Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

When Our Sisters Are Hurting October 20, 2019

THOSE OF YOU who’ve followed me for awhile recognize that I typically steer away from issues-related topics. By nature, I’m a peacemaker, quiet, unassuming and not inclined to create controversy. I like calm, not discord.

That said, I have written, and will continue to write, here on several issues about which I feel strongly. That includes domestic abuse and violence. And because October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I’d like to share a blog post I wrote for Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publishing company. I am the paid blog coordinator for Warner.

Aptly titled “When Our Sisters Are Hurting,” my post tackles the topic from a Christian perspective. It’s important that faith communities recognize, acknowledge and react to domestic abuse and violence rather than ignore or excuse both. Please take time to read my post by clicking here. I’m no expert. But I know enough to share my insights in what I hope is a meaningful and valuable post.

No matter who you are—whether a person of faith or not—please take time this month to remember the victims and survivors of domestic abuse and violence. Determine to educate yourself, to support and help those in abusive relationships, and to stand strong for your sisters who are hurting.

FYI: Click here to learn more about activities this month to raise awareness about domestic abuse and violence.

 

Beautiful Kay. Photo from Kim at My Inner Chick.

 

And then click here to read a powerful blog by Duluth resident Kim Sisto-Robinson whose sister, Kay, was murdered by her husband on May 26, 2010.

 

I’m also remembering these women today:

 

Faribault Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism employee Barb Larson, murdered by her ex-husband in her work place on December 23, 2016.

 

Margie Brown Holland and her unborn daughter, Olivia, murdered by Margie’s husband on March 7, 2013, in Apple Valley. Margie grew up in Faribault; her dad lived for awhile across the street from me.

 

Becky Kasper, 19, murdered by her ex-boyfriend in Arizona on April 20, 2013. Becky was from Northfield, Minnesota. I heard her father, Dan, speak about his daughter in 2016. Click here to read my post about that powerful talk.

 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Appreciating the history & beauty of Valley Grove on a September afternoon September 18, 2019

A horse-drawn wagon takes visitors through the prairie at Valley Grove with the Big Woods in the distance. When fall colors change, the treeline is spectacular.

 

I CONSIDER IT ONE of the most scenic spots in Rice County. A location that presents a sweeping vista of the countryside from atop a hill adjacent to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park. Autumn, especially, at Valley Grove offers a visual delight.

 

Folks gather in the restored 1862 stone church for cake, hot dogs, beverages and conversation.

 

On Sunday afternoon, in hot and humid temps that felt anything but autumn-like, I attended the annual Valley Grove Country Social hosted by the Valley Grove Preservation Society.

 

The beautiful and well-preserved historic churches of Valley Grove as photographed from the cemetery.

 

The group aims to preserve and maintain this place on the National Register of Historic Sites. Here, on this land claimed by early Norwegian immigrants, two churches (built in 1862 and 1894) stand next to a cemetery and next to the prairie.

 

An historic photo and flowers grace a window ledge inside the stone church.

 

These crosses, crafted from Valley Grove burr oaks, were on sale.

 

One of six sets of historic sconces to be installed in the stone church as preservation efforts continue.

 

To visit here is to feel a deep appreciation for the history of this place and those who chose this site to build houses of worship.

 

Hutenanny, a Northfield-based traditional Nordic music group, entertains those attending the Valley Grove Country Social.

 

Making music with Hutenanny.

 

A sing-along inside the wood-frame church.

 

To attend the country social is to experience history—through music,

 

Donna Johnson of the mother-daughter duo Nordic Arts demonstrates the Norwegian art of rosemaling.

 

These sisters try rosemaling using crayons rather than paint.

 

An example of Nordic Arts’ art.

 

art,

Hewing a log next to the wood-frame church.

 

demonstrations, historical talks,

 

Learning how to make a rope.

 

Rope-making up close.

 

Kids especially loved doing laundry the old-fashioned way.

 

hands-on activities and more.

 

The Valley Grove churches.

 

I always feel such a peace at Valley Grove. As if the world of today exists somewhere distant.

 

A simple floral still-life on a windowsill in the wood-frame church.

 

It’s good for the soul to take time on a sunny Sunday afternoon in September to step back in time. Not necessarily to idealize life then—because it was hard. But to gather with others in the countryside far from traffic and distractions and the noise of modern-day life.

 

I noticed these dolls lying on the ground behind the old stone church. So fitting for the day.

 

To appreciate simpler times

 

Such beauty in this floral bouquet adorning a window ledge in the wooden church.

 

and simple beauty.

 

Valley Grove wildflowers at prairie’s edge.

 

To gather under the burr oaks, to walk the prairie, to study tombstones, to sing in the same church where early settlers sang, to watch youngsters craft ropes and walk on stilts. And so much more.

 

Built in 1862.

 

I appreciate the preservationists who understand the personal and historic importance of Valley Grove, of not allowing these churches to fall into disrepair like too many other shuttered country churches. They clearly value the land, the efforts of their forefathers, the importance of this place. Still today.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Elsie September 3, 2019

Elsie Keller, right, works in the kitchen at St. John’s Germanfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

THERE ARE PEOPLE you meet in life who make a profound impact. Not on a grand, public scale. But upon the people they meet, the communities in which they live and serve simply by the way they live and serve. Humbly. Exuding kindness and friendliness. Living a life of service, of giving to others. Elsie Keller fits that description.

I don’t recall exactly when I met Elsie. But I know where. At St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, just down the road from the rural Nerstrand home where she lived her entire life. Ninety-three years.

 

Elsie making German potato salad, Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2013.

 

Inside the church kitchen, that’s Elsie standing next to her stool at a Lenten Soup Luncheon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Elsie next to The Last Supper painting given to St. John’s in honor of her husband, Arnold. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I’ve attended many functions at St. John’s from the annual Germanfest to Lenten soup luncheons to ice cream and pie socials to the yearly The Last Supper Drama. And every time I set foot inside that aged limestone church, Elsie was there. Most often behind the scenes—plating pie, stirring German potato salad, operating spotlights and much more.

 

Elsie poses with family at the 2017 Germanfest. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2017.

 

If I didn’t spot her, I sought her out to hug her diminutive frame, to see her sweet smile, to catch up a bit. She was that kind of woman. The grandmother you miss. The mother who lives too distant. The friend who cares. The churchgoer who lives her faith in service to her church and to God. Singing. Coordinating Vacation Bible School for 51 years. Teaching Sunday School for more than five decades.

 

Elsie, hard at work in the Pie Room. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

A member of St. John’s Youth Fellowship waits, plate in hand, for a slice of pumpkin pie scooped up by Elsie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

By the end of the day, Elsie had blisters on her hand from cutting pies. Here she scoops a slice of apple pie. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

To know Elsie was to love her. I loved her smile, her demeanor, her humility, her kindness, her devotion to church and family, her work ethic. I remember, especially, the time I found her working in the St. John’s pie room sliding pieces of homemade pie onto plates with her gnarled arthritic hands.

 

Elsie takes a break from kitchen work to enjoy a bowl of ham and bean soup. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2014.

 

Back at the farm, Elsie still gardened. She canned green beans on Thursday evening. The night before her death.

 

Elsie in The Pie Room, a space so small that this petite woman can barely fit her stool between a counter and refrigerator. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2011.

 

I still cannot believe my friend is gone, even though she was nearly 94 years old. There are people in life who seem ageless, whom you always expect will be there. For me, that was Elsie. If only you could have known her. For those of you who did, you understand why I will miss her. Her smile, her kindness, her positive and giving spirit…

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The sacred art of Holy Week & of Easter April 21, 2019

Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane shortly before his crucifixion. I photographed this window at Vang Lutheran Church, rural Dennison. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

IN MY YEARS of photographing churches, most in rural Minnesota, I’ve grown to appreciate stained glass windows. They prevail in country churches.

 

Jesus’ crucifixion as depicted in a stained glass window inside Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

All tell stories, most biblical. I admire this visual art, this way of sharing scripture and faith that connects beyond words.

 

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church, filled with stained glass windows. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

As sunlight streams through the colored pieces of glass, that bold beauty causes eyes to land on the art, to focus on whatever the artist has chosen to depict. Holiness. Reverence. Hope. Eternal life.

 

The women and angel outside the empty tomb on the risen Lord as interpreted on a stained glass window in Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I sorted through my photo files selecting specific stained glass window images that portray today. Easter.

 

This shows a snippet of the center stained glass window in a trio above the altar at Trinity Lutheran Church, Wanamingo, Minnesota. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

May you see in these stained glass art photos the story of Holy Week and the reason I celebrate Easter—the resurrection of Christ.

 

A photo of Christ’s face from a stained glass window in my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

A most blessed and happy Easter to each of you, dear friends.

 

NOTE: As I wrote this post Monday afternoon, I heard breaking news of the devastating fire at the Notre Dame Cathedral. While I’ve never been there, my heart breaks for this loss of a house of worship, for the works of art and history and heritage therein. Such a loss causes me to value even more the stained glass windows of the churches I’ve photographed. 

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Holy Week reflections April 19, 2019

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A crown of thorns (similar to that worn by Jesus on the cross) used in a Stations of the Cross event at my church, Trinity Lutheran, Faribault.

 

FOR CHRISTIANS LIKE ME, Holy Week presents a time of deep reflection as I consider the betrayal, suffering, death by crucifixion, burial and then resurrection of Jesus.

Rather than rewrite what I’ve already written on the topic, I direct you to my post, “Reflecting on Holy Week,” published Tuesday on the Warner Press blog. I work as the blog coordinator and a blogger for this Indiana-based Christian publishing company.

As you read my words, may you, too, reflect on the significance of Holy Week. Sadness mingles with joy as I consider all Christ has done for me.

Click here to read my thoughts as published on the Warner Press blog.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A Holy Week tradition at a rural Minnesota church April 12, 2019

St. John’s members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John’s.

 

FOR NEARLY 60 YEARS NOW, a small country church in southern Minnesota has started Holy Week with a drama centered on Jesus’ disciples and their relationship with him. It is a powerful presentation that never fails to move me, although I’ve seen The Last Supper Drama multiple times.

 

Craig Keller has been the long-time drama organist, playing the same music every year. The script and music remain unchanged in nearly 60 years. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The original script and music remain unchanged through the decades. Only the actors change, often alternating performance years.

 

St. John’s 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

In the darkness of St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault, the 12 disciples seat themselves at a long table fronting the altar. The scene replicates Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper painting, minus Jesus. An empty chair draped in white cloth represents Jesus in the St. John’s version.

 

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

The annual Palm Sunday evening event begins Holy Week in a reverent, reflective and worshipful way.

 

 

I am grateful to this rural congregation for this faith gift. This drama focuses my thoughts on Christ as I remember his betrayal, suffering, death, burial and resurrection. Through the voices of those role-playing disciples, I connect on a personal level to these followers of Christ. That makes this drama especially powerful and effective.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Promo from St. John’s Facebook page

 

Redefining luck as blessings March 17, 2019

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Several years ago friends posted shamrocks in my yard on St. Patrick’s Day. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo March 2015.

 

BECAUSE ST. PATRICK’S DAY falls on a Sunday this year, I feel inclined to share with you a post I wrote for Indiana-based Christian publisher Warner Press. I’ve been blogging for Warner for nearly a year now and became the blog coordinator there in January.

This opportunity with Warner Press has blessed me in multiple ways by growing my writing ministry, faith family and personal faith and also financially.

As part of my job, I develop blog post ideas with the marketing team, then assign or write those posts. I assigned myself a St. Patrick’s Day blog post that emphasizes blessings over luck, a word often associated with this Irish celebration.

So in the spirit of the Irish, even though I’m 100 percent German, I invite you to click here and read my post, Redefining Luck as Blessings. Feel free to comment. Scroll down a bit and you will find the comments section.

And to you, my dear readers, thank you for blessing me with your presence here, for appreciating my blog, for connecting and for creating a sense of community that I value. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling