Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Palm Sunday thoughts & messages from Minnesota April 5, 2020

St. John’s 50th presentation of “The Last Supper Drama” in 2012. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

PALM SUNDAY. It’s a noted day in the church year as we remember Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem followed this Holy Week by The Last Supper, the betrayal of Jesus and then His crucifixion. And, a week from today, we celebrate His resurrection on Easter morning.

Typically this Palm Sunday evening, Randy and I would head out of town to a country church to watch “The Last Supper Drama” at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, rural Faribault. This would have marked the 58th year St. John’s folks present this depiction of The Last Supper, the final time Jesus gathered with all His disciples.

But this year, because of COVID-19, there will be no drama.

 

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

 

Attending this drama has become tradition for us. And for many. The script, penned long ago by a St. John’s pastor, remained unchanged through the decades. I’ve always appreciated this mini-play in which each disciple speaks of his personal relationship with Christ. It gave me a new perspective.

I appreciated, too, the time invested in bringing this message to those of us gathered at sunset in this small country church. There’s something incredibly comforting in the sameness of it all—in the same narrative and monologues, the same music, the same costumes, the same fake beards (for those that don’t grow real ones), the same props, the same movement of the creaky spotlight… Only the actors vary from year to year.

In a time when we are all struggling, I reflect on those “The Last Supper Drama” presentations at St. John’s with gratitude. I can draw on memories of those messages to uplift me on this Palm Sunday.

Click here to see past posts I’ve written about “The Last Supper Drama.”

 

Photographed a week ago at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

MORE MESSAGES

Last week I photographed this message posted outside Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. It’s always interesting to see what local churches post on their outdoor signage. Words can be powerful.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MORE WORDS

I invite you to read my message posted earlier this week on the Warner Press blog. Click here to read “From Darkness to Light.” I lead the blogging ministry at this Indiana-based Christian publisher and am humbled to use my writing skills to help others during these trying times.

Many blessings to you and those you love today and in the Holy Week ahead and beyond. Be well, my friends.

(Disclaimer: I am paid for my work with Warner Press.)

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Five people, two dogs, no kids April 1, 2020

 

Ducks swim in the Cannon River at North Alexander Park, Faribault.

 

NOW, MORE THAN EVER, the desire to get outdoors, to stretch my legs, to connect with nature, to escape all things COVID-19 related intensifies. I need the mental break, the sense of calm that prevails when I distance myself from the current crisis.

I live in a city of some 24,000 with an extensive recreational trail and park system and a sprawling nature center. We can spread out within city limits or quickly drive into the countryside for a rural escape.

 

Walking the dog along the trail in North Alexander Park.

 

On Saturday morning, before a day of rain began, Randy and I drove to North Alexander Park on the other side of Faribault to walk the Northern Link Trail connecting with the Straight River Trail. The paved path hugs the Cannon River, curving past trees, playgrounds, picnic shelters, and clusters of ducks and geese.

 

A section of the trail passes through a space populated by trees, and birds.

 

I enjoy this section of trail for several reasons—the river, the waterfowl, the diversity in open and wooded spaces, and the minimal number of people walking or biking here. It’s always been that way, even pre-coronavirus. While the trail is typically uncrowded, the park itself is usually busy. Teens shoot hoops. Families picnic. Athletes play baseball and softball. Kids use the playgrounds. But not now. Not during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

Fences block picnic shelters.

 

A broad view of the now off-limits playground.

 

Stay off the playground.

 

With a “Stay at Home MN” executive order and social distancing in effect, park amenities can no longer be used. Orange snow fences wrap picnic shelters and playgrounds. When I saw those, I stopped. Sadness swept over me to see these places, where families often gather, where kids swing and slide and climb, closed. This is our new reality. Intellectually, I understand. Mentally, I rebel.

 

In my mind’s eye, I see a little one swinging.

 

A playground near the Cannon River.

 

No sliding here…

 

I want to hear the laughter of children. I want to see kids run and slide. And swing sticks at pinatas during family celebrations, as I have during past walks here.

 

Geese line the bank of the Cannon River in North Alexander Park.

 

But on this Saturday I saw none of that. Heard none of that. Instead I observed only three other adults (besides Randy and me) and two dogs. And I heard the warning honks of nesting geese, breaking the morning silence.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Hunting for teddy bears March 31, 2020

The 30th anniversary edition of Michael Rosen’s book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, published in 2019.

 

WE’RE GOING ON A BEAR HUNT. We’re going to catch a big one.

Those words from the 1989 children’s picture book, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt written by Michael Rosen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury, are inspiring the latest global movement unifying the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. Teddy Bear Hunts.

Worldwide, families are searching for teddy bears in windows during walks about their neighborhoods and communities. Minnesota Public Radio reports in its March 30 Daily Dose of Sweetness series that Rochester, home to the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, is already heavily involved in the Teddy Bear Hunts. My friend Jackie, a nurse at Mayo, confirms that.

 

A teddy bear sighting in the window of a house at the corner of Fourth Avenue and Division Street in Faribault.

 

Here in Faribault, I haven’t searched much for bears, only watched for them while out and about on Saturday to pick up groceries and to later walk a city trail. Randy spotted one bear, in a house window at the corner of Division Street and Fourth Avenue.

 

A close-up of the Fourth Avenue teddy bear with a cross above it.

 

I find these hunts a great idea to distract kids, and grown-ups, from the scary realities of the current health crisis. Shifting our focus onto something fun seems vital to our mental health. I often wonder how much our kids are picking up on our concerns, on the seriousness of the situation. When I asked my eldest awhile ago what she’s told her 4-year-old about COVID-19, my daughter said only that “a lot of people are sick.” Isabelle can understand that. I’m thankful my grandson, at a year old, is too young to comprehend any of this.

For us grown-ups, movements like Teddy Bear Hunts help us cope by shifting our attention to engaging the youngest among us. Kids have always held that ability to refocus our minds, to make us smile, to remind us of life’s simple joys. Like reading a book and going on a bear hunt in the middle of a global pandemic.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Simple, yet powerful: The paper heart March 30, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

IN A WORLD THAT TODAY needs all the love we can give one another, the simple act of cutting out and posting paper hearts in windows is spreading the love. Right here in my Minnesota community.

 

In the window of a house along Second Avenue NW in Faribault.

 

While en route to the grocery store and to a local park to walk a recreational trail on Saturday, I spotted paper hearts. In the front window of a house. On the windows of a bank. And covering doors and windows at Rice County Government Services. Those bright displays made me smile.

 

Hearts cover the doors leading into the Rice County Social Services building in Faribault.

 

I had no idea then that this heart art is part of a movement, spread on social media via “A World of Hearts” and “Hearts in the Window” Facebook pages. A woman from Bismarck, North Dakota, started #aworldofhearts. And another from British Columbia started the second group.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots photo.

 

What a great idea. To uplift spirits. To give joy. To connect people in a time when we are all social distancing and staying home due to COVID-19. To spread the love via a world-wide movement. We need this sense of togetherness.

TELL ME: Have you seen heart art in windows in your community? What’s your reaction to this movement? Are you, or will you, join this effort?

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Sunday thoughts about worry, connecting & faith March 29, 2020

On the Trinity Lutheran Church Facebook page, you will find daily inspirational bible verses such as this one posted last week.

 

I TEND TO BE AM a worrier. I overthink things. I consider all angles and possibilities. Maybe my journalism persona is partly to blame. Lessons learned in college classes and in my days of news reporting called for balanced, unbiased reporting. Consider all sides of a story.

But, in all honesty, my personality is such that I ruminate. I don’t particularly like change. I like to feel some sense of control. I expect that applies to many of you. Especially now.

These are days that challenge us in so many ways. The uncertainty. The fears. Separation from loved ones. The reality of COVID-19 touching us personally. Our families. Our friends.

Now, more than ever, I rely on my faith. To calm me. To give me hope. To reassure me.

This morning I listened, for the second week in a row, to worship services online, live-streamed from my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault. This was a gospel service with violin and piano music and old familiar hymns. Volunteers and staff practiced social distancing during that service. Not to worry.

As I listened to the music, the sermon and Scripture read, and prayed, I remembered the pastor’s opening words that we can still be “spiritually present with one another.” Yes, we can. I miss my faith family, people who mean a great deal to me. People who have supported me during really difficult times. People who have celebrated with me. People whom I care for deeply.

I care about you, too.

 

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

 

While listening to the songs played today in the Trinity worship service, I jotted down these especially meaningful snippets:

O Mighty God, great is your love.

All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to thee.

Let trials turn us not aside.

In the children’s message and pastor’s sermon, we were encouraged to “go” (without “going”) and do what we can—even in this time of isolation—to spread the love of Jesus. Make cards. Call people. Connect.

 

Vintage art from the Trinity radio room. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

We all have the power to do exactly that. From our homes. Even when ordered to stay home, to social-distance, to isolate, we can support and encourage each other. Be there for one another. Work together through the fear, worry and anxiety. I turn to Scripture, too, to uplift, encourage and give me peace. I pray.

And I write, because writing is a way to help myself and others through the COVID-19 crisis. Click here to read my latest Warner Press blog post, “Past Plagues Remind Us of God’s Power & Compassion,” published as part of our new Sunday “Scriptures of Hope” series.

These all help me deal in these difficult days… Be well, my friends.

PLEASE SHARE WITH ME ways you are connecting with others, dealing with your personal concerns, etc. I’d like to hear. We can all learn from on another. Watch this week for posts showing ways people in my community are sharing the love.

FYI: To hear this morning’s Trinity worship service and more, click here, for Trinity Radio and Video YouTube videos.

Disclaimer: I am paid for my work as the Warner Press blog coordinator. 

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Into the woods March 25, 2020

Hiking at River Bend Nature Center on Sunday afternoon, March 22.

 

THE NEED TO GET AWAY from it all—the barrage of COVID-19 thoughts and media reports—and the need to exit the house brought Randy and me to River Bend Nature Center in Faribault on Sunday afternoon.

The weather still feels very much like winter here in southern Minnesota with a cold wind, temps in the 30s and 40s, and patches of snow remaining in shaded areas or unmelted piles. So we dressed warmly, pulled on gloves and snugged on stocking caps before setting out.

 

Social distancing of vehicles in the parking lot at River Bend Nature Center on March 22.

 

As our vehicle rounded the curve and descended the hill into the heart of River Bend, I noticed something unusual in the parking lot. Social distancing. Most vehicles were parked every other space, with more vehicles than usual.

 

The entrance to the interpretative center, now closed.

 

I grabbed my camera, photographed the parking lot and then started downhill toward the trail-side center, eventually angling right toward the Turtle Pond. Along the way we met clusters of people, whom I assumed to be families as no social distancing was happening. Most, in passing, dropped into single file lines to distance themselves from others like us. I found myself fully aware of the space between us and other hikers on paths not always wide enough for the suggested six feet of separation.

 

This couple kept their distance from us, as they should have.

 

At one point I stepped to a side look-out and waited while other walkers passed, thus avoiding the too-close contact. I noticed, too, a young couple cut through the woods with their dog rather than come near us.

It was an odd feeling, this conscious effort to keep at a distance. It didn’t feel right. I tried to make up for that by greeting others with a smile and a “hello.” We can still be friendly.

 

I saw moss on rock piles and on fallen logs.

 

Randy starts across the bridge over the iced over Turtle Pond.

 

The process of collecting sap is underway at River Bend, pandemic or not.

 

As Randy and I walked, I scanned the woods for signs of spring and that seemed mostly fruitless. Ice still sealed the pond. Icy snow still covered sections of trails. Dried leaves still clung to trees while carpets of green moss and maple sap collection bags hinted of spring.

 

I often lag behind Randy because I stop to take photos.

 

Yet, I felt grateful to be outdoors, healthy and walking beside Randy.

 

Our friend’s daughter had a captive audience to watch her show off her biking skills.

 

We stopped once to talk with a friend who was out with her two young daughters. The 4 ½ -year-old showed off her bike riding skills. And for a moment or ten, we three adults forgot about the global pandemic and focused on the joy of watching a preschooler who recently mastered biking without assistance. The world seemed normal in that small space of time. Except for the awareness that we needed to stay six feet apart.

 

There on the prairie grass, an unexpected find.

 

Then we continued on, eventually crossing the windswept prairie. There Randy spotted a fuzzy caterpillar and we wondered aloud about its early appearance in these still too cold days of March.

 

Looking across the prairie pond.

 

After a brief stop at the prairie pond, we decided we were too cold to continue on. We turned back toward the interpretative center—now shuttered to the public—and aimed for the parking lot. But in getting there, we passed a group of young people tossing a football. Had it been any other day in any other time, I likely would not have thought much of it. But I found myself wondering, “Should they really be doing that?”

 

Trails remain open, but the interpretative center is closed.

 

These are unsettling times when even a walk into the woods to enjoy nature feels anything but normal.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

How faith families are adapting, connecting, reaching out… March 22, 2020

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

ON A TYPICAL SUNDAY MORNING, I would be awake by 6:45 am, showering, grabbing breakfast, preparing to leave for 8 am church services.

This morning I awoke a half hour later, followed the regular Sunday morning routine, then sat down at my computer to watch live-streaming of the Trinity Lutheran, Faribault, church service. I expect many of you did the same—utilizing technology for worship.

 

The original microphone used in 1948 for Trinity’s radio broadcasts on KDHL radio, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Trinity has had a video ministry for years. And a radio ministry for more than seventy. I am thankful those outreach ministries were already in place, making it much easier to connect with people during this global pandemic.

Difficult times call for us to be creative and to adapt. Our family ministry leader also brought Sunday School to our kids in a YouTube video. Click here to view that.

 

From the Trinity, Faribault, Facebook page.

 

During the past week, I’ve worked, from my home, with a team that’s expanding Trinity’s ministry via social media. Daily uplifting and encouraging scripture has been added to our Facebook page. And our pastor is penning daily devotionals, which I am editing and proofing. I’m happy to use my talents to help.

At Warner Press, an Indiana-based Christian publishing company where I am the paid blog coordinator and a blogger, we’ve launched a weekly series, “Scriptures of Hope,” to encourage and uplift people during this COVID-19 crisis. I encourage you to check out that first post by clicking here. Members of our Warner Press family selected bible verses that carry them through difficult times, sometimes adding their personal insights. We are committed to doing our part, through our blogging ministry, to bring hope.

I’d like to hear from you. How are your faith families connecting and continuing their ministries? Together we can learn from and support each other. Now, more than ever, we need to share our ideas and to connect.

FYI: Click here to reach the Trinity Radio and Video website to view today’s worship service and the Sunday School video (click on YouTube).

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling