Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Connecting a community at a Christmas dinner in a church basement December 13, 2018

A street-side sign welcomes diners to the free Community Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY COMMUNITY HAS ITS HOLIDAY TRADITIONS. There’s comfort in that sameness, in the sense of community constructed from repeating events. Faribault is no exception.

Each December the Paradise Center for the Arts features a holiday play. Every year the Rice County Historical Society hosts A French-Canadian Christmas at the Alexander Faribault House. Every December Shattuck-St. Mary’s School invites the community to A Campus Christmas Walk.

 

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.

Reread that. Friends. Honored Guest. Fellowship. 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.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Tune in as faith radio addresses the issue of domestic violence October 24, 2018

A snippet of a domestic violence poster published by the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod several years ago.

 

October 25 could be a lifeline.

Those words banner the home page of my favorite radio station’s website as I write this post. That would be Twin Cities based faith radio, KTIS. It is my go-to station for music and messages that uplift, comfort and encourage.

On Thursday evening, October 25, KTIS radio personality Donna Cruz leads the station in addressing the topic of domestic violence through stories, information, and uplifting messages of hope and healing. Cruz can empathize. She is a survivor of domestic violence.

Additionally, counselors will take calls from listeners, engaging in conversations that will not be aired.

For this radio station to put the spotlight on this issue during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October is noteworthy. Too often faith communities avoid the topic or approach it in a way that blames the victim, excuses (and/or believes) the abuser and encourages restoration of a relationship.

It is time for that to change, for those within faith communities to acknowledge that domestic abuse can happen to anyone. Anywhere. Anytime. It is time for faith communities to recognize abuse and believe victims. It’s time for faith communities to figure out how to help—and that stretches beyond prayer to education, support and connecting with professionals.

Really, it’s time for all of us to educate ourselves, to start caring, to break the silence, to be the voice, the help, the encouragement for those who need support and hope for a way out of an abusive relationship. It starts with you. It starts with me. Today.

FYI: Please tune in to KTIS at 98.5 FM or online from 7 – 10 p.m. Thursday, October 25.

Please note that some faith communities have tackled the topic of domestic violence and for that I am grateful.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Shipwrecked & blessed at VBS August 13, 2018

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When we feel lonely, worry, struggle, do wrong and feel powerless, Jesus rescues. That was the focus of the Vacation Bible School program, Shipwrecked, at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, last week.

 

ASK A CLASSROOM of two dozen kids to sit still in silence for 60 seconds on a summer evening and the feat seems impossible. But the students did just that, much to my surprise.

It proved a rare minute of stillness in 10 hours of bible stories, crafting, playing, snacking, singing and a short video time during last week’s Vacation Bible School at my church. I volunteered as a crew leader for five kids—four boys and one girl. And, as you might rightly guess, I had a few spirited and active boys. That they all remained still for a single minute impressed me.

 

A bible verse was reinforced during each evening of VBS as part of the Shipwrecked theme.

 

It took me about 30 seconds, though, to still my mind from worry that one of them would act out and disrupt our reflection on Psalm 46:10—Be still, and know that I am God. It’s an important bible verse to remember in today’s high tech and busy world. We all—kids and adults—need to find time for quiet. Put down the phone. Get off social media. Turn off the TV. Disengage from the video game. Just be.

For five evenings, I had the joy of just being with my kids. I call them “my kids” because, by the end of the week, I felt a closeness to them that comes from togetherness. We bonded as we talked, shared, laughed, sang and more. I now know more about them and some about their families. It’s amazing what kids will tell you.

 

One of my boys thanked me for leading our Team 4 Jesus crew with a message in a bottle on the last night of VBS. How sweet was that?

 

I shared my gummy treats at snack time (because I don’t like gummies), asked my kids to sign nine thank you cards (which they did without complaint), parceled out beads for a bracelet written in Morse code… In turn, they opened and closed a drawstring bag for me, held doors for me, slid a chair across the floor for me to sit on… They were lovingly compassionate toward their leader with the broken wrist. Anyone who claims youth today are self-centered don’t know my kids. They showed me such care and love.

The interesting thing about all of this is that I wasn’t even supposed to be with these kids. Initially, I was assigned to be the VBS photographer, a job I’ve done in the past. But then I broke my wrist and had subsequent surgery. There would be no running around with a camera for 10 exhausting hours photographing all aspects of VBS.

I was exactly where I needed to be last week—shipwrecked with this great group of first graders to fourth graders. To praise God with them, to learn about Jesus with them, and, yes, even to be still with them for 60 seconds blessed me.

FYI: Click here to see the VBS program, Shipwrecked, from Group Publishing. Love this publishing company’s VBS curriculum. Next year we’re doing the Roar! program.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

From writing verses to blogging at Warner Press August 6, 2018

The blog home page, with one of my posts on the left.

 

FOR MANY YEARS NOW, I’ve written greeting card verses for Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publisher. I’m not on staff but am among freelancers submitting work for consideration. Lest you think penning verses is easy, it’s not. Originality counts. Quick, try to think of a (Christian) message that hasn’t been written before when wishing someone a happy birthday.

That all aside, I blogged earlier this year about writing greeting card verses and emailed a link to my editor at Warner Press. She asked to share the post, which eventually landed on the not-for-profit’s blog. I looked at the blog and noted a need for fresh content. Then I pitched my blogging skills, soon landing a spot among a team of bloggers.

 

Another post I penned.

 

Now, months into this freelance work, all is going well. Sometimes I generate ideas. Sometimes I get assignments. My experience as a book reviewer has aided me in writing product features for new releases. But mostly, my life experiences have woven into the blogging I do for Warner. I share my stories, adding a personal depth and warmth that connects to readers. My writing comes from a faith-based perspective. Truly this is an ideal fit for me, my writing skills and my values.

 

Both are my posts.

 

Please check out the posts I’ve written—from book features to posts about tech-free summer activities for kids to Father’s Day and more—by clicking here. There’s lots of great and informative content from other writers, too. Also check out the church supplies, kids’ books, ministry resources, boxed greeting cards and more by clicking here. I’m blessed and grateful to freelance for a company like Warner Press.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The kindness of a faith community July 20, 2018

 

CHOCOLATE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER, right? Or at least it helps.

Chocolate lifted my mood recently following the death of my friend and pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva. He died June 9 in Sweden from complications related to cancer. His unexpected death while traveling with family hit me, and our congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, hard.

 

 

From across town, First English Lutheran Church reached out, gifting Trinity with a basket of hugs and kisses. Of the Hershey’s chocolate variety. The congregation’s act of Christian love and sympathy touched me and many others. How thoughtful and kind and caring.

 

 

Likewise, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church sent a plant to honor Pastor Nirva at a celebration of life service last weekend. What a blessing to live in a town where such grace is extended to a faith family grieving the loss of its senior pastor.

Thank you, First English and Our Savior’s.

 

 

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In this season of ongoing grief, I hold hope July 18, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Valley Grove Cemetery.

 

THESE PAST SIX MONTHS have marked, for me, an unprecedented, extended period of grief.

Jan. Carl. Harold. Elaine. Deb. Michael. And, yesterday, news of Ruth’s death. Whether family by blood, by faith and/or by friendship, each of these individuals held a place in my heart. I grieve their deaths.

But I grieve in hope, because I am a woman of faith. I believe in heaven, in eternal life. Therein lies my comfort.

On Saturday, that hope rose in familiar hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” at the celebration of life service for my friend Michael, also my (senior) pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. He died on June 9 from complications related to cancer, diagnosed only months earlier. He died while traveling in Sweden, far from his Minnesota home.

 

A snippet of Jesus’ face in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

At the service, Michael’s pastor friend the Rev. Mark Noren advised us all to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your paths straight.” We repeated those words aloud from Proverbs 5. Words of strength and promise in a difficult time. He urged us to love our neighbors, to be there for others in prayer, support, encouragement and companionship.

I witnessed that care throughout the service. When a Sudanese choir of six sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in an upbeat tempo of unrestrained joy, I observed one singer gently wipe away the tears of another with her open palms. Such tenderness.

