Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Easter joy in a song April 1, 2018

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THE WORDS IN THIS HYMN are my most cherished of Easter songs. For these verses I sang as a child each Easter in the balcony of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Vesta, Minnesota.

Dressed in a new cotton Easter dress, feet strapped into shiny patent leather shoes, a hat streaming ribbons down my back, I sang with enthusiasm. I know that my Redeemer lives! Loud. Joyous. From the soul.

The imprint of this hymn remains with me decades later, far removed from the church of my youth. I can still sing the words from memory. I can still feel the stiff cotton of my new dress, hear the organ music rising and falling, smell the lingering scent of cows on myself and classmates, taste the sweetness of Easter candy upon my tongue, see the temporary Easter tattoos pressed upon my arm.

In this rural church, gathered with other farm families, I celebrated Easter. Today, decades later, in Trinity Lutheran Church 120 miles to the east, I know (still) that my Redeemer lives!

TO MY DEAR READERS, may you celebrate a joyous and blessed Easter!

Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Valentine’s Day love at Sunday School February 14, 2016

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SS Valentine's Day, 48 stack of valentines

 

HOW WAS YOUR Valentine’s Day?

Except for the hour I spent photographing Sunday School students and their families, mine would have been just another Sunday. Early to church, followed by bible study. Then brunch at home prepared by my husband.

But because I’ve recently become the go-to person to document happenings at my church, Trinity Lutheran, I pulled photography duty this morning. And I’m fine with that because I enjoy photography. Now if I was asked to give a minute-man speech (which I’ve been asked to do) or count money or serve on a board (which I’ve been asked to do), I wouldn’t do it. My talents and interests don’t lie in those areas.

Ask me to bring my camera, however, and I will likely be there.

In the one hour I covered the Sunday School’s Valentine’s Day event, I shot some 200 photos.  But, because these images are for church use, I can only share a few generic photos with you.

 

SS Valentine's Day, 16 close-up hands making valentine

 

I can tell you, though, what I witnessed. And that was kids and parents, and, yes, even some grandparents, celebrating the gift of love. Kids made valentines, stacked candy hearts and unwrapped Hershey’s kisses with mittened hands. But the most memorable moment came when parents applied sticker dots to their children’s faces—each dot representing a quality they love about their children. I heard words like beautiful, smart, kind, my first-born…

 

SS Valentine's Day, 138 I love God because dots

 

After those professions of love, the kids stuck the dots to portraits of Jesus with the children, expressing their love for Jesus.

 

Valentine's Day Trinity SS 039 - Copy

 

I left feeling like I’d gotten the perfect Valentine’s Day gift—a reminder that I am—we are—loved.

TELL ME, what made your Valentine’s Day special/memorable?

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Meet 10 Minnesota bloggers, a contest winner & more January 11, 2012

THEY WRITE FROM EVERY section of the state—from the southwestern Minnesota prairie to up north on the Gunflint Trail and the Iron Range to the heart of the Twin Cities metro area and places in between.

They are your next-door neighbor, the guy in the office, the young mother down the street, the 20-something…just regular folks who write online.

They are bloggers.

Thus, dear readers of Minnesota Prairie Roots, begins a feature package on 10 Minnesota bloggers, plus one (that would be me), just published in the winter issue of Minnesota Moments.

As a writer for this central Minnesota based magazine, I have the opportunity to present story proposals to the editor and then, when approved, pursue those ideas.

In the blogger package, you’ll meet these Minnesota bloggers with distinct voices: Aaron J. Brown, Nina Hedin, Ada Igoe, Beth Johanneck, Laura Karsjens, Gretchen O’Donnell, Gary Sankary, Brenda Score, Michael Wojahn and Emily Zweber. (Click here to read the story online.)

Prior to my search, I’d already been following about half of these writers. Finding the remaining five proved more challenging than I anticipated. Eventually I found them and if you check out their blogs, I think you will agree that they write in a way that’s as comfortable as sharing conversation over a cup of coffee.

MY SECOND MAJOR PROJECT for this issue focused on a contest, “Snapshots of Love,” which I created and curated. Magazine readers were invited to submit vintage black-and-white candid photos on the theme of love and then share what the photos told them about love.

We received some truly impressive images and stories that made selecting a winner difficult. However, in the end, Jeanne Everhart of Erhard was chosen as the winner with a 1948 picture of her and her sister riding the tricycle they shared. Her story will move you. View all of our contest entries by clicking here.

Jeanne Chase hitches a ride from her sister Sylvia in this 1948 photo taken at the sisters' home in Inman Township, Otter Tail County, Minn.

Since I came up with this contest idea, I also had to find prizes for our winner. I didn’t need to look far. Nina Hedin, one of the featured bloggers, also runs an etsy shop, Camp Honeybelle, and agreed to contribute a $25 gift certificate toward the prize package.

Bernie Nordman Wahl, a Duluth native now living in Billings, Montana, graciously created a card-a-month collection of vintage style greeting cards for our winner. Bernie sells her handmade cards on her Budugalee etsy shop. You simply must see her cards; this artist possesses a delightful sense of humor. Be sure also to visit Bernie’s One Mixed Bag blog. If Bernie still lived in Minnesota, she most definitely would have been included in my Minnesota bloggers feature.

But…, Bernie is in this issue. Her story, “A simple wooden plate equals love,” was published in our “moments in time” reader-submitted stories section. It’s a sweet story of family love.

Mary Bruno of St. Joseph-based Bruno Press and the subject of a story in Minnesota Moments’ fall issue, rounded out the prize package by contributing a letterpress, vintage graphics fine art print. If you’ve read my post on the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, you know how much I appreciate vintage printing.

One of the 26 handmade cards with a vintage flair crafted by Bernie Nordman Wahl for contest winner Jeanne Everhart.

VINTAGE COULD ALSO DEFINE the subject of one other story I  wrote for this issue—a “back in the day” piece on The Last Supper Drama which will be presented for the 50th time this Palm Sunday at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. Yes, that’s right: 50 consecutive years.

I’ve attended this interpretation of The Last Supper twice and blogged about it. Click here to read that blog post. The photos published in the magazine printed way too dark, so the quality is not what you have come to expect in my photography. Please try to overlook that when you read the story.

A scene from the 2011 Last Supper Drama at St. John's UCC.

FINALLY, THIS CANNOT GO without mentioning. Swanville, Minnesota, native Joanne Fluke, who is a New York Times best-selling author, has a full-page ad on the inside front cover of this issue. She writes the “Hannah Swensen Mystery with Recipes!” series. She was the subject of a feature I wrote several years ago for the magazine. Her “Hannah” stories are set in fictitious Lake Eden, Minnesota.

Anyway, Joanne’s publisher, Kensington Publishing, is sponsoring a contest right now with a chance to win a Joanne Fluke gift basket.

So there, dear readers, you have just one more reason to check out the winter edition of Minnesota Moments.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Sunday School Christmas program December 18, 2011

KIds wait in the narthex of Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, for the processional into the sanctuary during the Sunday School Christmas program. I shot with natural light, meaning a slow shutter speed, perfect for capturing the "can't stand still" action of these little ones who were so excited.

CHRISTMAS IS NOT Christmas to me without the Sunday School Christmas program.

From little on—when  I recited my “piece” at the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School Christmas Eve program, hoping I wouldn’t get a long bible verse with a word like “Nazareth” to trip my tongue—to today, when I can simply sit and observe, I’ve always treasured this part of celebrating Christ’s birth.

Through the years, my own three children participated at Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, playing the roles of Mary and an angel and Joseph and maybe even a shepherd. I have forgotten.

I do remember, though, the year I was 7 ½ months pregnant with my son and waddled into church feeling like the Blessed Mother herself. That was 18 years ago.

Saturday night I grabbed my camera and attempted to capture those moments that have always endeared me to this special children’s worship service—the red Christmas dresses, the bathrobe shepherd’s garb, the fluttering of angel’s wings, the joyful singing of familiar Christmas hymns, the kids who can’t stand still no matter how hard they try or don’t try, the goodie bags…

At Trinity in Faribault, a new generation of children sang and I remembered those Christmases so many years ago back on the prairie, waiting in the basement of  St. John’s, inching up the stairway, walking in pairs down the church aisle singing “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful…”

Such memories. Such joy at Christmas time.

The beginning of the children's Christmas program at Trinity on Saturday evening.

Children, ages 3 through kindergarten, sing. Lots of action here.

The angels wait just outside the sanctuary for their cue to enter.

The angels approach the manger at the front of the church.

"O Antiphons," lined up below the pipes of the organ, were used during Advent services to symbolize the names or titles given to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, in many Old Testament prophecies.

After the service, I found this cue card for the children and this hymnal, open to "Joy to the World," on a front pew.

DO YOU HAVE special memories of a Sunday School Christmas program?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On our way to church in North Morristown October 12, 2011

ON OUR WAY TO CHURCH on Sunday morning in North Morristown, my husband and I drove through some mighty fine country.

Past…

grain bins awaiting the season’s yield

autumn’s glory edging Cannon Lake

harvested corn fields

tree line and crop line

a farmer laboring

beauty and bounty

a clutch of bins

horses dallying in a barnyard

a shed weathered by time

an old brick house on a hill

to Trinity Lutheran Church, North Morristown.

We savored the best of a lovely, gorgeous, stunning, beautiful, wonderful, photographic October morning that transitioned into an unbelievably warm afternoon.

Typically we don’t get this many balmy October days here in Minnesota, meaning we need to appreciate each one while secretly hoarding memories of these days for the long winter months ahead.

For now I want to remember this Sunday, this drive west of Faribault to the little country church, Trinity Lutheran, edged by an alfalfa field and across the road, acres of corn.

I want to remember the warmth of the day and of the people with whom we worshiped.

I want to remember, too, the good food and fellowship afterward in the church basement as we celebrated this congregation’s annual fall dinner and craft sale.

CHECK BACK for posts about dinner and about Trinity church.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The Last Supper at St. John’s April 14, 2011

Rhody Yule, a 92-year-old Faribault artist, painted this version of The Last Supper.

LIVING ART. A tribute to Christ. A contemplative event to mark the beginning of Holy Week.

However you view it, a dramatic presentation of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper by a rural church should be on your must-see list for the weekend if you live in my area of southeastern Minnesota.

For 49 years now, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, has presented Drama of the Last Supper in the old limestone church set among flat farm fields and scattered farm places near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park in Rice County.

At 8 p.m. on Palm Sunday, April 17, as darkness falls upon the land, the sanctuary too will darken and the spotlight will shift to 12 men seated at the front of the church. Alan, Grant, Craig, Kyle, Todd, Thad, Keith, Doug, Marty, Brian, Randy and Paul will assume the roles of the 12 disciples.

Christ, if I remember correctly from attending a previous performance, is not portrayed by an actor.

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” Matthew 26:20 – 21

The Betrayal, a painting by Faribault artist Rhody Yule.

So the scene unfolds with a monologue featuring each of the 12 disciples and their relationships with Christ.

“I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.” Matthew 26:29

Enveloped in darkness, listening to the somber words of forthcoming betrayal, worshippers experience the tense emotions that marked The Last Supper, setting the mood for a week that leads to the crucifixion of Christ and then, on Easter morning, to his glorious resurrection.

It is a thoughtful, serious drama presented by the local men, many of whom are repeat performers.

It is worth seeing, worth hearing and worth contemplating as Holy Week begins.

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” Luke 22:19

St. Johns United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township

FYI: St. John’s is about a 15-minute drive from Faribault. Take Minnesota Highway 60 east and then turn north onto Rice County Road 24. The church is located at 19086 Jacobs Avenue.  A fellowship hour, with food, follows the presentation.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The precious children February 27, 2011

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A snippet of a painting that hangs in a hallway at my church shows Jesus holding a baby.

“WHY ARE WE HERE? It’s not just because the children are precious. We are here because the children are precious to God.”

Dr. James Lamb, executive director of Lutherans for Life, delivered that message to me and other worshippers today at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault as we celebrated “Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday. By the way, I thought his surname—Lamb—quite fitting for a man who heads up an organization that “equips you to be gospel-motivated voices for life, to love and speak the truth compassionately.”

Now I’m not the protesting type, although I wore a pro-life bracelet back in the 1970s. I’ve never rallied against abortion, but I strongly oppose it. I’m not the type to stand on a public soapbox and loudly express my viewpoint.

But I’ve been gifted, through my writing, with the ability to share my thoughts and feelings, facts and opinions, to make a point, or to cause readers to pause and think.

So, this morning, when Rev. Lamb stepped behind the pulpit, I grabbed a pencil and started scribbling notes in the margins of my worship service folder. I expected he might tell me a thing or two regarding human life that I would want to pass along to you. He did.

All the while I was listening to him, I thought of the precious baby girl, newborn Valentine’s Day baby, Abigail Grace, who was sleeping several pews behind me. I almost wished, as the preacher preached, that little Abigail could be up front with him, making a strong visual impact as he talked about the value of human life.

“You knitted me together in my mother’s womb,” Pastor Lamb read from Psalms and then explained that the “knitting together” means not only the physical part, but our essence, our very being, our souls.

We each are, he said, one in 70 trillion.

And then he tossed out more numbers which astonished me. There have been 52 million lives lost to abortion since it was legalized in the U.S. in 1973, he said. Today in the U.S., there are 3,200 abortions daily, he continued.

I thought of little Abigail several pews back, so loved by parents who call her their blessing.

“Your value comes from God, who made you,” the Rev. Lamb told us.

How true?

A portion of Jesus face, photographed from a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

But then, lest I began feeling all smug and innocent sitting there in my pew on a Sunday morning, the pastor dared to suggest that we worshippers might share in the blame of millions of lives lost through abortion.

Have we failed to speak out against abortion? Have we made the abortion issue a political one rather than focusing on the value of human life that comes from God? Have we failed to show compassion to those who’ve had abortions? Have we failed to tell them, Pastor Lamb said, that “you too are blessed with the forgiveness that is free, unearned, unconditional and complete (through Jesus)”?

Guilty.

So I am doing my part today, from a heart that cares deeply for the unborn children of God and for precious little ones like Abigail Grace, to tell you that I am upholding the sanctity of life because “the children are precious to God.”

Precious.

Children of God.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling