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

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12 Responses to “Praise, polkas and more at St. John’s Germanfest”

  1. Lanae Says:

    The food looked sooooo good. Spiced with vinegar, German food is one of my favorites!! Wish I had been able to make it.

    Happy Birthday, Audrey!!! I’m glad you are 31 again.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      The food was delish, Lanae. Remember, Cannon Valley Lutheran High School in Morristown has its second annual German dinner coming up soon, although I do not yet know the date. I’ll be certain to let you know.

      Thanks, sister, for the birthday wishes. I’m not exactly 31 today, but if you think I am, that works for me.

  2. Amy Says:

    Always excited when you put up blogs about things from home! You know how I always tell you this is my grandma’s church….well…you happened to capture her in the photo of “Volunteers keeping the food full,” or however you worded it! 🙂

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Yup, I thought that was your grandma. I got some photos, too, of your mom kicking up her heels on the dance floor. I’ll e-mail those to you sometime this week.

      We had sooooooo much fun at Germanfest. I would recommend it to anyone. We love the people at St. John’s (so friendly). And they are THE BEST cooks and bakers!

  3. Deb Says:

    So glad you came and enjoyed the day with us. The congregation works so hard at this event, and we take great pride in our heritage. Thanks to you and the hundreds of people who drive to the country to support our annual event. We’re already talking of next year’s activities.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’ve been wanting to attend Germanfest for years, but always had a conflict on the date. I had heard so many wonderful comments about the food. Having attended previous events at St. John’s, I know you all are excellent cooks and bakers.

      Loved, loved, loved the German buffet and so enjoyed all the friendly folks in your congregation. I can tell that you work hard to make whatever you do a success. Congratulations on a job well done!

  4. PJ Says:

    SO nice to see something I recognize from my NW Wisc. childhood too! From a small town, all the local country churches had fall festivals, bazaars, and each had a bake sale and auction. I used to go with my mom and they would be 3-4 weeks in succession. I remember she once paid $11 for a plate of divinity because her friends goaded her into it. My dad just about blew a gasket!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      That does sound a bit spendy for divinity. But I bet she savored every bite. Thanks for sharing that memorable little story, PJ.

  5. Jim Smith Says:

    I was there early. I drove out right after our 10:00 Mass. I weighed the choices, breakfast at the K of C or German Dinner at St. John’s. My heritage won out. I was seated very close to the band which made any visiting more of a shouting match.
    At one point I remarked about a polka band playing a country song at a German festival. It is just too perfect.
    I also liked all the young people who served beverages, picked up dirty dishes and set the table for the next guest. They were all dressed in German as shown in your pictures.
    I hope I will be there next year.

    I really love the authentic food.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      We were there for the second seating, which sounds much less crowded than the first. I, too, liked the costumes and appreciated the work of all the volunteers. We’ll also return.

      Cannon Valley Lutheran High School will serve a German dinner on Sunday, November 13, at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. Watch the local paper for details or check the school’s website.

  6. Chrissy Says:

    Thank you so much for your wonderful tribute to our GREAT stone church. I am a fourth generation and my son a fifth generation at St. John’s and our hertiage and tradition is everything. I was unable to attend this year but my sister and brother both made the effort and indeed the congregation works immensely hard to make each year a success! Thank you again for your kind words!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      You are welcome, Chrissy. I am so impressed with St. John’s and everything they do–Germanfest, The Last Supper Drama, the Lenten Soup Luncheons, the Ice Cream Social and the upcoming Big Woods Run on October 16. I’m probably missing something. What dedication, what love, what wonderful volunteers…

      I have one more post coming with images from Germanfest. So watch for that.


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