I watched, too, as a friend leaned into Michael’s youngest daughter, shoulder to shoulder, compassion in the closeness of two grieving young women.

More compassion came in the caring words of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Minnesota South District President, the Rev. Dean Nadasdy, who spoke of the mutual love between pastor and congregation.

 

The Good Shepherd stained glass window at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I felt that love in a tangible way at the visitation when I grasped the handle of the shepherd’s staff Michael received last year at a celebration of his 25 years in the ministry. At that event, I was honored to read a poem Michael wrote. He held an MA in English with a focus on poetry. We both loved language and words and penned poetry. He excelled in preaching. And he excelled in humor with a dry wit that often caught me by surprise. I marveled at his quick comebacks, his ability to unleash a humorous line with seemingly no effort. It was a gift.

But he sucked at gift-wrapping. Forgive me if you find that word inappropriate to connect to a pastor. Last December I was paired with Michael as our bible study group wrapped Christmas gifts for the Angel Tree ministry at our church. My efforts to teach him how to properly fold paper and wrap a gift failed. I finally gave up and suggested he dispense and attach the tape. I think he was relieved. Oh, how we laughed as we wrapped those gifts, extending love to our neighbors in need in the community.

I shall hold dear the memories of a man I valued not only as a pastor but as a friend. Life will always bring us grief as long as we choose to love. I accept that part of loving. For I have hope. Always hope.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling.

 

Aunt Elaine May 16, 2018

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That’s Elaine in the middle, between two of my other aunts. I took this photo at the 2014 Kletscher Family Reunion. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

EVERY CHRISTMAS I COULD COUNT on a handwritten letter from my Aunt Elaine updating me on the latest news in her ever-growing family. At last count, 47 great grandchildren. But those missives will come no more. My godmother died Monday afternoon at the age of 95.

Now I have only memories of the second oldest daughter of my grandparents, of the woman who outlived her husband, two children and seven siblings (two of them infants). She was strong. Tough. Stubborn. Determined. Whatever word you want to use, my aunt held her own in life. Her love of family, her faith and her get-up-and-go defined her. Elaine still lived in her own home and as most recently as several weeks ago delivered food to her sister-in-law after the passing of Elaine’s brother Harold.

I grew up in a close-knit extended family that gathered often to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. We all lived near each other, either in Redwood or Yellow Medicine counties on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. I especially liked going to Aunt Elaine and Uncle Glenn’s house because then I could see Joyce, a favorite cousin born months after me. I also loved their house, a big old farmhouse of fine craftsmanship on a farm with a creaking windmill.

 

Homemade dill pickles (similar to the ones Elaine made) sold at the September 2015 Faribault Farmers’ Market and published here for illustration purposes only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2015.

 

Beyond that, I selfishly couldn’t wait for the lunch Aunt Elaine would serve at the end of an evening of visiting. She made the best dill pickles. There was talk that well water made all the difference. Maybe. Maybe not. But I believe it was the hands that nurtured and picked those cucumbers and dill and then crafted them into dill pickles that made them legendary within our extended family.

 

 

Elaine was also known for her chocolate mayonnaise cake. I found the recipe (under her oldest daughter’s name) for that moist cake in the Peace Lutheran Centennial Cookbook, 1896 – 1996, Echo, Minnesota. Elaine served as a co-chair of the Cookbook Committee. I’m not surprised. She was always doing something for her church, community, family and others in general, including work as a practical nurse at the start of WW II. It’s part of our family legacy—this care and compassion and service.

 

Not the same cake Elaine made, but similar. Used here for illustration only. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Days before her death, Elaine sampled that chocolate cake one last time after a granddaughter baked the cake and brought it, still warm, to her dying grandmother at the hospital. Elaine ate a few bites and then reminded her family of just how much she loved sweets. I love that story. I love that story because it makes me laugh. In laughter I am reminded that death, though it brings sadness, also brings laughter in the memories. I will always hold sweet memories of my dear aunt, my dear godmother. She was a strong woman of faith, loving her family, her community and the prairie place she called home. And now she has reached her final home: heaven. That, too, gives me joy in the presence of grief.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling