Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

At Potsdam: Reflections on a country church May 31, 2022

Immanuel Lutheran Church, Potsdam. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

NO MATTER HOW MANY country churches I discover, how many adjoining cemeteries I meander, my interest in these sacred places never wanes.

Detailed signage provides basic info about Immanuel Lutheran. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

On a recent day trip in southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I found Immanuel Lutheran Church of Potsdam, an unincorporated community close to Elgin. We bypassed it initially, then turned around to explore the church grounds along Minnesota State Highway 247.

A back and side view of Immanuel. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Immanuel fits the bucolic image of a rural church—constructed of wood painted white, cross-topped steeple, bell snugged inside tower, stained glass windows running the length of the sanctuary.

Looking up toward the bell tower. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

This church is especially well-maintained, not always the case in rural houses of worship with often dwindling congregations.

The locked front doors. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I longed to get inside this Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, to view the sanctuary, to settle into a pew, to see the art therein, to experience the peace such a place holds. But, as I expected, the front doors were locked.

Across the highway, a red barn. In the cemetery, gray stones. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)
The German word “LIEBE” means love, found on a gravestone. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

Beautiful flower art on an aged gravestone. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

So instead, I walked around the exterior, studying the details, bracing myself against the strong wind sweeping across this hilltop location. In the distance, twin silos rose on a farm site. Across the highway, a red barn contrasted with the gray of tombstones lodged under pines.

This is very much a farming area as noted by a farm wagon parked next to the cemetery on this Saturday and by the surrounding fields and farm sites. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

We briefly walked the cemetery, marveling at the early birth dates of some buried here—born in 1823, died in 1877. Clearly there are stories here of journeys across the ocean to America, then more travel westward to this land, this Minnesota. I expect those stories hold hardship and loss and struggles and, also, incredible strength, determination and resilience.

Pines tower over the cemetery. (Minnesota Prairie Roots copyrighted photo May 2022)

I claim no personal connection to anyone here. Yet, I feel a kinship in ancestors who left the Old Country. I feel, too, a kinship of faith. For it was faith which sustained many who left families an ocean away to forge a new life. Here they settled, built a church, planted pines. Here they gathered to celebrate and mourn. To pray and praise and plant hope upon the land.

© Copyright 2022 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


16 Responses to “At Potsdam: Reflections on a country church”

  1. beth Says:

    wow, the beauty of such sacred stones and place.

  2. Jen Woldum Says:

    My parents were married there in 1955! That was my mom’s home church and I have been to a few funerals there over the years. I remember going to a large celebration at Immanuel when I was fairly young…maybe a centennial celebration.

    • Jen, I wondered when we were there whether you had a connection to Immanuel. Thank you for sharing that with me. Be watching for posts from Elgin and Plainview. I can’t recall which community is your hometown.

  3. Valerie Says:

    I’ve never heard of Potsdam, but I, too, love those old country churches.

  4. Gunny Says:

    Kinda like Holden Township – but that does have the “Old” Vang Lutheran Church which is in Holden Township – all southeast of Dennison or southwest of Kenyon.

    Found one (can’t remember where in Minnesota), and one of the burial markers noted that the deceased had served on Napoleon’s staff.

  5. Jill Dahl Says:

    This is my church. I am a 6th generation member of this church that was founded in 1873. Beautiful inside too. And the red round barn you saw across the road is my family’s original farm location. I grew up on a farm one mile north of the church. My parents still live their and grow a few acres of gladiolas. If you are back in the area in late july, august or September, the glads are beautiful!

    • Jill, thank you for adding this information about your church. I appreciate it. I would love to get inside Immanuel and the round barn AND see those glads. Thanks for giving me numerous reasons to return to this area.

  6. Jackie Hemmer Says:

    We have that same connection to old country churchs and cemeteries. I’m always sad to see the locks 😦

  7. The flowers on that beautiful marker and the farm equipment are both perfectly fitting for the Midwest.

  8. Marie Baum Says:

    A couple of my ancestors Scheer and Reimers are buried there. The church used to have an ice cream social each summer. I don’t know if that is still carried on

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