Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

In praise of preserving country churches July 7, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:16 AM
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Moland Lutheran Church, a Norwegian Lutheran church south of Kenyon.

ONLY IN RECENT YEARS have I begun to truly appreciate the old churches that dot the Minnesota landscape, their steeples rising heavenward directing the faithful to worship.

Whenever the opportunity arises these days, I slip inside these reverent rural respites to reflect upon the holiness that resides therein. The more churches I visit, the more I am convinced of the necessity to preserve these houses of worship for future generations.

Not only do I treasure the sacred aspect of their existence—rooted deep in the faith of immigrants who settled this land—but I also value the art and the history woven into the very fabric of these buildings.

Whether in stenciled ceilings, hand-carved pulpits, worn floorboards, hand-hewn pews, religious paintings or stained glass windows, I see care, craftsmanship, devotion to God everywhere.

I am inspired and uplifted simply stepping inside the doors of a country church.

Join me on this tour of the 1884 Moland Lutheran Church south of Kenyon in rural Steele County and see for yourself why old country churches like this are worth appreciating, and preserving.

Looking into the sanctuary of Moland Lutheran Church.

Fine craftsmanship is reflected in the handcrafted pulpit, altar and railing.

Art in the details of the Moland pulpit.

The altar painting was transported to the church by horse-drawn wagon from Faribault in 1893. A. Pederson painted this image of "Christ with outstretched arms" based on Matthew 11: 28 - 30 ("Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest...").

Norwegian words (I think from Matthew 11) are painted on the altar.

Beautiful details on the bottom of Moland's altar remind me of the altar in the church I attended as a child, St. John's Lutheran in Vesta. Sadly that church was not preserved and is today an apartment building.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

(Check back for additional Moland Lutheran Church photos to be posted on Minnesota Prairie Roots.)


44 Responses to “In praise of preserving country churches”

  1. Mark Ritchie Says:


  2. Bob Says:

    Your pictures seem to capture not only a glimpse into the past but also a present sense of reverence. Very nicely done.

  3. Christie Says:

    I love this post! I completely agree with you on this…thanks so much for sharing the beautiful pictures.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Christie and Bob, thank you so much for your kind words and for stopping by Minnesota Prairie Roots. Be sure to check out my previous posts about rural churches. I have photos of other such churches in my files and will post those in the future. That others share my reverence and appreciation for preserving old churches reassures me that these will continue to exist.

  4. Jason Says:

    I was glad to see this on the freshly posted category on WordPress! I have been admiring the old country churches again for over a year. I grew up in a small town and grew accustomed to them until I left for college. Now every time I pass one I admire them and hope that the Lord calls me to pastor one sometime in my life. Thank you for the wonderful reminder.

  5. prafeston Says:

    Really love the old churches. Their architecture, stainglass, and woodwork is beautiful. Although it’s good to see people going to church wherever it may be, but it does make me sad when I see I church that it literally just a tin rectanglar box with a Square sign out front that states the name of the church. It’s a shame that beauty and art usually means mo money to build.

  6. sartenada Says:


    So good that others are noticing the beauty of old churches in this world. I have photographed 360 churches in my country Finland.

    I love those photos You took and the church of Moland is inside very similar we have here.

    Here is example of very old special church:



    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Wow, that’s an incredible church on your link. I’ve never seen anything like that here in the States. The craftsmanship is breath-taking. Thank you for sharing and for stopping by Minnesota Prairie Roots.

  7. Alan Rudnick Says:

    Great pics! Check out my blog post on how church buildings are be coming “neutralized”: http://onthebema.com/2009/06/01/does-my-church-look-like-a-warehouse/

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I checked out your post and I think you have some valid points regarding church buildings. There’s much to be said for the physical environment and how that impacts worshipers. We each need to find the place that best suits us and allows for the most meaningful worship.

      • Alan Rudnick Says:

        Thanks for checking out the post. I just find it interesting that people want their church to not look like a church. However, when couples want to get married, they don’t want to get married in their “warehouse” church but a typical looking church.

  8. thecodger Says:

    Looking through your photos made me feel like I could taste the frankincense and myrrh. A job well done!

    The Codger

  9. SallyK Says:

    Country churches are beautiful. Often it was congregants PENNIES that built them. Don’t you just feel a peace descending when you entered this church? Lovely photos… North Coast Muse @ http://sally1029.wordpress.com

  10. I completely agree with you. The churches being built today are lacking in character and tradition, especially these aluminum sterile-looking buildings posing as churches. There are not welcoming aesthetically.

    Thanks for the wonderful reminder and appreciation of our old-timey churches 🙂

  11. Laura Hunt Says:

    Beautiful! This is very similar to Trinity Lutheran in Pottsville, Texas, the church I grew up in. Exactly the same altar paraments! We didn’t have an altar painting–it had a statue of Christ with his pierced hands extended in welcome. Thanks for posting this.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Laura, if memory serves me correctly, the altar cloth at Moland is the same as those in my childhood church too. St. John’s also had a statue of Christ on the altar. That statue, fortunately, was saved and moved to the new church.

      Thank you for visiting Minnesota Prairie Roots and be sure to check my previous posts on old churches.

  12. zero1ghost Says:

    i have recently taken a pastorate position and i kinda mourn it. well, i know i’m called to the position i’m in, but i just LOVED checking out the old churches and seeing the type of art and the history it reveals. great post!

  13. Margaret Says:

    I, too, have roots in Minnesota and think it is important to preserve our country churches…. I’ve seen this reverent style in other country churches in other states, but still get lonesome for church in Minnesota…. So much of the modern architectural styles lose the warmth of God’s love as portrayed in the older churches….. Thank you for this post.

    Margaret @ 123hallelujah.wordpress.com

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Margaret, I’m curious as to where you grew up in Minnesota. I grew up in the southwestern corner, but now live in the southeastern corner of our state. Because this area of Minnesota was settled earlier than the west, I’m discovering an abundance of wonderful old churches here. But I’m certain there are many more in Minnesota awaiting my discovery.

      • Margaret Says:

        Try St. John’s near Ottertail and other small Lutheran churches around Perham, Wadena, Corliss. … They are really in the country areas…. Those in the towns seem to get “updated” and lose the reverence found in the little churches.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Thanks for the tips, Margaret. I haven’t really explored that part of the state. But, interestingly enough, while working on a historical project for my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, I learned that two stained glass windows from our old church (yes, it was replaced by a new one) are now in the Finn Creek Open Air Museum chapel. That’s in rural New York Mills. Are you familiar with this? The windows were gifted by Trinity members who have a summer home in the Ottertail area.

      • Margaret Says:

        Audrey, I haven’t been to Finn Creek, but have been wanting to go there for years…. Maybe next time I get to be in the area, I’ll insist on going there. 🙂 … At one time they were even supposed to have someone giving Finnish language classes….. I miss out on stuff like that….. Oh well, there’s a reason for everything in our lives.

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Margaret, now you’ve really piqued my interest in the Minnesota Finnish museum near New York Mills. Maybe time for a little road trip north.

  14. Mick Turner Says:

    What a wonderful, moving, and relevant posting. I live in the south, right on the Tennessee/Alabama border and we have many small rural churches as well – and many that need to be preserved. I enjoyed your photos very much, thanks.

    Mick Turner

  15. Thank you so much for this post! I am from rural Massachusetts where our old churches are mostly English influenced. This makes me want to take a cross country road trip all the more! 🙂 I was just in Annapolis and took a moment to see the Catholic Church that was built there by the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence. Although I’m personally Protestant, there was something about just sitting in that church and looking around that shouted peace and reverence and joy. It was so cool. I totally get where you’re coming from.

  16. Lanae Says:

    I’m so glad that Dad and Mom “made” us go to church each Sunday. St John’s in Vesta was a beautiful church and probably why I picked St John’s in Waseca as my church now. Vibrant colors in stain glass and a peaceful air. Keep up the great job sister of mine.

  17. Joshua Says:

    Great post. I’ve always been interested in American religious history in general and have to say that this is something that’s always intrigued me.

    -Josh, http://joshintaiwan.com

  18. Evie Garone Says:

    What a nice site. I’m really not religious but very spiritual, so every time I need to return to a church for some big family celebration I have to tell you I feel such a sense of deep inner “something” after having been there. All the pomp and circumstance never fails to move me. All the beautiful music and ritual is wonderful. The history surrounding old churches should NEVER be lost!! I agree. . .


  19. norwegianartist Says:

    One of the best things about these small country churches is that they are small — and the congregations can best maintain themselves by remembering that and taking advantage of what smallness has to offer: greater intimacy, connectedness, informality.

    Too many small congregations long to be big ones, and destroy themselves by throwing about terms and concepts like “improper group dynamics.” We watched our own church self-destruct by trying to be a Los Angeles powerhouse within a one-stoplight town.

  20. […] In praise of preserving country churches (via Minnesota Prairie Roots) Posted: July 7, 2010 by AA in WordPress 0 ONLY IN RECENT YEARS have I begun to truly appreciate the old churches that dot the Minnesota landscape, their steeples rising heavenward directing the faithful to worship. Whenever the opportunity arises these days, I slip inside these reverent rural respites to reflect upon the holiness that res … Read More […]

  21. Songbird Says:

    Beautifl! I was born and raised in Scandinavia and amazing to see how similar these chirches are to the “originals”. Very nice shots!

  22. […] ONLY IN RECENT YEARS have I begun to truly appreciate the old churches that dot the Minnesota landscape, their steeples rising heavenward directing the faithful to worship. Whenever the opportunity arises these days, I slip inside these reverent rural respites to reflect upon the holiness that res … Read More […]

  23. For someone who has never visited your area, I find your blogs informative and captivating.
    Thanks for posting, look forward to the next one

  24. dimamatta Says:

    The pictures are beautiful! We sometimes tend to forget to admire small churches for their subtle beauty and attention to details. Unlike very big churches (that I also admire), these small ones seem so inviting, their grandness doesn’t intimidate us.

  25. […] of America’s surprisingly few (midwestern church architecture) enthusiasts, I was happy to see this as I clicked through. Beautiful architecture, yes, but what makes midwestern churches so brilliant […]

  26. […] Though there may be aspects of this featured church’s ornamentations that Reformed Christians would object to, we can still appreciate the beauty of these old country churches and the historic faith they represent. And since I have two nieces in Minnesota, well, I just had to put in a good word for these good folks out there too! Enjoy – and be sure to browse this blog a bit – some other neat stuff there too. CJT ONLY IN RECENT YEARS have I begun to truly appreciate the old churches that dot the Minnesota landscape, their steeples rising heavenward directing the faithful to worship. Whenever the opportunity arises these days, I slip inside these reverent rural respites to reflect upon the holiness that res … Read More […]

  27. elenaramirez Says:

    I love a church, a sanctuary, where you can feel the presence of God. We need to keep them in tact, restore them, and protect them. Great thoughts, on this….God has given you this vision, for a reason.



  28. Adam Day Says:

    Very good. I too enjoy old churches. I grew up in an old church in Alabama. Something about and old country church that makes you feel at home!


  29. nikkele Says:

    Just beautiful!

  30. Rob Says:


  31. call2write Says:

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    Thank you for sharing the beautiful pictures of Moland Lutheran Church. I also love visiting old churches, and I believe they should be preserved for future generations.

    No matter how grand or expensive the new churches are, they just don’t compare with the craftsmanship and details of the old churches. I know the presence of God can be in a new building as well as an old one, but there seems to be a reverence present in the old ones that is missing from the newer ones I’ve visited.


  32. I always look for old churches to shoot. They are great!

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