The North Windsor United Methodist Church recently raised thousands of dollars for the local Blessings in a Backpack group.

Pastor Penny Dahl, recently returned from a Society of Biblical Studies tour group through Greece, Italy and Turkey, told the DeForest Times-Tribune that about $5,500 was given to the nonprofit organization last month.

The money was raised through a “garage sale” held at the church and will assist Blessings in a Backpack to continue assisting families of school children who struggle to afford enough food.

The money was raised on a donation basis, meaning shoppers paid what they could for items like strollers, toys and kitchen ware. Being able to raise thousands of dollars through donations proves the community orientation of the Windsor area, Dahl said.

The church and four tents were packed full of items and a steady stream of visitors filed through the aisles. Some shopper left $20 donations or more for items worth far less.

Dahl said she’s come to expect such goodwill after arriving to minister the area church in 2018.

“It’s great … that so many people here are so community-minded,” Dahl said.

Dahl returned from Europe in May after spending two weeks traveling through Turkey, Greece and Italy with 24 others, including pastors and laypeople. They visited holy Christian sites along the path of Saint Paul the Apostle, who roamed far as an early Christian missionary.

Places like the St. Demetrius Church in Greece and the Catacombs of San Sebastian in Vatican City inspired a sense of awe among the group members, Dahl said.

“It’s amazing to stand in a place (Saint Paul) stood,” she said. “Kind of unbelievable.”

Her favorite historical location proved to be the catacombs. Persecuted Christians were buried there, she said, after crucifixion at the hands of Romans. Rumors tell of other Christians who fled to hide in the catacombs’ darkness for days on end.

“It was impactful just to go through there,” Dahl said.

Raised in the United Methodist Church in nearby Marshall, Dahl graduated and married her high school sweetheart, Rollie Dahl, a sheriff’s deputy for more than 20 years at the nearby Northeast Precinct in Windsor.

The couple raised their children in Marshall, and Dahl remains there today following the passing of Rollie in 2014. She now spends much of her free time caring for her nearby grandchildren.

“I was baptized, confirmed, married and raised my kids there,” Dahl said.

Dahl started her career in the church as a Sunday school and adult Bible study leader, heading up church committees and singing in the choir. About 15 years ago, Dahl said she was asked to step in as a substitute preacher.

“I was kind of scared but I didn’t have any problem figuring out what to say,” she said.

Following the death of her husband, Dahl said she began to occasionally preach in several communities. In 2017, a friend suggested Dahl attend the Pine Lake United Methodist Camp, a gathering geared for people interested in entering into ministry.

By the summer of 2018, she was certified and assigned to North Windsor United Methodist Church. Staying close to family was important to her and was glad to receive the placement. She doesn’t control where the church sends her for her next assignment – Dahl said a pastor’s length of appointment at one church is usually about three to five years – she hopes to remain with the dozens of worshippers who walk through her church’s door for many years to come.

From heading up a growing church and fundraiser to traveling across distant nations and ancient holy paths, Dahl said it has been an amazing experience since she came to serve the Windsor and communities. “I’ve been blessed,” she said.

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