Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by 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