Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Soup, salad & sandwiches at St. John’s March 12, 2014

SUNLIGHT FILTERS through the fellowship hall windows on an early Sunday afternoon in March. Outside the 40-degree temps feel balmy after a brutally cold and snowy Minnesota winter.

St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault.

St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, Minnesota.

I’ve left my coat in the van, drawing my sweater tight around me as I pause to photograph St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, before hurrying inside. The strong wind has a bite to it.

Salad options.

Salad options.

Inside, I grab a shiny silver tray, select a salad from choices on ice, pinch lettuce into a bowl and add toppings before placing the tray on a table to photograph the salad selections. While I do so, a teen ladles a generous scoop of Ranch dressing atop my lettuce salad.

Lynn, right, tends the potato soup in this duo scene of kitchen and fellowship hall.

Lynn, right, tends the potato soup in this duo scene, divided by a wall, of kitchen and fellowship hall.

Next, I move toward the kitchen serving window to consider the soup offerings—chicken noodle, potato bacon and bean. All homemade. I start with potato. Lynn fills my bowl.

Kim and Keith serve diners.

Kim and Keith serve diners.

Juggling camera and tray, I move down the line to the sandwiches. Kim and Keith are ladling soup, too, and refilling the sandwich tray.

Sandwich choices from ham to sausage to open face.

Sandwich choices from ham to sausage to open face.

I choose an open face sandwich topped with a mix of meat and chopped pickles.

My husband and I settle onto folding chairs at a table nearest the kitchen. I want easy access to photograph the scene, the moments that define this first of three Sunday Lenten soup luncheons at St. John’s.

I’ve been here before, often enough that parishioners welcome me into this country church east of Faribault just off Minnesota State Highway 60 along Jacobs Avenue.

My first tray of food.

My first tray of food.

I know the routine, too. Gather my food and then transfer bowls and sandwich onto a paper placemat so the trays are ready for the next diners.

Key food preparer Craig, carrying a coffee pot, right, says 60 -70 diners were served at Sunday's luncheon.

Key food preparer, organizer, church organist and co-youth leader, Craig, carrying a coffee pot, right, says 60 -70 diners were served at Sunday’s luncheon.

There’s something about familiarity and dining in the company of the faithful, the din of conversation and the clack of kitchen noises, that comforts as much as a hearty homemade soup.

Mandarin orange dessert awaits diners.

Mandarin orange dessert plated for delivery to diners.

For two evenings and a day prior, Craig and his mother, 88-year-old Elsie, and their neighbor, Lynn, have labored, preparing the three soups, the nine salads and the mandarin orange dessert. Parents of Youth Fellowship members brought the sandwiches.

This is a labor of love and of service—the chopping of onions, the soaking of beans, the dicing of ham, the mixing of homemade dumplings (by the octogenarian)…

Brandon dries dishes. The Youth Fellowship sponsors the soup and salad luncheons.

Brandon dries dishes. The Youth Fellowship sponsors the soup and salad luncheons.

In the kitchen, 13-year-old Brandon dries dishes beside his mother and Elsie. Others tend the soup, sandwiches, salad and dessert. Youth hustle to bring and refill beverages, to clear tables, to deliver dessert. Craig rushes to refill coffee pots and cups.

Bibles, florals and candles  decorated tables.

Bibles, florals and candles decorate tables.

I observe it all, from tabletop bible centerpieces opened to Psalms to the dainty floral pattern on church china to the stool I’ve seen Elsie use in the kitchen every time I’ve been here. She’s always in the kitchen.

The hardworking team.

The hardworking team.

This congregation works together, feeding diners like me who appreciate their efforts and the taste of great homemade food as much as this rural setting and fellowship.

Inside the church kitchen, that's Elsie standing next to her stool.

Inside the church kitchen, 88-year-old Elsie works next to her stool.

Once I’ve finished my first bowl of potato soup, I get a new bowl and a scoop of bean soup, followed by a second helping of potato. I pass on the third soup; I’m not a fan of either chicken soup or of dumplings.

As I finish my dessert, Kim and Keith join my husband and me to rest for a bit and eat lunch. We talk about kids and the horrible long winter and vehicles in ditches and the couple’s continually snow blown driveway and such. It’s a comfortable conversation.

Elsie, 88, enjoys a bowl of bean soup.

Elsie, 88, sits in the kitchen and enjoys a bowl of bean soup at the end of the luncheon.

Before we leave, I pop into the kitchen again and catch Elsie finally sitting down with a bowl of bean soup.


FYI: If you’re interested in attending St. John’s next two soup luncheons, here are details:

The church is located at

The church is located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue, rural Faribault.

These will be your salad options.

These will be your salad options.

On the way out the door, study the Germanfest photos on the bulletin board:

St. John's UCC Germanfest is another must-attend annual event in September. Great food, entertainment, bingo, quilt show and more.

St. John’s UCC Germanfest is another must-attend annual event in September. Great food, entertainment, bingo, quilt show and more define this ethnic gathering.

And then purchase a jar of St. John’s famous homemade apple jelly or butter:

Beautiful and savory St. John's apple jelly.

Beautiful and savory St. John’s apple jelly.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


24 Responses to “Soup, salad & sandwiches at St. John’s”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    This is exactly how it should be – food and fellowship. Too often people are caught up in a fast-paced world consuming quick-made food product. It is barely food sold cheaply; it mostly bad for you. It is catching up to us as a society. It appears as though a food revolution is on the horizon.

  2. I like events like this. I dislike restaurants that are buffets, but that aversion doesn’t apply to community or church events. And I love potlucks!! And in case you’re wondering why I dislike buffets in restaurants, it’s from living in the dorms all four years of college. Now, when I go out and pay for my food, I want to be served, darn it!!!

  3. Jackie Says:

    You know I’m a huge fan of these rural churches, especially those few that are unlocked. I dont often attend these festivities, but I know I would love the fellowship and yummy offerings if I happened upon it. There is nothing like good old home cooked food, all of those photo’s have made me hungry and it’s only 9:37am.

    • Only in recent years did Randy and I begin attending these church dinners. You and Rick would love them, you would. Start this summer by attending a country church festival. It’s also a good day to get inside those churches which you may typically find locked on your rural jaunts.

  4. Oh the memories – I miss events like this – thanks so much for sharing:) Happy Hump Day!

  5. Clyde of Mankato Says:

    Have not been by that church but will look for it. My wife and I hunt out rural churches and walk graveyards, especially rural ones. So many Methodist churches are struggling in southern mn. My son-in-law will be ordained in June and May take a call that has two Lutheran churches and a Methodist church.
    Audrey, an idea struck me: have you been to the Pickwick Mill, not far from Winona? You would need to go in the summer when it is open. It would be a fun blog for you.

    • Likewise, Randy and I search out country churches and graveyards.

      That’s interesting about your son-in-law serving Lutheran and Methodist churches. He will be one busy pastor. The pastor at St. John’s, featured here, also serves three congregations.

      I have been to the Pickwick Mill, but that was a long time ago.

      • Clyde of Mankato Says:

        There are many ELCA pastors who do split calls, with Methodist, Presbyterian, and Episcopal churches. There was a Lutheran church in ND that for awhile had a Catholic priest doing pulpit supply.

      • As a member of a conservative Lutheran synod, I had no idea. I learned something new today. Thank you.

  6. Beth Ann Says:

    It’s been awhile since I have been to one of these and your pics remind me of what an experience they always afford the attender. Looks like the perfect place for food and fellowship.

  7. Was a wonderful story,and very beautiful photos!
    Thank you so much for shareing this wonderful post!
    Hope you have a wonderful evening,take careand thanks again!

  8. Thread crazy Says:

    This so resembles many of our rural churches in our area. They are always holding events, sharing with community, family and friends…that’s what brings us all together; what better place than in our churches. Great day to remember.

    • My husband and I were just discussing this at supper. For us, our church is like our family/our community within the larger community of Faribault. Neither of us grew up in this region of Minnesota, so we needed to find a “family” here, and we found it in our church.

  9. hotlyspiced Says:

    What a great tradition and a wonderful way of bringing the community together. I love the image of the church; it’s a beautiful building. Audrey…could you do me a favour? Do you think you could do a post where you put up that photo of the church as a winter scene and then show your readers (those of us far away who don’t have much of a change in seasons) what it looks like in summer when all that snow and ice has melted? I love the silver trays and the dessert plates are very pretty. It was lovely to see a glimpse into your social life xx

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