Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Christmas wishes December 23, 2019

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An historic Nativity in Faribault (edited photo).

 

TO YOU, MY DEAR READERS, a most blessed Christmas! However you celebrate, I wish for you a sense of peace, moments of joy.

I recognize that we all face challenges, that life can overwhelm, that holidays can be difficult. There’s no skirting the realities of life stressors.

But this week, as I celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, I hold hope high. May you, too.

Audrey

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Inside an historic Faribault church along Fourth Avenue December 18, 2019

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.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

All about community at annual Christmas dinner in Faribault December 16, 2019

 

IT IS, IN EVERY SENSE of the word, a community dinner.

 

 

From the moment I arrived at the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church annual Community Christmas Dinner late Sunday morning in Faribault, I felt welcomed. Welcomed first by the door-holder/greeter dressed like an authentic Minnesotan in winter coat, boots and warm bomber hat. I didn’t envy his job on this cold December day. But he greeted me with a smile, commenting on Randy’s kindness in dropping me off at the door per my desire to avoid walking on snow and ice.

 

 

 

 

Down a flight of stairs, David and Jack greeted me, David being a Vietnam vet and Jack his service dog. A free-will offering at the dinner benefited the Northfield-based nonprofit Believet Canine Service Partners, which trains service dogs for veterans. I thought it particularly effective to have a vet and his dog at the dinner.

 

Volunteers serve a generous Christmas dinner.

 

 

Cupcake servers delivered the dessert to diners.

 

Once shed of my own winter garb, I waited for Randy and then, together, we walked through the doorway into the basement dining hall, already filling with dinner guests. There another greeter welcomed us and directed us to find a seat while waiting to get in the buffet line. Randy found a place next to Dale, a Wabasso High School classmate of mine, and his wife. Dale lives near Faribault and works in town. It’s always nice to occasionally run into him. Later, over dinner, we caught up and chatted about the class reunion he attended, and I missed, in September.

 

The scene outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault, on Sunday.

 

Before I got my meal, though, I roamed taking photos. But not before I stopped to say hi to Greg, a friend and pastor of this church. He stood near the buffet line greeting guests. Yet another warm welcome.

 

Refilling the roaster with chicken.

 

A short while later Randy and I stood in line next to the mayor of Faribault, familiar with my blog, he said. I’m always thankful for those who appreciate the work I do here on Minnesota Prairie Roots. I try, in many ways, to build a welcoming sense of community through my writing and photography.

 

 

 

A print of the Minnesota state photograph, “Grace,” graces the basement dining hall, foreground. It hung near the table where I ate.

 

As servers scooped chicken breast, meatballs, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, carrots and a roll onto my plate, I thanked them. It takes a lot of work to put on a dinner that feeds around 400 people in my community. The serving portions were especially generous—too much for me. I later invited Randy to eat the remainder of my food, including half of a carrot cake cupcake that, although delicious, I simply could not finish.

 

The assortment of cupcakes led me to Cupcake Central.

 

Cupcake Central.

 

Enjoying a cupcake, the guy with the personalized tie.

 

While Randy continued eating, I looked for more photo ops, chatted with a man sporting a tie that featured photos of his grandchildren. He has a personalized tie collection numbering in the hundreds and used the photo ties as conversation starters while working as a speech pathologist. Oh, the things you learn when you pause to engage others. It’s all about community.

 

 

Not to be missed, the important dishwashing crew.

 

Then I popped into the kitchen.

 

These women wait for their ride.

 

I paused also to chat with a pastor I know from a rural church. Then another friend. More community connections. I could have talked longer. But Randy and I had an afternoon engagement to wrap Christmas gifts for the Angel Tree Project at our church, Trinity Lutheran. So we grabbed out coats and headed up to the sanctuary for a quick look at this beautiful, historic church. (See those photos in a future post.)

 

I took this photo through the window as the greeter helped a guest into a car.

 

But then I spotted one more photo op—the greeter helping two elderly women to a car pulled curbside. He asked for my help holding the church door. I leaned into the cold and held the door. Because this is what it’s all about. Being there for one another in this place called community.

© Copyright 2019 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