ANTIGO — From Arimathea to Zechariah, the Bible is full of fiendishly difficult words, the sort of things that trip up even the most seasoned parish lector.
Fifteen-year-old Erika Gelhausen is up to the challenge.
Gelhausen serves as a lector, or reader, at Masses held in the Aspirus Langlade Hospital chapel, and following Lent, will begin similar duties at her home parish of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Antigo.
“It’s important to serve God, so you have to find ways to do it,” said Gelhausen. “I knew it would be a good form of stewardship.”
A graduate of All Saints Catholic School and a sophomore at Antigo High School, the daughter of Allan and Colleen Gelhausen is enveloped in a faith journey far advanced for her age.
Under the mentorship of Sr. Dolores Demulling of the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, Gelhausen became an associate of the order at age 13, a designation that required Sr. Dolores to seek permission from the motherhouse due to her youth.
“It was a nice process,” she said, that stresses acceptance of the charism of the order’s founder, Jerome LeRoyer. “You can feel God’s welcoming love.”
Sr. Dolores remains a key role model.
“She’s a good person and sets a great example for me by her actions,” said Gelhausen.
The religious sister describes Gelhausen as a special young lady. She works to encourage her independence, endeavors and her interests, while also remembering her youth.
“She a very bright girl,” said Sr. Dolores. “And she is a beautiful reader.”
Gelhausen’s involvement with the associates naturally led to an increased role in the Masses held daily at Aspirus Langlade Hospital. It was an easy transition to becoming a reader in the small, homey chapel.
The next step — reading at St. John, which can hold hundreds — required a meeting with Kay Sollitto, a member of the worship committee who is responsible for selecting the lectors.
“She knew how to read with meaning,” said Sollitto. “She read clearly and with enunciation, which is important for people (in the pews) who can’t hear as well.”
Sollitto added that Gelhausen’s voice “also had the ability to carry,” something that is important in the cavernous church.
Gelhausen will begin her lector duties at St. John after Easter.
To prepare for the readings, the teen practices a bit, reviewing the passages and checking pronunciations if needed.
“I just read it quietly to myself when I’m in the chapel,” she said. “I’ve been told I read well.”
She admits that she has bluffed her way through a few difficult names in the past, a confession every lector of any denomination could make.
Although only in her mid-teens, Gelhausen has been a paper carrier for The Antigo Daily Journal for three years, starting three days after her 12th birthday. She enjoys studying Spanish and doing homework.
“I like to get good grades so I study a bit,” she said.
The intense, focused young woman predicts her future plans will involve teaching, perhaps in a country such as Peru, although she is “a little young” to make any life-defining decisions.
For now, she will continue to serve God, her parish and her community as an associate and lector.
Her philosophy is simple, yet eloquent.
“I think you should be nice to all people,” she said. “You should work for God to love his people.”