BEAUTIFUL, HISTORIC CHURCHES ABOUND in Faribault. I’ve been inside many, but not all. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the materials, the art, the essence of aged houses of worship.
I appreciate, too, the deep meaning these churches hold for many. The baptisms. The weddings. The confirmations. The funerals. And regular worship. Plus those most blessed of days to celebrate. Christmas and Easter.
For me, church is also about community and family and love and care and so much more. Above all, faith.
Pastor Greg Ciesluk has focused his community outreach this December on coordinating a virtual concert, “Christmas in Faribault 2020,” which is showing at 7 pm Saturday, December 19, on YouTube and local community television. I’m honored to be part of this project via contributing still photos pulled from my blog posts.
I first met Greg in the fall of 2018 when he joined a team working to clear fallen limbs, trees, branches and debris from my friend’s yard following a tornado. Greg lived nearby and showed up, as good neighbors do, to help. Randy and I have been friends with him since.
I appreciate his enthusiasm and energy, his care for others (including us and our family), his deep faith, his love for and involvement in our community, his willingness to serve and more. And I also appreciate the messages Greg posts on the sign board that stands on the corner outside his church along Fourth Avenue. I hold a fondness for messages like these. Electronic message signs do not appeal to me. I’m old school like that.
In this year of COVID-19, I appreciated Greg’s latest thought. He’s right. Not even a global pandemic can overtake the meaning, spirit and joy of Christmas.
A Christmas star serves as a current focal point inside the sanctuary of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.
AS A WOMAN OF FAITH, as an appreciator of the arts, as a creative, I hold a fondness for historic churches. That includes Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault, where Hillary Clinton once spoke. I don’t recall the year or reason for her visit, only that my then grade-school-aged daughters, who attended school just blocks away, went to see her. Not for any political reason but because she was the First Lady.
The entry to Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.
Inside the sanctuary of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.
I remember that bit of history each time I step inside this 1915 church across the street from the Rice County Government Services building. From the exterior, the church appears more courthouse-like than faith center with imposing columns defining the entry. Inside, the sanctuary circles below a dome rather than the expected typical narrow straight-away of churches from that era. Soaring stained glass windows allow in plenty of natural light to offset the dark wood.
Just down the street from Fourth Avenue sits the Congregational Church of Faribault, UCC.
Sometimes I wonder how many born and raised locals have never stepped inside this lovely space. Faribault has many historic churches, an asset which I think needs more promotion and a deeper appreciation. The history and art, especially in windows like the Tiffany stained glass at the Congregational Church of Faribault, UCC, are local treasures. My church, Trinity Lutheran, and the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour showcase beautiful stained glass also.
A seasonal message posted on a hallway wall next to a community bulletin board.
But back to Fourth Avenue. After finishing my meal during the annual Community Christmas Dinner there, I walked around the sanctuary, which connects to an educational wing built in 1964.
The art of a wiseman.
All three wisemen in a corner of the sanctuary.
I looked at the Christmas decorations
Ready for winter, snow shovels lean against an entry wall.
and for nuances that define this as a house of worship in Minnesota.
A bulletin board just inside another entry shows a seasonal message and support for Ruth’s House, a local shelter for women.
With minimal time, I didn’t poke around as much as I typically do. Still, I photographed enough to show you a glimpse of this house of worship, home to a faith family that always feels warm and welcoming each time I visit.
Dining at a previous Community Christmas Dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
And on one Sunday in mid-December, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church serves a Community Christmas Dinner. There’s something about sitting down with others for a good home-cooked meal that fosters an even stronger sense of community. Food brings people together in conversation. We need more of that—pulling up folding chairs in a church basement to talk between bites of mashed potatoes and gravy. Comfort in food and in conversation.
Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of a past dinner. This year pork will replace the turkey.
Fourth Avenue hosts its annual Christmas dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. this Sunday, December 16. I’ve attended numerous times, photographed the event nearly every time. I delight in the words chosen to promote the dinner: Your Friends at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Invite you to be our Honored Guest at a day of Feasting and Fellowship with your Neighbors.
Those words exude warmth, welcome and a sense of care and community. Your economic status, your job status, your situation—none of that matters. You are welcome.
Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.
Welcome to enjoy a meal of roast pork and stuffing, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, coleslaw, freshly baked rolls and Christmas cupcakes. The menu has changed slightly from previous years. But that’s OK. I like pork (actually more than turkey). And Christmas cupcakes can replace Christmas cake.
Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
I expect to see a crew of volunteers busy as ever cooking, serving, clearing tables, washing dishes… It takes a well-organized team to pull together a home-cooked meal for the community. I appreciate this gift which extends beyond those being fed. Monies collected from a freewill offering will benefit Operation 23 to Zero, which assists vets in need.
Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. Be sure to read the sign on the wall above the kitchen window.
This Community Christmas Dinner is about so much more than food. It’s about care and comfort and connecting and community. And hope. It embodies the spirit of Christmas.
Diners at the 2012 Community Christmas Dinner in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
I LOVE ALLITERATION, the repetition of sound that rolls off the tongue like a musical refrain: Free food and fellowship in Faribault on Fourth.
The meal minus cranberries and bread. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
This alliteration requires explanation: Fourth Avenue United Method Church in Faribault will host its 14th annual Community Christmas Dinner from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 18. The meal of turkey, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, bread, cranberries and Christmas cake is free. However, donations are accepted with a portion of those gifts benefiting charities in Rice County.
Volunteers hard at work in the kitchen. They feed several hundred. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
Several years have passed since I attended this church basement dinner at 219 Fourth Avenue Northwest. I have only positive words for the delicious Christmas meal served by friendly folks. I enjoy the food as much as the conversation with volunteers and diners in a festive holiday setting.
Volunteer Madeline serves Christmas Cake at a past dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.
The most memorable menu item for me is the dessert—poke cake. These Methodists call it Christmas Cake, perhaps because of the red and green sugar sprinkled atop the Cool Whip frosting. Poke cake traces to the 1970s; I remember my mom preparing this cake for special occasions like Christmas. It’s a white or yellow cake mix poked with a fork after baking with Jell-O poured atop. Red or green Jell-O filters through the holes and into the cake. I’m not big on cake. But I’m big on memories.
The congregation of the beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault hosts the Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.
I’m also big on gratitude to the good people at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church who give this gracious gift to my community each Christmas.
TELL ME: Does a free Community Christmas Dinner exist in your community? Or have you ever tried poke cake?
A snippet of the pews and beautiful stained glass windows.
THE PEWS ARC in graceful curves in this holy house where the muted grey gloom of a December afternoon filters through the western wall of stained glass windows.
Just another interior view, looking toward the balcony.
Dark wood fills this place. If not for the glorious side windows and the stained glass dome, darkness would prevail.
Focusing on the altar area and the eastern stained glass windows.
Like so many churches in my southeastern Minnesota community, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault is steeped in history, bathed in beauty. One need only stand within this sanctuary, dedicated in December 1915, to feel the overpowering influence of the past in fine craftsmanship.
The obvious Greek influence in the church architecture.
Guests hung up their coats before heading for the dining room.
WE SHRUGGED OFF our winter coats, my husband and I, and secured them onto hooks before following the tantalizing aroma of turkey and meatballs into the church basement dining area.
My meal, minus the cranberries, bread and cake which were also served.
I grabbed a plate and the volunteers passed it down the line, spooning on mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, turkey and two Swedish meatballs.
Then I heard the clatter, the sound of a cane falling upon tile and saw the elderly man directly behind me lying face down, motionless, on the floor between the serving line and the table for take-outs.
Volunteers expected to serve around 225 diners at the free Community Christmas Dinner. A free will offering could be given.
“Call 911,” I ordered my husband. I knew, given my hearing loss, that I wouldn’t be able to hear above the drone of conversation filling the basement at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church Community Christmas Dinner.
A sampling of the volunteer crew it takes to put on the Christmas dinner.
At some point, a server took the plate from my hand. “Give it to someone else,” I said.
“Is there a nurse here?” I asked as a cluster gathered around the fallen man. I mostly wanted someone to be with him, down there on the floor, comforting him until the paramedics arrived. And there was and that relieved me although I was still very much worried.
I felt helpless standing there, camera bag slung over one shoulder, camera on the other. I couldn’t simply take back my plate, sit down like nothing had happened and enjoy my Christmas meal.
Eventually, the man was eased off the floor and onto a chair and I sought out my husband who stood outside the glass doors in the bitter cold talking on the phone with the emergency dispatcher. I relayed that the man was now sitting and alert. And I wondered why the rescue squad had not yet arrived from two blocks away, knowing full well from personal experience that time seems to stand still when you are in need of emergency services.
And so the story ended. No broken bones. No heart attack. Not even shattered eyeglasses as the unsteady aged man tripped on a table leg and plunged forward, his fall broken only by the shoe of the woman scooping mashed potatoes at the beginning of the serving line.
If not for that shoe, he would have smashed face first onto the tile.
It seemed a Christmas miracle.
And so I stepped back into the serving line, the crew filling my plate for the second time. I pondered how grateful I am to live in a community where volunteers cook and serve savory meals in church basements and, when in a time of need, are there to comfort and assist.
Friends gave friends rides to and from the church dinner.
The beautiful Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church in Faribault. I’ll take you inside the sanctuary in a follow-up post.
Coffee maker Dan Tersteeg mans the coffee corner. The coffee makers always use Folgers, he says, because it works best with Faribault’s water.
I noticed this full coffee cup sitting on a cupboard lined with holiday decorations. During the congregation’s Lenten soup luncheons, desserts fill the shelves.
Inside a room labeled “Fourth Avenue Room,” where women were slicing Christmas cake, among other tasks, I found this humorous sign posted.
And then these directions, too, posted, perhaps, by the boss?
In the kitchen, a team of workers tended the food and washed the dishes, etc.
Another worker handed out slices of festive and delicious Christmas cake.
Diners enjoyed each other’s company and observed the goings-on.
Some of the guests took home gifts of poinsettias which served as table centerpieces.
A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner.
In this particular photo, a woman awaits a ride home. I’d just finished my meal and came across her standing at the top of the stairs, poinsettia in hand. The holiday flowers decorated dinner tables and diners were welcome to take them home. She was unaware of my presence. I framed the moment. A moment that, against the backdrop Advent message, captures the reason for the season.
Hope. Peace. Joy. Love. May all be yours as we draw near to Christmas.
COVID-19 RANKS AS THE STORY of 2020, including here on Minnesota Prairie Roots. Since early March, I’ve photographed hundreds of scenes that relate to the pandemic. I’ve scrolled through my many COVID-themed posts to showcase a selection of images that summarize the pandemic’s effects on our lives.
For me, the most personal image is also a universal one. In early March, I visited my mom, who is in hospice in a southwestern Minnesota nursing home. I didn’t know it then, but this would mark my last in-person visit with her in 2020. The last time I would hug her, kiss her cheeks. For our seniors living in long-term care centers, 2020 brought isolation, separation from family and, for too many, death. The empty chair in this photo symbolizes the absence of family.
March also brought shortages. Of toilet paper. Of hand sanitizer. Of Lysol wipes. Of Tylenol. I stocked up on a few supplies. Just enough to get us by if we got sick and couldn’t get out.
Separation brought a new appreciation for technology with our family connecting via Zoom from the north metro to Madison, Wisconsin, to Faribault.
The deadly reality of COVID-19 hit home when the Rev. Craig Breimhorst of Faribault died in April, the first of now 52 Rice County residents to lose their lives to the virus. My heart hurts for all those who are grieving, some of whom I know.
Signs remind us daily of COVID, including messages bannered on the Paradise Center for the Arts marquee as theaters, restaurants, libraries, museums and more closed to prevent the spread of the virus.
Even playgrounds became inaccessible as communities roped and fenced off equipment (including at North Alexander Park in Faribault) to stop the spread of COVID. Since then, we’ve learned a lot more about the virus, with surface spread not the primary form of transmission.
In May, while watching a car cruise in downtown Faribault, I photographed a local walking along the sidewalk wearing a face mask. This is my “favorite” COVID photo. Simple. Yet powerful. Face masks, by mid-summer, became the norm. Yet, some still refuse to wear them, or wear them improperly, an ongoing source of frustration for me. Minnesota has a face mask mandate for a reason—to stop the spread of COVID and to keep us safe. Just wear a mask. And over your nose, please.
The pandemic changed how many of us worship. Randy and I have not attended church services since early March. When our kids learned we had been to Sunday morning services, they advised (told) us not to continue attending in-person. Our eldest remarked that she and her friends were struggling to convince their Baby Boomer parents of COVID’s seriousness. It didn’t take us long to determine just how serious this virus; we’ve attended church online ever since. In my hometown church, the pastor took to preaching from a hay rack. St. John’s now worships in-house.
High school and college graduation ceremonies also pivoted, mostly to virtual celebrations. In Northfield, Minnesota, the community honored grads with banners posted downtown. Some families still hosted receptions. We opted out, not wanting to risk our health.
Our sole social activity this summer was attending outdoor concerts in Faribault’s Central Park nearly every Thursday evening. It’s a long-time community tradition. We felt safe there with concert-goers distancing throughout the sprawling park. Some wore masks, like the couple in this photo, with a rope defining social distancing lines.
The annual Faribault Pet Parade in August also went on, but as a drive-through only. No masses of kids and pets walking in the streets. Randy and I watched, all by ourselves in our lawnchairs positioned along Fourth Street, and I spotted one vehicle with a COVID message.
For many, the cancellation of county fairs, and then the Minnesota State Fair in August, dashed any hopes that summer could retain any normalcy. Food stands, like this one at Ace Hardware in Faribault, popped up in parking lots and elsewhere.
In Northfield, the Defeat of Jesse James Days celebration scaled back. Randy and I walked through Bridge Square, where I photographed a solo guitar player strumming. It was a lovely September day, minus the overcrowding typical of DJJD.
September took us to the central Minnesota lakes region for a short stay at a family member’s guest lake cabin. While en route, we stopped in Crosby, where I photographed this distinctly Minnesotan masking sign.
In November, when the COVID situation in Minnesota went to really bad, I photographed a hard-hitting electronic message above US Highway 14 in Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Concerns about hospital bed shortages not only concerned Minnesota, but the entire US. And this was about more than just COVID.
One of my final COVID photos of 2020 was taken at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, posted there by the Rev. Greg Ciesluk, also a friend. His message puts the virus in perspective. As we transition into 2021 with vaccines rolling out, I feel hopeful. Truly hopeful.
I’m excited to view/hear this concert featuring a wide range of talented local musicians. Like the Benson Family Singers, Fourth Avenue Four Barbershop Quartet, Gail Kaderlik, Cindy Glende, Alberto Arriaza and many others.
The purpose of the concert, according to lead organizer the Rev. Greg Ciesluk of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, is to lift our spirits and to help those in need. “Concert goers” are encouraged to donate to the Salvation Army via:
1) Giving at Salvation Army red kettles.
2) Mailing checks to: Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021
Enjoy, dear readers. I am honored to be part of this event via holiday photos I’ve taken in Faribault and which are incorporated into the concert. Thank you to all who contributed to this event. It takes a team to make this happen. What a wonderful community of caring people who have come together to uplift us.
In a typical year, I would sing Advent and Christmas hymns with my faith family in church. But now, during COVID-19, I’m watching services online. I feel grateful for this technology. But it’s not the same. I miss the in-person connection, the simply being there.
Greg Ciesluk, pastor of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, was experiencing a similar feeling of loss. A self-proclaimed “music person” actively involved in the Faribault community, he considered how he could restore some Christmas joy. Cancellation of the Faribault High School choir’s annual performance—an 81-year tradition—at the local Rotary Club’s Christmas meal prompted Ciesluk to think creatively. (He’s a Rotary member.) The result: An hour-long virtual Christmas concert featuring local musicians.
“Christmas in Faribault 2020” (type that into your search engine) debuts on YouTube at 7 pm Saturday, December 19. The concert can also be viewed on Faribault Community Television.
Ciesluk promises a wonderful, uplifting experience in a “joyful, soulful and invigorating” concert.
From well-known local musicians like Doug Madow and Dr. Michael Hildebrandt to Beau Chant to a children’s group from Christ Lutheran Church and many more, including performances by Ciesluk, the virtual concert features pre-recorded songs submitted to Fox Video Productions for production.
But a desire to uplift the community in this Christmas of canceled concerts isn’t the sole goal behind those putting together this virtual musical event. Organizers are encouraging viewers to donate to the Salvation Army as “a way to show God’s compassion and concern for those in need,” says Ciesluk. All donations stay in Rice County.
Give directly at red kettle donation sites in the county; via checks mailed to the Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021; or through an online link that will be included in the video. The concert will feature a spot from the Salvation Army. Sheriff Troy Dunn, who heads the county’s Salvation Army outreach, is serving as emcee.
Randy and I have, for many years, rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s been a joyful, humbling experience. But this holiday season, because of COVID-19, we decided given our high risk age status, not to volunteer. Yet, I am helping in another way. Ciesluk asked if he could incorporate holiday/Christmas photos I’ve taken around Faribault through the years into “Christmas in Faribault 2020.” I agreed. Like him and his team of organizers and musicians, I am happy to help bring joy to others during an especially challenging year.