Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Part I: Inside Holden, an historic Norwegian Lutheran church in rural Minnesota March 31, 2016

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

THE LAST TIME I STOPPED at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, the heavy oak doors to the sanctuary were closed and Sunday morning worship underway. Not wanting to intrude in the middle of the service, my husband and I instead wandered the cemetery, vowing to return.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

Several weeks ago we did, on a Saturday afternoon, en route home from Wanamingo to Faribault along the back roads rather than the more direct Minnesota State Highway 60. Goodhue County Road 30 led us right by this landmark Norwegian brick church standing high and solid among farm fields and farm sites.

A photo of the "old church" is posted in the present church.

A photo of the “old church,” built in 1871, is posted in the present church.

With my rural roots and deep appreciation for country churches, I was excited to tour this church built in 1924. The congregation was established in 1856. Previously, members worshiped (for 53 years) in a standard wood-frame country church.

Holden's Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

Holden’s Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

This congregation is especially notable for its strong Norwegian heritage tracing back to Telemarken, Norway, specifically the village of Holden. From thence comes the name.

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was built in

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was unveiled in May 1937. It is dedicated “In gratitude to God who enabled the pioneers to establish His church in this community…and to the pioneers for building upon Jesus Christ and His Word.”

Holden Lutheran is also notable for its connections to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. A memorial on the church grounds honors Holden’s first pastor, Bernt Julius Muus, who founded St. Olaf and helped to found Luther. He shepherded Holden for 40 years.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

This is a place of deep history and heritage reflected in craftsmanship and artifacts within the church building.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery surrounding the church.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery.

And in names—like Gustaf, Tollef, Ole—chiseled in to stone in the graveyard.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

Here in this rural place, the wind blows steady on a sunny spring-like March afternoon. I meander with my husband among the gravestones, noting a weathered holiday wreath on one. And then, as I step back and back and back to photograph this massive church in its entirety, I skirt a mound of fresh earth. Not that long ago, mourners gathered here, like the Norwegian speaking settlers 160 years prior, to grieve and to bury a loved one.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

Time imprints upon generations in the cycle of life.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

Through these church doors, below the far-reaching steeple tipped with a cross, the faithful have gathered here to worship God, to exchange vows, to baptize children, to mourn the dead. And in late autumn to dine on roast beef, pulsa, lefse, rommegrot and fruit soup at the annual All Saints Dinner celebrating Holden’s Norwegian heritage.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from Holden Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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14 Responses to “Part I: Inside Holden, an historic Norwegian Lutheran church in rural Minnesota”

  1. Beautiful – thanks for the peek inside – loving the details 🙂 I want to learn more about my Norwegian heritage, especially where the family originated from. I enjoyed doing this with my father-in-law in 2014 when the family headed to Ireland to learn more about the ancestry. Learned quite a bit and stood where they possibly stood, farmed and lived back in the day – pretty cool! Happy Day – Enjoy

    • If you’re like me, the older you grow, the more you appreciate your heritage. How wonderful that you had that opportunity to travel with your father-in-law to ireland.

    • I have always appreciated my heritage and it has deepen as I have gotten older. Plus it is important to retain the family history, especially when the grandparents pass and then your parents get older. I am going to get with my cousins to share our fathers’ military history because it is pretty cool what they have done for this country. 1 fought in Korea, 2 in Vietnam, 2 in Iraq, their ranks, etc.

      • Oh, yes, preserve that military history. My father fought on the front lines during the Korean War, but did not like to talk about it. Thus I heard only a few of his stories. He’s been gone now for 13 years.

  2. Beth Ann Says:

    Another beautiful church. I never tire of seeing the inside of churches–the stained glass and the different ways that congregations set up their space to worship is such an amazing variety, isn’ t it? Thanks for sharing.

  3. Beautiful. The windows are wonderful and intricate, but overall, I like that the church has a clean, simple look. I feel rested just looking at the sanctuary.

  4. Don Says:

    Beautiful! I could certainly enjoy services there however, my mind may wonder looking at everything. Is that a pipe organ in the left hand side of the sanctuary?

  5. Jackie Says:

    Love these old churches, I’m glad you were able to get inside. So many now are locked….I understand, but am saddened when I cant get in. An added bonus is always the cemetery, I love that. Great post Audrey, I love the first photo of this beauty!

  6. Love the photo of the old church. It looks very similar to the church I belong to now. 🙂 LOVE your pictures and the stories they tell.


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