Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Adapting worship in rural southwestern Minnesota during a global pandemic May 4, 2020

The Rev. Adam Manian leads worship services at St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota, on Sunday, May 3, 2020.

 

HIS ROBE BILLOWED in the wind as he stood atop the hay rack on a stunningly beautiful spring Sunday morning in southwestern Minnesota. A simple wooden table adorned with a gold cross formed a makeshift altar behind him.

To the south, vehicles filled the parking lot next to a farm field bordering the Redwood River. Across the river bridge, more fields and farm sites define the landscape, including my childhood farm a half-mile distant.

I visualized this rural scene as I focused on my computer screen. I watched the Rev. Adam Manian prepare to lead Sunday morning worship services outside St. John’s Lutheran Church, the church where I was baptized, confirmed, married, and have attended weddings and funerals of many loved ones.

 

The one-block Main Street of downtown Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2018.

 

It seemed fitting that the pastor would preach from atop a hay rack backed up to the church entry. This place in Minnesota is through and through rural, centered on agriculture. It is also a place centered by church and its importance in the faith lives of most and in the social fabric of the Vesta community. I can only imagine how much locals—including aunts, uncles and cousins—miss gathering at St. John’s. I miss seeing my faith family, too, at Trinity Lutheran in Faribault.

 

I watched the St. John’s service live-streaming Sunday morning. Drive-in worship will continue next Sunday at 9 a.m.

 

During these weeks of social-distancing, stay-at-home orders and the need to protect our most vulnerable and each other, churches have gotten creative in continuing with worship. On this first Sunday in May, the pastor of this very rural congregation in a community of some 300 launched drive-in worship. Worshipers sat in their vehicles and tuned in to 102.1 FM on their radios while he led the service. And 120 miles away to the east, I booted up my computer and watched live-streaming of St. John’s service.

It did my heart and soul good to see that on this Sunday, “Good Shepherd Sunday,” the pastor at my hometown church was tending his flock—providing for their spiritual needs through the familiarity of liturgy, beloved hymns, preaching and prayers. What a blessing, especially to the many seniors in the congregation who now find themselves isolated, alone, separated from loved ones. An aunt even washed her car in preparation for Sunday’s service.

I thought back to decades earlier when my paternal great grandparents, Rudolph and Matilda Kletscher, arrived here and St. John’s grew from a mission church that met in their farm home. My faith is rooted here, in this church, in this place, among these prairie people.

 

Entering my home county of Redwood along Minnesota State Highway 68 southeast of Morgan. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As Rev. Manian preached, I noticed the wind, ever-present in this landscape of wide open space. His robes billowed. His audio caught the wind. The camera shook on occasion. Tree branches swayed. Birds flew and some chirped in morning birdsong. It was as if creation joined in worship.

Occasionally I heard the start of a motor, presumably to run the air conditioning.

And when the pastor’s family, inside the sanctuary, sang “Have No Fear, Little Flock,” I experienced such a connection to St. John’s, such a renewed sense of confidence that we will get through this COVID-19 crisis, that God stays close beside us, that we are all in this together.

 

These grain bins sit just down a gravel road from St. John’s church in Vesta. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I realized, too, that we are writing stories every day of overcoming, of adapting, of being here for one another, of resilience. We are writing stories of hope and of community. These are our stories. Faith stories. Community stories. Personal stories. Stories connected by the commonality of living during a global pandemic.

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Thank you to my cousin Lori for tipping me off to St. John’s drive-in worship service.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling