Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

For 52 years: A rural Minnesota church prepares for Holy Week with Last Supper Drama April 11, 2014

FOR CHRISTIANS LIKE MYSELF, Holy Week marks a period of reflection and repentance as we remember the final days in the life of Christ before his crucifixion and resurrection.

St. John's members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John's.

St. John’s members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from “The Last Supper Drama.” Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John’s.

For St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, a presentation of  “The Last Supper Drama” has been a long-standing Holy Week tradition. For 51 years, 52 this April 13, this congregation has presented the drama written by long ago pastor, the Rev. W. Rasche, and based on Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting. It’s truly remarkable that a tradition like this would continue for more than five decades.

Twice, if not thrice, I’ve lost count, I’ve attended this Palm Sunday evening drama at this country church northeast of Faribault.

St. John's 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary.

St. John’s 50th presentation of “The Last Supper Drama” in the sanctuary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

As darkness falls, voices hush, mood-setting music plays and a spotlight shines upon 12 performers role-playing the disciples.

It is a profound performance which presents a personal perspective on the relationships between Jesus and his followers.

I’d encourage you to attend. It’s worth the drive, worth your time.

There’s something about sitting straight-backed in a pew in the darkness of a Palm Sunday evening within the walls of an aged limestone church in the company of believers that comforts me and puts me in the proper meditative mindset for Holy Week. And that reaction is, I expect, exactly as St. John’s intends.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

The parking lot at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation’s annual performance of “The Last Supper Drama”. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2012.

FYI: St. John’s is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

The drama begins at 8 p.m. on Sunday, April 13, and is followed by lunch afterward in the fellowship hall.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Soup, salad & sandwiches at St. John’s March 12, 2014

SUNLIGHT FILTERS through the fellowship hall windows on an early Sunday afternoon in March. Outside the 40-degree temps feel balmy after a brutally cold and snowy Minnesota winter.

St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, Minnesota.

I’ve left my coat in the van, drawing my sweater tight around me as I pause to photograph St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, before hurrying inside. The strong wind has a bite to it.

Salad options.

Salad options.

Inside, I grab a shiny silver tray, select a salad from choices on ice, pinch lettuce into a bowl and add toppings before placing the tray on a table to photograph the salad selections. While I do so, a teen ladles a generous scoop of Ranch dressing atop my lettuce salad.

Lynn, right, tends the potato soup in this duo scene of kitchen and fellowship hall.

Lynn, right, tends the potato soup in this duo scene, divided by a wall, of kitchen and fellowship hall.

Next, I move toward the kitchen serving window to consider the soup offerings—chicken noodle, potato bacon and bean. All homemade. I start with potato. Lynn fills my bowl.

Kim and Keith serve diners.

Kim and Keith serve diners.

Juggling camera and tray, I move down the line to the sandwiches. Kim and Keith are ladling soup, too, and refilling the sandwich tray.

Sandwich choices from ham to sausage to open face.

Sandwich choices from ham to sausage to open face.

I choose an open face sandwich topped with a mix of meat and chopped pickles.

My husband and I settle onto folding chairs at a table nearest the kitchen. I want easy access to photograph the scene, the moments that define this first of three Sunday Lenten soup luncheons at St. John’s.

I’ve been here before, often enough that parishioners welcome me into this country church east of Faribault just off Minnesota State Highway 60 along Jacobs Avenue.

My first tray of food.

My first tray of food.

I know the routine, too. Gather my food and then transfer bowls and sandwich onto a paper placemat so the trays are ready for the next diners.

Key food preparer Craig, carrying a coffee pot, right, says 60 -70 diners were served at Sunday's luncheon.

Key food preparer, organizer, church organist and co-youth leader, Craig, carrying a coffee pot, right, says 60 -70 diners were served at Sunday’s luncheon.

There’s something about familiarity and dining in the company of the faithful, the din of conversation and the clack of kitchen noises, that comforts as much as a hearty homemade soup.

Mandarin orange dessert awaits diners.

Mandarin orange dessert plated for delivery to diners.

For two evenings and a day prior, Craig and his mother, 88-year-old Elsie, and their neighbor, Lynn, have labored, preparing the three soups, the nine salads and the mandarin orange dessert. Parents of Youth Fellowship members brought the sandwiches.

This is a labor of love and of service—the chopping of onions, the soaking of beans, the dicing of ham, the mixing of homemade dumplings (by the octogenarian)…

Brandon dries dishes. The Youth Fellowship sponsors the soup and salad luncheons.

Brandon dries dishes. The Youth Fellowship sponsors the soup and salad luncheons.

In the kitchen, 13-year-old Brandon dries dishes beside his mother and Elsie. Others tend the soup, sandwiches, salad and dessert. Youth hustle to bring and refill beverages, to clear tables, to deliver dessert. Craig rushes to refill coffee pots and cups.

Bibles, florals and candles  decorated tables.

Bibles, florals and candles decorate tables.

I observe it all, from tabletop bible centerpieces opened to Psalms to the dainty floral pattern on church china to the stool I’ve seen Elsie use in the kitchen every time I’ve been here. She’s always in the kitchen.

The hardworking team.

The hardworking team.

This congregation works together, feeding diners like me who appreciate their efforts and the taste of great homemade food as much as this rural setting and fellowship.

Inside the church kitchen, that's Elsie standing next to her stool.

Inside the church kitchen, 88-year-old Elsie works next to her stool.

Once I’ve finished my first bowl of potato soup, I get a new bowl and a scoop of bean soup, followed by a second helping of potato. I pass on the third soup; I’m not a fan of either chicken soup or of dumplings.

As I finish my dessert, Kim and Keith join my husband and me to rest for a bit and eat lunch. We talk about kids and the horrible long winter and vehicles in ditches and the couple’s continually snow blown driveway and such. It’s a comfortable conversation.

Elsie, 88, enjoys a bowl of bean soup.

Elsie, 88, sits in the kitchen and enjoys a bowl of bean soup at the end of the luncheon.

Before we leave, I pop into the kitchen again and catch Elsie finally sitting down with a bowl of bean soup.

#

FYI: If you’re interested in attending St. John’s next two soup luncheons, here are details:

The church is located at

The church is located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue, rural Faribault.

These will be your salad options.

These will be your salad options.

On the way out the door, study the Germanfest photos on the bulletin board:

St. John's UCC Germanfest is another must-attend annual event in September. Great food, entertainment, bingo, quilt show and more.

St. John’s UCC Germanfest is another must-attend annual event in September. Great food, entertainment, bingo, quilt show and more define this ethnic gathering.

And then purchase a jar of St. John’s famous homemade apple jelly or butter:

Beautiful and savory St. John's apple jelly.

Beautiful and savory St. John’s apple jelly.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A photo essay: St. John’s Germanfest in rural Minnesota September 29, 2013

I AM 100 PERCENT German.

My plate, filled with German foods at St. John's annual Germanfest.

My plate, filled with German foods like sauerbraten, sauerkraut, German potato salad, sweet and sour beets and more at St. John’s annual Germanfest.

I like German food.

Today was a gorgeous autumn day here in southeastern Minnesota, as glorious as they get.

The steeple of the historic stone church with the roofline of a German themed beverage booth in the foreground.

The steeple of the historic stone church with the roofline of a German themed beverage booth in the foreground.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, was hosting its annual Germanfest at its historic stone church out in the country.

Just a snippet of the buffet line.

Just a snippet of the buffet line.

I had to eat.

The social hall and rooms off the dining area were filled with diners.

The social hall and rooms off the dining area were filled with diners.

And I couldn’t think of a better place to dine on this Sunday afternoon than at St. John’s. Great food in the company of wonderful folks. Out in the country. Perfect weather. Perfect day.

Some of the St. John's kitchen crew, including long-time member Elsie Keller who is making German potato salad.

Some of the St. John’s kitchen crew, including long-time member Elsie Keller who is making German potato salad.

One of the major components of Germanfest is the fabulous quilt show inside the sanctuary.

One of the major components of Germanfest is the fabulous quilt show inside the sanctuary.

Among the incredible quilts were these three hung from the balcony.

Among the incredible quilts were these three hung from the balcony.

Each quilt comes with a story, this one among my favorites.

Each quilt comes with a story, this one among my favorites.

That glorious quilt show.

That glorious quilt show. Here you are seeing only a snippet of the quilts draped over pews.

My husband and I each bought a quilt raffle ticket.

My husband and I each bought a quilt raffle ticket.

The beautifully-appointed altar, complete with German and American flags.

The beautifully-appointed altar, complete with German and American flags.

Outside the church, I fell in love with the adorable goats at the petting zoo.

Outside the church, I fell in love with the adorable goats at the petting zoo.

And this little guy loved the miniature donkeys.

And this little guy loved the miniature donkeys.

Along with fresh produce and bakes goods and greeting cards (some published by Warner Press with my verses)

Along with fresh produce and baked goods and greeting cards (some published by Warner Press with verses I wrote) and apple jelly was this art (including these cute pooches).

Bingo drew the young and the older.

Bingo drew the young and the older.

Old-time music drew dancers and listeners to the tent next to the church.

Old-time music drew dancers and listeners to the tent next to the church.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fifty-one years of presenting The Last Supper Drama at a rural Minnesota church March 22, 2013

St. John's members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John's.

St. John’s members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John’s.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from Milan, Italy, in the flat farm fields of Rice County in southeastern Minnesota, Leonardo da Vinci has left his mark on a small congregation.

For 50 consecutive years, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, has presented The Last Supper Drama, a theatrical interpretation of the master artist’s most famous painting created in 1495 as a mural in an Italian monastery.

St. John's 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary.

St. John’s 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in 2012.

I penned those two opening blog post paragraphs during Holy Week 2012, shortly after attending the St. John’s performance.

So update that number. The congregation is slated to present its 51st The Last Supper Drama at 8 p.m. on March 24, Palm Sunday.

I’d advise attending because you don’t get more grassroots basic than this in the retelling of Christ’s final meal with his 12 disciples via a script penned by a long ago St. John’s pastor.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ, as seen in the 2012 drama.

Each disciple speaks of his personal relationship to Christ, making this a particularly introspective drama presented by members and former members of St. John’s.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

The parking lot at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation’s annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

Truly, there’s something about slipping inside this rural 1800s limestone church as evening melds into night, settling upon aged pews among those who have worshiped here for generations, that is particularly comforting.

It is good for the soul to sing and pray and listen, to sweep your thoughts into a meditative mindset for Holy Week.

That this country congregation continues with a tradition begun in 1963 impresses me. Such uninterrupted longevity is a testament to faith, an appreciation of history and a clear understanding that still today, perhaps more than ever, The Last Supper Drama needs to be shared.

A view from the balcony before the drama begins shows the spotlight to the left and The Last Supper table below. The actors enter, spotlighted in the dark church, to take their seats at the table. There they "freeze" in place to mimic Leonardo da Vinci's painting.

A view from the balcony before the drama begins shows the spotlight to the left and The Last Supper table below. The actors enter, spotlighted in the dark church, to take their seats at the table. There they “freeze” in place to mimic Leonardo da Vinci’s painting.

FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

Click here and then here to read my detailed The Last Supper Supper Drama posts from 2012.

Click here to read my post from 2011.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hey, all you foodies and fun-loving folks… September 28, 2012

IT’S GOING TO BE ONE of those glorious fall weekends in Minnesota. Trees flaming with color. Crisp cobalt blue skies. A certain awareness that these sunny, warm days of autumn will soon morph into the gray weeks of winter.

But let’s not go there.

Instead, hop in the car and take a fall drive this weekend. Follow a meandering gravel road. Banish “hurry” from your vocabulary. Slow down. Park your vehicle and walk.

Then dine at a local community-centered activity like Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s annual auction at the Morristown Community Center beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Wait a minute, you say. What does that have to do with food?

Well, the CVLHS event includes a bake sale. I know the woman organizing the bake sale and, based on that, you can be assured of an excellent selection of home-baked goods.

You can’t beat the food served during the CVLHS auction, like this pork sandwich, potato salad and homemade apple pie.

Not only that, you can eat a little lunch at the CVLHS auction. Hot pork, beef and cheesy turkey sandwiches. Salads. Pies from the Trinity Pie Makers (of Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, my church) and assorted desserts. The food alone is well worth attending this event. Take that from someone—me—who has sampled this delicious food several times. (Click here to read a previous post about the CVLHS auction.)

One dozen of Kathy Hallanger’s fall-themed cookies sold for $40 at a previous auction.

Check out the silent auction items (auction runs from 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.) and then stay for the live auction of items (beginning at 7 p.m.) like a week at an Iowa resort, theatre tickets, framed artwork, homemade cookies, a garden bench, 11 yards of clean gravel, a 2000 wheelchair accessible van and, ta-da, this just in from my friend Mike Young, volunteer development director at CVLHS:

Just to let you know…another example of how great people are…as I am standing in the office at CVLHS this morning…looking straight at the window…in pulls a pickup and trailer with an “M” 1944 Farmall Tractor for the auction!

So there, need a vintage tractor? Or how about a goat? Mike told me earlier this week about a game involving a real goat. Seems someone may be “stuck” with a goat, although you apparently can buy “goat insurance” to insure yourself from owning said goat.

The Ray Sands Band played at the 2011 Germanfest.

Then, on Sunday, head east of Faribault to St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, for the congregation’s annual Germanfest which includes a 10 a.m. worship service, a 3 p.m. polka praise service and a German buffet served from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and then again from 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.

Deutsche food served in 2011: German potato salad, red cabbage, sauerbraten, rinderwurst, a brat, sauerkraut, beets and green beans on my plate.

And, yes, I ‘ve attended and can vouch for the deliciousness of the German meal and the enjoyment of the polka service. Additionally, you’ll find a bake shop (there’s that food thing again), Christmas store, quilt show, petting zoo, root beer stand, bingo and farmer’s market. (Click here to read a post I published last September about Germanfest.)

Will you be attending a community event this weekend? If so, feel free to share in a comment. Or are you organizing or participating in any such event this weekend in Minnesota? Here’s your chance to spread the word. Submit a brief comment with info. It’s all about community here on Minnesota Prairie Roots.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Last Supper Drama begins Holy Week at a rural Minnesota church April 3, 2012

St. John's 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary with the actors positioned just as the disciples are in Leonardo da Vinci's painting. However, in the drama, an empty chair represents Christ.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from Milan, Italy, in the flat farm fields of Rice County in southeastern Minnesota, Leonardo da Vinci has left his mark on a small congregation.

For 50 consecutive years, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, has presented The Last Supper Drama, a theatrical interpretation of the master artist’s most famous painting created in 1495 as a mural in an Italian monastery.

The rural Faribault church was nearly full for the golden anniversary of The Last Supper Drama.

Palm Sunday evening I joined a sanctuary full of worshipers to view the drama which inspires and moves for its touching, personal account of Christ’s last meal with his 12 disciples. In the script written so many years ago by a former St. John’s pastor, each of Jesus’ followers speaks of his personal relationship to the Lord.

In the reverent near-darkness of this late 1800s limestone church, the cast, in loud, clear, animated voices and with gestures fine-tuned by years of practice and presenting, truly bring to life da Vinci’s painting. They speak of their failures and deaths, of their love for Christ.

“Be not faithless, but believing,” advises doubting Thomas, played this evening by Thad Monroe.

Claims Don Katra as Matthew: “My life really began when I met and followed Him.”

Most of the actors are shown here as they pose for photos after the performance.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ.

Even Gordie Wiegrefe as Judas the betrayer, admits, “It was too late. They wouldn’t take the silver back. I failed my Lord.”

The moment when Christ announces that one of his disciples will betray him is the precise moment da Vinci captures in his painting. In St. John’s performance, the defining moment of betrayal comes when Judas slams a jingling bag of 30 pieces of silver onto the table.

Later, after the drama concludes, St. John’s Pastor Lora Sturm tells worshipers, “Let us feel the light of His love as we enter the darkness of this Holy Week.”

A view from the balcony before the drama begins shows the spotlight to the left and The Last Supper table below. The actors enter, spotlighted in the dark church, to take their seats at the table. There they "freeze" in place to mimic Leonardo da Vinci's painting.

That message resonates as a spotlight first illuminates a cross suspended above the altar in the dark sanctuary, then moves down to an empty chair representing Christ and finally pans out to shine upon all 12 disciples. It is how the drama opens and ends, impressing upon attendees the darkness of Holy Week which concludes on Sunday in the glorious light of the resurrected Lord.

Spreadsheets on display Sunday evening listed those involved in the St. John's drama through-out its 50-year run.

FOLLOWING SUNDAY’S 50th anniversary performance, special recognition was given to those who have been part of St. John’s The Last Supper Drama. Original 1963 cast members Wallace Hildebrandt and Luverne Hafemeyer stood up to applause.

Other 50-year history trivia includes:

  • Seventy individuals have participated in the drama since 1963.
  • The role of John has been played by 10 actors.
  • The youngest actor was Kyle Keller who in 2011 assumed the role of Philip.
  • The oldest cast member was Kyle’s grandpa, Arnold Keller, who was 76 years old when he last acted in 1997.
  • Nine individuals have performed 20 or more times in the St. John’s drama.

Craig Keller has been the long-time drama organist, playing the same music every year. The script and music remain unchanged in 50 years. Craig's father, Arnold, was an original cast member.

After the performance the cast took their stools and footrests out of the church, grouping them together (left) in the sanctuary entry. Later they carried the seats into a balcony storage area. Each stool is labeled with a disciple's name. They are the original stools, first used 50 years ago.

This artistic rendition of The Last Supper hangs in the St. John's Fellowship Hall.

After the performance, folks gathered in the social hall for cookies and beverages.

A tray of cookies awaits audience members and performers.

TO READ A PREVIOUS POST I wrote about the 2011 drama, click here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Rural Faribault church presents 50th annual The Last Supper Drama March 29, 2012

St. John's members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyer, Earl Meese, Victor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin Bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township.

EVERY LENTEN SEASON since 1963, worshipers and actors have gathered inside the 1870 limestone sanctuary of St. John’s United Church of Christ—Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, for The Last Supper Drama.

It is, says 2012 co-director Pauline Wiegrefe, a moving, emotional Palm Sunday drama that puts participants and attendees “in the mindset of Holy Week.”

Sunday, April 1, marks the 50th anniversary presentation of the drama penned by long-ago St. John’s pastor the Rev. Walter C. Rasche. He wrote the script while serving in an Indiana parish and brought it with him to Minnesota. When Rasche left St. John’s in 1969, The Last Supper Drama tradition continued.

The script, which features 12 men positioned like the disciples in Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting and then speaking individually about their relationships with Christ, has remained unchanged in five decades.

Cast members in the 2011 The Last Supper Drama, left to right: Todd Lein, Craig Mueller, Alan Meyer, Grant Meese, Martin Budde, Paul Meyer, Thad Monroe, Kyle Keller, Doug Spike, Keith Keller, Randy Tatge and Brian Little. The white pillow on the empty chair represents Christ.

Likewise, the same hymn, “Here, Oh My Lord, I See Thee Face to Face,” continues as the single participatory musical selection. Craig Keller, drama organist, plays the same taped mood-setting organ music he’s used since 1968. Prior to that, introductory music emitted from a record player stationed behind the altar.

For original cast member and life-long St. John’s member Luverne Hafemeyer, 84 of Northfield, the drama is, he says, an emotional and inspirational experience that prepares him for Easter.

As a young farmer, Luverne jumped at the opportunity to join the original 1963 cast. During his high school years, except for an annual Youth Fellowship play presented in the nearby Nerstrand Town Hall, he had never acted. Farm work and gas rationing during WW II kept him from participating in high school activities.

But once Luverne joined The Last Supper Drama cast, he stayed on for 15 – 20 performances, finally relinquishing his role as James just five years ago. (Casts alternate from year to year.) He still helps sometimes with lighting and the post performance coffee hour.

His lines, however, remain engrained in his memory: “I am James the son of Zebedee, the elder brother of John…”

Like Luverne 50 years ago, all of today’s actors at this rural church come from a farm background. Co-director Pauline remembers her father, Arnold Keller, and her brother Keith practicing their lines while milking cows.

Actors, past and present, will be recognized during the 50th anniversary presentation set for 8 p.m. this Sunday inside the old stone church.

FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ is located eight miles east of Faribault on Minnesota Highway 60 and then two miles north on Rice County Road 24 at 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

Visit the church website by clicking here.

To read a blog I posted about last year’s The Last Supper Drama, click here. You’ll find many more images of the drama posted here.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A closer look at St. John’s Germanfest October 2, 2011

Kassandra and the goat that would soon be hers.

IN MY OPINION, Kim Keller rates as a pretty easy-going mom. I mean, she let her 10-year-old daughter bring a goat home from Germanfest. Honestly, if you were a kid, wouldn’t you want Kim for your mom?

So here’s how I found out about this goat thing. I was wandering the church grounds at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, last Sunday afternoon during Germanfest searching for photo ops.

I followed a girl leading a wisp of a goat, a kid (not the girl) which seemed a bit stubborn and independent as goats are wont to be. This wasn’t Kim’s daughter and I wasn’t having any luck capturing a photo I liked.

Then along came Kassandra, Kim’s daughter, with a bottle of milk. The goat, which apparently wasn’t all that hungry, didn’t seem too interested in drinking. But Kassandra pursued the goat and I pursued the goat and Kassandra until we both got what we wanted: her the goat, me the photo.

Kim took it all in stride—said it was just another animal to add to the family’s menagerie.

Another goat in the Germanfest petting zoo.

A volunteer dressed in an ethnic German costume tends a petting zoo bunny.

Geese and other fowl were popular petting zoo attractions.

IF YOU’RE A REGULAR FOLLOWER of Minnesota Prairie Roots, you should have figured out by now that I pay attention to detail. You’ll read that in my writing, see it in my photography.

I don’t view situations and scenes like most folks. I’m constantly searching for a new angle from which to shoot a photo or tell a story.

I engage my senses, even though one of them, my hearing, is not what it once was due to sudden sensory hearing loss (and now near-deafness) in my right ear. But I did hear Craig Keller comment from the Germanfest dance floor, as I aimed my camera toward the dancers, that this would be on the internet.

So, Craig, just because you said that, here you are, on the internet.

That's Craig, dressed in his lederhosen, dancing with his partner on the right. On the left is Amy's mom, Annette. The Stuttgart Three is performing.

I saw these artsy music stands and thought, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something like these.” They jogged my memory of old-time wedding dances in town halls, the chicken dance, dollar dance, polka until you can’t polka any more…

I’VE COORDINATED SOME major public events in my life, namely a school book festival and an art show at my church, several times, not to mention more youth group fundraisers than I care to remember.

But one thing I refuse to do is coordinate anything that involves food. Although I cook and bake, I do not particularly enjoy cooking. I love to bake, but seldom bake because then, you know, I eat the baked goods, which I don’t need.

Now, after that rambling paragraph, let’s get to the point. I am in awe of people like the volunteers at St. John’s United Church of Christ who prepare enough food to feed the multitudes, this year around 700.

One of the many volunteer worker lists I saw posted in the fellowship hall area.

Long-time church member and volunteer Elsie Keller prepares German potato salad.

ONE OF THE BEST PLACES to discover artistic talent, I’ve learned, is at silent auctions. Honestly, look what I found at Germanfest.

No words needed.

Woodcarvings for sale at the silent auction.

Inside St. John's sanctuary, homemade quilts blanketed the pews. They were not for sale. Each church family was asked to bring a quilt for display along with the story behind it. Up front, three women demonstrated stitching techniques.

I DON’T KNOW how many Germanfest attendees paused to examine the German books and documents displayed in the church narthex. But I’m always interested in such items because not only am I 100 percent German and interested in “old stuff,” but I once considered majoring in German in college (which means I would not have become a writer; I think I made the right choice).

Sprechen Sie Deutsch?

A Deutsche document from St. John's.

FINALLY, BECAUSE I CAN, I wanted to show you this photo of pumpkins at the farmer’s market section of Germanfest.

To be truthful, though, it wasn’t the pumpkins that interested me as much as the antique table. Those legs caught my eye and I wanted to throw that checkered tablecloth right off the table top and slide my hand across the worn wood.

Country store pumpkins on that old table I noticed.

THE NEXT TIME you’re out and about, I challenge you to notice the details.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Praise, polkas and more at St. John’s Germanfest September 26, 2011

The Ray Sands Band played from 1 - 3 p.m. under the tent at Germanfest.

“APPLES, PEACHES, PUMPKIN PIE, who’s afraid to holler I…”

Above the plaintive baaing of a goat in the petting zoo, the old-time band pumped out the polka which isn’t about pie at all, but about love.

And so, under the tent, the bands played—Tim Chlan and Friends, The Ray Sands Band and The Stuttgart Three—at St. John’s United Church of Christ’s annual Germanfest in Wheeling Township near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.

My husband and I arrived mid-afternoon Sunday to take in this annual celebration of the congregation’s German heritage during a polka praise service and more. As we sang the near-and-dear words of age-old hymns, the tangy scent of vinegar drifted into the sanctuary. “Just as I am, without one plea…Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee…”

The Stuttgart Three from Rochester led the polka praise service inside St. John's sanctuary.

A musical quartet presented "Cleanse Me" and "Reach Out to Jesus" during the praise service.

Afterward we broke bread in the fellowship hall over a German buffet. Sauerkraut and sauerbraten. Brats. Rinderwurst and beets and green beans with bacon. Vinegar-laced German potato salad and mashed potatoes and more foods than I can remember. Homemade. Three hundred pounds of potatoes peeled. Nearly 60 dozen brats boiled and grilled. Bread pudding made from grandma’s recipe. Good, hearty food that tasted of the Mother Land.

It didn’t matter whether you were Deutsch or Dutch, Lutheran or Catholic or a long-time church member, whether a first-time attendee from Centerville or Faribault or a faithful former member from Blooming Prairie, you enjoyed, simply enjoyed, the hospitality of this congregation.

Diners enjoyed a German buffet in the fellowship hall before and after the praise service.

Deutsche food: German potato salad, red cabbage, sauerbraten, rinderwurst, a brat, sauerkraut, beets and green beans on my plate.

Volunteers kept the buffet trays filled with delicious homemade German foods.

Bingo and a quilt show. Geese and ponies and goats and birds in a petting zoo. Woodcarvings at the silent auction. Homebaked goods in the country store. Jars of apple jelly, glistening like gems in the sun. All of it, together, creating a memorable afternoon at this country church set among the flat corn and soybean fields of eastern Rice County.

This is the season of church festivals and dinners—of lutefisk and Swedish meatballs and ham and of vegetables dug from the earth.

It is a time to gather close, to remember the homeland from whence we came, to celebrate our heritage, to rejoice in the harvest.

The sanctuary was decorated throughout with harvest vignettes, including this one on the altar.

St. John's members make apple jelly and apple butter from fruit growing on an apple tree in the churchyard. The jelly and butter are sold at the festival.

Juniper, 15 months, enjoyed the birds and animals at the petting zoo.

As is typical of most church festivals, attendees could play bingo outside under a tent.

Many of the volunteer workers dressed in German costumes.

Each member of St. John's was asked to bring a quilt for the quilt show in the sanctuary. Quilts were draped over pews with brief information attached to each.

The Bultman family poses for a photo outside the stone church.

The brat and root beer stand next to the music tent.

The festival grounds at St. John's U.C.C., Wheeling Township.

St. John's sits among the farm fields along Rice County Road 24

DO YOU ATTEND CHURCH dinners or festivals? If you have or know of an upcoming must-attend dinner, submit a comment. I’d like to hear about it.

ALSO, CHECK BACK for more photos from Germanfest.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Presenting Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper at a Minnesota church April 19, 2011

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

AS THE FINAL wisps of daylight dissipate into darkness, the church windows glow with the subtle warmth of welcome on this Palm Sunday evening.

Inside, worshippers are already gathering in the tightly-knit pews, eyes focused on the long table before them.

As I wait, seated in a pew tucked under the rim of the balcony, I study the stained glass windows, the suspended ceiling lights where lady bugs cling, the golden cross high above the altar.

Then, shortly after 8 p.m., after the hymn and the invitation and recitation of The Lord’s Prayer, the drama begins unfolding—for the 49th consecutive year.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is presenting its annual The Last Supper Drama.

The Rev. Lora Sturm provides brief historical background on Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting, the visual basis for the evening’s drama.

Leonardo da Vinci's painting of The Last Supper inspired the dramatic presentation at St. John's. This print was donated to the church in memory of Arnold Keller.

And then the lights fade, slowly, until a spotlight shines only on the cross. Soon that light and the organ light are extinguished, plunging the sanctuary into near darkness save for the remnants of daylight filtering through the stained glass windows.

A quiet reverence, a sense of anticipation, falls upon the congregation in the moments of silence and darkness before the actors begin filing into the church. Small clusters of men, seemingly engaged in conversation, without words to be heard, walk toward the table set with bread and a chalice and a bag of silver, although I am not sure whether the betrayal money was there initially or was carried in by Judas, the betrayer.

In darkness, these actors, these 12 disciples, pose themselves, replicating the positions da Vinci painted into his famous The Last Supper painting. But no one plays the role of Jesus, represented instead by an empty chair draped in white cloth.

The actors position themselves to replicate da Vinci's The Last Supper, except for Jesus, who is represented by the empty white chair in the middle of the table setting.

When the lights flick on, the frozen scene catches me off guard, even though I’ve previously seen the performance. The stillness fills me with a certain sense of peace, yet uneasiness.

I know what is coming. Words from Scripture that will tell of Jesus’ forthcoming death. The accusation that one of the 12 will betray Christ. It is the moment da Vinci depicts in his art—that moment when the disciples learn that one of them will give up their Lord to death.

Yet, in this script penned by a St. John’s pastor, Walter Rasche, 49 years ago, it is the depth of faithfulness that causes me to pause and look inside. Would I be so faithful as to become a martyr, to die, like the disciples, by stoning or crucifixion or beheading?

In their monologues, each disciple speaks honestly of his struggles, his lack of faithfulness, his travels to preach the gospel, and, then, the blessed words of a better and more abundant life found in following Christ.

The actors freeze as they role-play the disciples.

Five of the six disciples sitting to Jesus right with Christ represented by the empty white chair.

The disciple/actors to Christ's left, including first-time actor, 13-year-old Kyle Keller, the youngest cast member.

Judas’ words—that he regrets betraying Christ with a kiss, turning him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver—sting.

Judas, front, betrays Jesus with a kiss and 30 pieces of silver.

But the pastor’s prayer afterward encourages and uplifts me: “…hear your voice calling us to follow you…you call us to simply follow…”

And then her benediction blesses me with peace: “The Lord bless thee and keep thee…”

As the actors exit, as the worshipers file out of the sanctuary, I linger, waiting for the opportunity to shoot photos, which weren’t allowed during the performance. The men return, pose at the table, some of them telling me how they watched this drama as boys and now role-play as men.

This year a boy-becoming-a-man, 13-year-old Kyle Keller, plays the part of Philip, standing behind his father, Keith, who has assumed the role of Matthew. The seventh grader is the youngest participant ever in the St. John’s re-enactment. He was talked into playing the part, but says now that he’ll be back.

With two casts, the actors (most of them) return every other year to assume the same character roles. Some travel from the Twin Cities back to this, their home church near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. They speak and gesture like seasoned actors, some growing beards for the occasion, others sporting fake, glued-on facial hair. Sharon Meyer jokes that she has the shaver charging at home, ready to shave off her dairy farmer husband’s beard. Alan Meyer has played the part of Andrew in the evening’s performance.

Occasionally, a new cast member like Kyle is recruited. He’s the grandson of Elsie Keller, who stands after the service next to a print of The Last Supper angled onto an easel in the church narthex. The Keller family gave the print to the church in memory of Elsie’s husband, Arnold, who died in 1999. On Palm Sunday the print is moved from its usual spot in the fellowship hall to this place of honor.

Elsie Keller, 85, stands next to The Last Supper painting given to St. John's in honor of her husband, Arnold.

The evening takes on special significance for this 85-year-old as she watches Thomas and thinks of her husband. Arnold played Thomas in the debut performance at St. John’s and continued with that role for many decades thereafter. Elsie, who was baptized, confirmed and married at St. John’s, as was her husband, hasn’t missed a single performance of The Last Supper Drama.

Her son, Craig Keller, the church organist, tells me that the drama originally was staged on a Wednesday during Lent. At one time there were two evening performances and even an afternoon presentation with the windows covered in black plastic to block out the light.

On this evening, some half-dozen church pews remain empty and I wonder why this place is not packed with a standing-room only crowd.

I’ve been deeply impressed with so many facets of the drama—by the level of commitment within this country congregation to continue a nearly 50-year tradition, by the professionalism of the actors, by the words they’ve shared that make the painting and Scripture and apostles come to life and, certainly, by the actors’ ability to freeze without barely an eye blink or a twitch. How do they do it?

The congregation's original chalice is used each year in the drama.

"Take eat, this is my body..." bread on the table during The Last Supper Drama.

FYI: Next year plan to attend the 50th presentation of The Last Supper at 8 p.m. on Palm Sunday. St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is located about a 15-minute drive east of Faribault on Minnesota Highway 60 and then north on Rice County Road 24. At this point, I expect organizers may add activities to commemorate the 2012 anniversary production.

Credit goes to the following for their parts in presenting this year’ production: directors Shirley Little and Kelly Dahl; co-director Pauline Wiegrefe; organist Craig Keller; narrator Don Katra; prompter Steve Wille; lighting, Ben Heil; greeters Steve and Deb Wille; the youth fellowship ushers; the church council coffee hour servers; pastor Lora Sturm; and actors Alan Meyer, Grant Meese, Craig Mueller, Kyle Keller, Todd Lien, Thad Monroe, Keith Keller, Doug Spike, Marty Budde, Brian Little, Randy Tatge and Paul Meyer.

Thank you all for this exceptional gift during Holy Week.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

 
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