Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A mother’s sorrow March 30, 2018

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Mary holds Jesus. St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo April 2017.

 

THROUGH THE YEARS, I’ve photographed many churches. And many works of art within those sanctuaries. Today it seems fitting that I share this image taken nearly a year ago inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

I see in this sculpture the profound grief of Jesus’ mother, Mary. I see it in her eyes, in every essence of her sorrowful face. I doubt there is any pain deeper than that of a parent losing a child.

In the darkness of Good Friday, I anticipate the light of Easter morning.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Twenty years of perpetual prayer at St. Mary’s in Sleepy Eye March 22, 2018

This painting of a woman in prayer hangs in my home, a gift from the family of Faribault artist Rhody Yule. I met Rhody several years before his death and helped organize two art shows of his work. I treasure this inspiring piece by Rhody as a reminder of our friendship and of his faith.

 

Pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians 5:40)

“Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” (Matthew 26: 40 – 41)

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective. (James 5:16)

 

Praying during a service at the Old Stone Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2010.

 

FOR THE FAITHFUL at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Sleepy Eye, those words from Scripture hold deep meaning. Not simply as words they should follow. But as words they do follow.

 

At Moland Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, prayer needs are posted. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo June 2013.

 

For 20 years, 24/7, the parishioners at this southwestern Minnesota prairie church have practiced Perpetual Adoration by praying. Every single hour. Of every single day. In one-hour shifts. For two decades. Remarkable.

 

A statue of Mary in prayer stands outside St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2017.

 

Today they pray in the Adoration Chapel housed in a new addition to the aged St. Mary’s Church. Originally, congregants prayed in the convent chapel, then the church.

 

The priest is about to proceed up the aisle to begin Mass at the Basilica of Saint Stanislaus Kostka in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

Randy Krzmarzick has taken the 5 a.m. shift for all those 20 years. He writes about his experiences in a column posted on sleepyeyeonline. (Click here to read.) It’s an interesting read, especially for someone like me, a life-long Lutheran married to a former Catholic. But no matter your faith—or not—you will find value within Randy’s honest and humorous story. He suggests that we all need to quiet our hearts and seek silence in this busy and noisy world.

 

Praying at a car show at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo August 2016.

 

Even he struggles to follow his own advice, admitting to sometimes thinking about the price of soybeans or a baseball game when he should be praying.

 

One of life’s simple delights: Wildflowers in the prairie of the Valley Grove churches, rural Nerstrand. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Life brims with distractions. We’re too busy. Too scheduled. Too whatever to notice the simple things in life. Or the people we love. Or those who are strangers and need our compassion.

 

Photographed at St. Stan’s in Winona. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo September 2015.

 

There is much to be learned from the faithful of St. Mary’s in their two decades of dedication, discipline and devotion to prayer. In the silence, they have heard the quiet. And I expect, too, have found peace.

RELATED: Click here to read a story about Kathy Wichmann, who for 20 years has scheduled parishioners to fill those 24/7 prayer slots at St. Mary’s.

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A drive in the Minnesota countryside takes me to St. Jarlath November 7, 2017

 

“SAINT JARLATH. Who’s that?” I asked my Catholic-raised and educated husband as we pulled up to a rural Minnesota cemetery during a recent Sunday afternoon drive.

 

 

He offered no information, as puzzled as me by the saint behind the name of St. Jarlath’s Catholic Cemetery located just off Waseca County Road 22 in Iosco Township. My later online research revealed Bishop Jarlath as the founder and principle patron of the Archdiocese of Tuam in Galway, Ireland. Irish names in the cemetery should have tipped us off.

 

 

I delight in discovering such well-kept rural cemeteries edged next to equally well-maintained churches. Clearly, people care deeply about this place. That pleases me although the closure of rural parishes like this one does not.

 

 

As we wandered the grounds, I spotted autumn décor adorning some gravesites. Seeing scarecrows on a tombstone marked a first for me.

 

 

I noticed, too, the trees,

 

 

the aged, and not so aged, stones,

 

 

the loving words

 

 

 

 

 

 

and clear markers of faith in crosses high and low.

 

 

I tugged at the church door, hoping to get inside. I never expect access. But that doesn’t stop me from trying. Gone are the days of unattended, open churches. I can only imagine the beauty, the history within this country church.

 

 

The ability to freely wander this cemetery on a stunning autumn afternoon tempered my disappointment. To see folks honor their ancestors and Saint Jarlath through a well-kept church and grounds encourages me. This place remains important—at least for now to those still living.

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AS I SCHEDULED this post, written days before the deadly mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I feel compelled to add this postscript expressing my sorrow and thoughts. I cannot fathom the loss to these families, to this community, about the same size as my Minnesota hometown. My heart breaks. A church, of all places, should be a sanctuary from violence. No place seems safe any more.

Initial media reports reveal the perpetrator had a history of domestic violence and that he sent threatening text messages to his mother-in-law shortly before killing 26 people and wounding another 20 at the church. This troubles me. Domestic violence continues to root deep into our society. I read or hear media reports daily about murder-suicides, violations of restraining orders, calls to domestic disturbances, stalking, assaults…and more. For every case reported to law enforcement, many many more are not reported. Because of fear. Because of intimidation. Because of control and manipulation.

The invasive crime of domestic abuse and violence is affecting too many of our families, our neighborhoods, our communities and, yes, even our churches, directly and indirectly.

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From Wheeling Township, Part I: The season of Minnesota church dinners September 26, 2017

Long-time Germanfest kitchen staff, Lynn, left, and Elsie.

 

AUTUMN MARKS THE SEASON of church dinners and festivals in Minnesota. In fellowship halls and church basements, you will find some of the best homecooked food. Food of the land. Potatoes peeled and mashed. Squash scooped of seeds and baked. Bone-in-ham savory and heavenly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An abundance of food fills plates, satisfying the belly and the soul. Menus vary from congregation to congregation with ethnicity, location and tradition determining food offerings. At St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, parishioners serve an authentic German meal at the annual late September Germanfest. Several years had passed since I attended this dinner, one of my favorites among Faribault area churches.

 

Diners park their vehicles around the cemetery next to the church.

 

 

 

 

Baby Lucy and her grandpa listen to the Ray Sands Combo.

 

Here in this rural setting, with old-time bands pumping out polkas and waltzes just outside the dining hall, hundreds gather for food and fellowship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And bingo,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a quilt show,

 

 

 

 

 

 

petting zoo,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

market, polka service and more.

 

 

 

Randy and I whiled away the last September Sunday afternoon here, crammed first into the fellowship hall eating sauerbraten and brats, German potato salad (and yes, mashed potatoes and gravy for those who prefer that potato choice) and an assortment of German sides with Black Forest cake, apple kuchen and bread pudding for dessert—as if we needed three desserts. But it’s impossible to pass on such sugary goodness.

 

 

 

 

This event, as are all church dinners and festivals, is about more than food. It’s about family and friends and good conversation and laughter and delighting in the bounty of the earth. It’s about hard work—laboring in the kitchen, selling tickets, grilling brats, tending quilts and animals, and an entire long list of volunteer duties. It’s about a sense of community, a coming together, a communion of sorts with the land, with this place, with these people. In the season of autumn.

 

TELL ME: Do you attend church dinners and festivals? If so, feel free to recommend one here.

 

Check back for several more posts from St. John’s Germanfest including some endearing photos of a budding musician and of a family photo shoot.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Art of the crucifixion April 14, 2017

 

ART MOVES IN A WAY sometimes that words cannot.

 

St. Mary’s Catholic Church sits atop a hill in New Trier, a small town north of Cannon Falls.

 

Today I present to you selected art that depicts the crucifixion of Christ. I discovered this collection inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

 

Centering the ornate altar is this depiction of Jesus’ crucifixion.

 

The art ranges from simple to elaborate. I know nothing of the artists. But in viewing each of their works, I experience a wide range of emotions. And with that comes a deep sense of gratitude for those who share their faith through art.

 

In the face of Mary, I see profound grief in losing her son.

 

Hands convey so much love; here Mary holds Jesus’ hand.

 

The detail in this work of art presents the visual depth of Christ’s suffering.

 

This simple crucifix is set against the window backdrop of St. Mary’s Cemetery.

 

When I toured St. Mary’s recently, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of this place, just as today I am overwhelmed by gratitude to Christ.

FYI: Please check back for future posts of my visit to St. Mary’s.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The art of St. Nicholas brought to you on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2017

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market, Minnesota.

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market, Minnesota.

 

IT’S SELDOM THESE DAYS that I find a church door unlocked while on a leisurely, non-destination drive.

 

The stained glass window of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of this congregation, is situated in the balcony. I didn't go into the balcony as a sign banned unapproved visitors per insurance requirements.

The stained glass window of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of this congregation, is situated in the balcony. I didn’t go into the balcony as a sign banned unapproved visitors per insurance rules.

 

A statue of Mary outside the front of the church.

A statue of Mary outside the front of the church.

 

Looking up at the tall tall steeple.

Looking up at the tall tall steeple.

 

So when Randy and I stopped in Elko New Market and found the front doors of St. Nicholas Catholic Church open late on a recent Saturday morning, we were surprised. During our brief visit, not a soul appeared, except images of the saints patronized therein.

 

Statues like this one of Mary fill the church.

Statues like this one of Mary fill the church.

 

How lovely the stained glass.

How lovely the stained glass.

 

Just look at that altar.

Just look at that altar.

 

As a life-long Lutheran, I’ve always been fascinated by the ornateness of Catholic churches. Statues, flickering candles, detailed stained glass windows, grand arches and more contrast sharply with the plainness of most Lutheran churches. I often direct questions to Randy, Catholic raised and educated, but a Lutheran now for 35 years. Rituals and tradition are such integral parts of Catholic worship.

 

The stained glass at St. Nicholas is exceptional in its detail, design and workmanship.

The stained glass at St. Nicholas is exceptional in its detail, design and workmanship.

 

Looking toward the balcony and back of the sanctuary.

Looking toward the balcony and back of the sanctuary.

 

More stunning stained glass.

More stunning stained glass.

 

Impressive woodworking on a confessional, one of two.

Impressive woodworking on a confessional, one of two. The other is now a storage space.

 

I found art even on these cards on a rack inside the entry.

I found art even on these cards on a rack inside the entry.

 

My appreciation for aged sanctuaries runs strong. I find in the art of stained glass and sculptures, in the architecture of a church, a certain reverence and peace that comforts and uplifts me. And that, I suppose, is why I am so drawn to churches like St. Nicholas, anchored atop a hill along Church Street in Elko New Market.

 

Art outside St. Nicholas.

Art outside St. Nicholas.

 

TELL ME: Are you drawn to aged churches? Why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

No limit on Minnesota fish fries March 3, 2017

This recent roadside photo I snapped of Mac's Fish & Chips, on the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur in St. Paul, prompted this blog post. Mac serves deep-fried halibut, walleye, cod, shrimp, clams and, yes, chicken, along with a few sides in this former Clark Gas Station building. You can also buy Mac's battered walleye at Target Field in Minneapolis.

This recent roadside photo I snapped of Mac’s Fish & Chips, on the corner of Hamline and Larpenteur in St. Paul, prompted this blog post. Mac’s serves deep-fried halibut, walleye, cod, shrimp, clams and, yes, chicken, along with a few sides in this former Clark Gas Station building. You can also buy Mac’s battered walleye at Target Field in Minneapolis.

IT’S THE SEASON of the Friday Night Fish Fry in Minnesota.

As a life-long Lutheran, I’ve never been part of the Catholic-based tradition of eating fish on Fridays during Lent. But I respect that deep-rooted practice of shunning meat, although I will admit I’ve always considered fish to be meat. Catholics have a different opinion.

A snippet of two side-by-side ads that published on Thursday in the Faribault Daily News.

A snippet of two side-by-side ads for a Friday Fish Fry and for a Friday Lenten Soup Luncheon that published in the Faribault Daily News.

That aside, the beginning of Lent this week kicks off church and community fish fries, not to mention Friday fish specials at restaurants and Knights of Columbus halls. The Twin Cities-based The Catholic Spirit contacted all of the parishes in the St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese for a list of fish fries and Lenten meals. Ninety-one responded. From Our Lady of the Prairie in Belle Plaine to St. Bridget of Sweden in Lindstrom to St. Albert the Great in Minneapolis, congregations will be serving fish aplenty and accompanying side dishes.

Fish Fry details from the St. Bridget of Sweden website.

Fish Fry details from the St. Bridget of Sweden website.

I’ve dined at enough church dinners—Catholic, Lutheran and otherwise—to know that food prepared by the faithful is often some of the best and tastiest. Perhaps it’s time I tried a fish fry.

TELL ME: Have you dined at a church-hosted fish fry? Where? Here’s your opportunity to recommend a fish fry.

FYI: Click here for the list of fish fries and Lenten meals compiled by The Catholic Spirit.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling