ONLY 34 YEARS AGO, the last German services were held in Friedens Evangelical Lutheran Church, rural New Prague.
This surprises me—that German services continued up until 1976.
But I find that fact, printed right there in a church brochure I pick up recently while en route to Jordan, Minnesota. These days, lured by their historical and reverent beauty, I can’t pass by an old country church without stopping and tugging at front doors, hoping to get inside.
Typically, I am disappointed because most often church doors are locked.
On this March afternoon, though, I feel blessed because a side door to Friedens is open. A worker, who is laying new flooring, is sitting in a van next to the church eating his lunch.
“You can go inside, but I can’t give you permission to go inside,” he insists several times. I am persistent, though, and he finally concedes that my husband and I look like “decent folks.”
We are, and I intend to enter the church with or without his approval.
My only desire is to see the interior of this old, stately double-spire brick house of worship that stands proudly along Le Sueur County Road 30.
Once inside, I am not disappointed. In fact, I am pleased to discover that the sanctuary resembles the Wisconsin Synod church of my youth, St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta.
The ornate gold-trimmed white altar, specifically, takes me back decades to the place where I worshipped every Sunday. Friedens’ altar appears a carbon copy of the altar in the old St. John’s church building. I figure this altar is typical of that era—Friedens was founded in 1864 and this building constructed in 1913.
Inside this old Wisconsin Synod church, I admire the gentle curves of the balcony, sunlight streaming through beautiful stained glass windows, lamps dangling from chains above the pews, even the twists of the bell rope.
This house of worship inspires me, brings back so many memories, even though I’ve never been here until today.
But then my husband brings me out of my reverie. “Should I ring the bell?” he asks.
I admit that it is tempting to grab the rope and pull as I round the stairs into the balcony. This, I know, will surely prompt the floor-layer to evict us and label us anything other than “decent folks.”
Soon I have finished photographing the interior of this lovely old church. I am standing outside now, braced against a brisk March wind taking pictures of the exterior.
Back inside the car, we begin to pull away when a man in jogging clothes emerges from the house across the roadway. He’s half-walking, half-leaping, struggling to pull on a pair of shoes. He is, I figure, the pastor, and I am right.
We stop and the Rev. Henry Koch introduces himself. I explain that I am a writer and that I love old churches and that I was raised Wisconsin Synod Lutheran. We laugh together when I say I’m not a traitor because today I am a member of a Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation. My conservative Lutheran guilt prompts the synod transfer confession.
We talk a bit about the weather, which has been an adjustment for this clergyman. He moved here from Florida several years ago, likes it here and says this is a good place to raise his son.
As I look around this rural setting, I understand. Here, in the shadows of a church that bears four crosses high atop four towers—two on the original church and two on the fellowship addition—seems an ideal place to raise a family.
And under the care of this congregation—Friedens, the German word for “peace”—I can only imagine the peace that also comes in living here upon the land settled by Hannoverian German Lutheran families in the mid-1800s.
© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling