Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Fifty-one years of presenting The Last Supper Drama at a rural Minnesota church March 22, 2013

St. John's members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John's.

St. John’s members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John’s.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from Milan, Italy, in the flat farm fields of Rice County in southeastern Minnesota, Leonardo da Vinci has left his mark on a small congregation.

For 50 consecutive years, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, has presented The Last Supper Drama, a theatrical interpretation of the master artist’s most famous painting created in 1495 as a mural in an Italian monastery.

St. John's 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary.

St. John’s 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in 2012.

I penned those two opening blog post paragraphs during Holy Week 2012, shortly after attending the St. John’s performance.

So update that number. The congregation is slated to present its 51st The Last Supper Drama at 8 p.m. on March 24, Palm Sunday.

I’d advise attending because you don’t get more grassroots basic than this in the retelling of Christ’s final meal with his 12 disciples via a script penned by a long ago St. John’s pastor.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ, as seen in the 2012 drama.

Each disciple speaks of his personal relationship to Christ, making this a particularly introspective drama presented by members and former members of St. John’s.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

The parking lot at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation’s annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

Truly, there’s something about slipping inside this rural 1800s limestone church as evening melds into night, settling upon aged pews among those who have worshiped here for generations, that is particularly comforting.

It is good for the soul to sing and pray and listen, to sweep your thoughts into a meditative mindset for Holy Week.

That this country congregation continues with a tradition begun in 1963 impresses me. Such uninterrupted longevity is a testament to faith, an appreciation of history and a clear understanding that still today, perhaps more than ever, The Last Supper Drama needs to be shared.

A view from the balcony before the drama begins shows the spotlight to the left and The Last Supper table below. The actors enter, spotlighted in the dark church, to take their seats at the table. There they "freeze" in place to mimic Leonardo da Vinci's painting.

A view from the balcony before the drama begins shows the spotlight to the left and The Last Supper table below. The actors enter, spotlighted in the dark church, to take their seats at the table. There they “freeze” in place to mimic Leonardo da Vinci’s painting.

FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

Click here and then here to read my detailed The Last Supper Supper Drama posts from 2012.

Click here to read my post from 2011.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

9 Responses to “Fifty-one years of presenting The Last Supper Drama at a rural Minnesota church”

  1. I’m not sure I’d want to be the actor cast as Judas. It is amazing that they have carried on the tradition for so long. That’s wonderful.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I see your point. But if I recall correctly, and I’ve seen the production thrice, the drama gives some interesting insights into Judas’ thoughts. The cast changes from year to year, so many men have played the role of The Betrayer.

  2. Jackie Says:

    I remember you writing about this last year, thinking what a great tradition for this church and community. I’m very tempted….I think it would be very enjoyable and uplifting!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Excellent memory, Jackie. I appreciate this drama so much that I wanted to let readers like you know in advance. You can tell how impressed I am given my attending three times. Not sure we can make it this year, though. I’d like to see churches take confirmation classes.

  3. treadlemusic Says:

    Wow! That is a wonderful endeavor. So much of what is talked of at this time is what is “given up for Lent”. That thought almost takes over the focus from the Biblical events leading to the Resurrection. Thank you for sharing!!!! Hugs, Doreen

  4. So great. Every-other-year here in Wgtn, the Worthington Christian Church does a living Nativity – out in the December cold, complete with animals. It’s so cool (no pun intended). At least, with this Easter scene, they’re indoors! Such a great way for kids to connect with these concepts.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Our church used to do a live Nativity, too. Anything like this that can bring the Scriptures to life gets my stamp of approval.


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