Even without the eclipse in view, it was amazing! The afternoon cooled, people and nature were hushed. We all realized we were experiencing something far greater than ourselves. We realized how much we take God’s ordinary creation for granted. Though the darkness soon departed, the quiet and wonder in our souls remained.


After the big event, almost on cue, the sky cleared again, leaving scattered clouds and a partial disc of sun to be glimpsed occasionally. By this time we were on the road again, trying to beat the crowd home.


And what a crowd it was! Instead of trickling home from the eclipse over days, everyone started home at the same time. I-35 clogged, and we decided to avoid highways after an hour of getting nowhere. Each time we tried to return to the interstate, our GPS and the state highway patrol shunted us off onto country roads. Not until past midnight did we finally get home to Minnesota.


Was it worth it?

"Was it worth it?", many people have asked us, since we never actually saw the sun completely covered by the moon. What did we take away from the Great American Eclipse?


Well, mostly it was a time to relax, talk and play games with our family and with the many others from across America we met in a Missouri field. None of us talked politics or economics. We simply marveled at the sky together, complained about the weather together, and spent time just being, enjoying the company of others. I have fond memories of my sons making music with a total stranger to pass the time, and of us pondering just how impossible it seemed that the moon was placed just EXACTLY the right distance to cover the sun completely. We concluded without a doubt that such a placement was not a coincidence (we have an amazing God!).


Honestly, I haven’t joined the ranks of eclipse chasers, but I’m willing to give it one more try to see the sun’s and moon’s act out from behind the curtains. Here’s to the Great American Eclipse of 2024, God willing!  


The Rev. Glen Bickford

First Lutheran, Rush City


Photo via Unsplash.