Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Worshipping at a country church October 16, 2011

Before worship services on a Sunday morning at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown.

“THERE’S ONE MORE THING to do,” said the Rev. Merle Lebahn, vacancy pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown, before dismissing his congregation. “Give ‘em heaven!”

And so concluded one of the most dynamic worship services I’ve attended in a long time. Pastor Lebahn didn’t deliver a fire-and-brimstone sermon in this country church. But he shared a message memorable both in content and method of presentation.

Pastor Lebahn gets front and center when he gives the children's lesson, just as he does during the sermon.

He’s not a preach-from-the-pulpit style of preacher, but rather an up-close, center-of-the aisle, close-to-his-flock kind of clergyman. His voice rises to a near shout when he wants to emphasize a point and then drops to a quiet, gentle cadence to drive home the message.

And that message last Sunday reflected on the gospel lesson from Luke 10 and the story of the Good Samaritan. Remember that bible story about the beaten man lying at the side of the road, passed by many until, finally, a Samaritan stopped to help?

Rev. Lebahn told us we were the beaten ones lying in the ditch until we received Christ.

He talked, too, about crossroads in our lives and about the people God brings into those crossroads.

I could go on and on about that sermon. But I think you get the main point delivered by this 78-year-old clergyman who looks, and acts, considerably younger than a near octogenarian. Consider his foot stomping and arm flailing and constant motion. I got tired just watching from my end-pew position in this sanctuary that holds 26 six-person pews on the lower level and a few more in the balcony.

A view of the balcony in this 1938 rural church.

It’s the type of snug church where you won’t get away with napping during the sermon, like you could anyway under Pastor Lebahn’s watch.

There’s something about worshipping in a small country church like this that you can’t replicate in a modern, large-scale church, even if you incorporate stained glass windows or other elements from an historic building.

I felt a sense of connection, of closeness, on Sunday as the congregation joined in prayer—for those celebrating anniversaries and birthdays and for those in need—and sang old favorite hymns like “Oh, That the Lord Would Guide My Ways.”

Looking from the entry into the sanctuary during worship services.

In the back of the church are pews for families with little ones.

Farm boy, 6-year-old Jonathan, after services in the basement.

You can’t help but feel close when you’re tucked into tightly-jammed pews in a place where a comfortable pair of jeans is as common as a suit and tie and where farm kids like 6-year-old Jonathan bring a mini toy John Deere haybinder to church to keep his little hands busy.

Because just outside the church doors lie fields of corn and alfalfa and soybeans…

To the right of the cornerstone, in the distance, you can see corn fields.

Looking heavenward...

The Last Supper art on the lower part of the altar.

In my next post about this church, I'll take you into the basement where this sign is located.

CHECK BACK FOR A POST about the harvest dinner at this country church following the worship service.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling