Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A Christmas message from Fourth Avenue UMC December 18, 2020

Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault.

BEAUTIFUL, HISTORIC CHURCHES ABOUND in Faribault. I’ve been inside many, but not all. I appreciate the craftsmanship, the materials, the art, the essence of aged houses of worship.

I appreciate, too, the deep meaning these churches hold for many. The baptisms. The weddings. The confirmations. The funerals. And regular worship. Plus those most blessed of days to celebrate. Christmas and Easter.

For me, church is also about community and family and love and care and so much more. Above all, faith.

Front doors to the church feature paper hearts to show love and support during the pandemic.

Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church has, like many other churches in Faribault, brought the community together, most notably at its annual Community Christmas Dinner. That didn’t happen this year due to COVID-19.

Pastor Greg Ciesluk has focused his community outreach this December on coordinating a virtual concert, “Christmas in Faribault 2020,” which is showing at 7 pm Saturday, December 19, on YouTube and local community television. I’m honored to be part of this project via contributing still photos pulled from my blog posts.

I first met Greg in the fall of 2018 when he joined a team working to clear fallen limbs, trees, branches and debris from my friend’s yard following a tornado. Greg lived nearby and showed up, as good neighbors do, to help. Randy and I have been friends with him since.

A COVID-19 Christmas message from Fourth Avenue UMC.

I appreciate his enthusiasm and energy, his care for others (including us and our family), his deep faith, his love for and involvement in our community, his willingness to serve and more. And I also appreciate the messages Greg posts on the sign board that stands on the corner outside his church along Fourth Avenue. I hold a fondness for messages like these. Electronic message signs do not appeal to me. I’m old school like that.

I love the beautiful wreaths, surrounded by hearts and crosses.

In this year of COVID-19, I appreciated Greg’s latest thought. He’s right. Not even a global pandemic can overtake the meaning, spirit and joy of Christmas.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Virtual Faribault Christmas concert aims to uplift, help others December 16, 2020

Carolers perform at the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Christmas Walk in 2016. The community event, like so many other holiday activities, did not happen this year in Faribault due to COVID-19. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

AS I WRITE, CHRISTMAS MUSIC plays in the background on Twin Cities Christian radio station KTIS, inspiring me, uplifting me, encouraging me with faith-based songs.

In a typical year, I would sing Advent and Christmas hymns with my faith family in church. But now, during COVID-19, I’m watching services online. I feel grateful for this technology. But it’s not the same. I miss the in-person connection, the simply being there.

Inside the sanctuary of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo December 2019.

Greg Ciesluk, pastor of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, was experiencing a similar feeling of loss. A self-proclaimed “music person” actively involved in the Faribault community, he considered how he could restore some Christmas joy. Cancellation of the Faribault High School choir’s annual performance—an 81-year tradition—at the local Rotary Club’s Christmas meal prompted Ciesluk to think creatively. (He’s a Rotary member.) The result: An hour-long virtual Christmas concert featuring local musicians.

A horse-drawn wagon gives rides in historic downtown Faribault during a past holiday celebration. Events like this didn’t happen this year. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

“Christmas in Faribault 2020” (type that into your search engine) debuts on YouTube at 7 pm Saturday, December 19. The concert can also be viewed on Faribault Community Television.

In Decembers past, Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church has hosted a community Christmas dinner. At a previous dinner, guests were invited to take poinsettias home, like this woman I photographed several years ago at the church. Because of the pandemic, this dinner was canceled. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Ciesluk promises a wonderful, uplifting experience in a “joyful, soulful and invigorating” concert.

From well-known local musicians like Doug Madow and Dr. Michael Hildebrandt to Beau Chant to a children’s group from Christ Lutheran Church and many more, including performances by Ciesluk, the virtual concert features pre-recorded songs submitted to Fox Video Productions for production.

Volunteers at Fourth Avenue UMC serve food at a past Christmas dinner. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

But a desire to uplift the community in this Christmas of canceled concerts isn’t the sole goal behind those putting together this virtual musical event. Organizers are encouraging viewers to donate to the Salvation Army as “a way to show God’s compassion and concern for those in need,” says Ciesluk. All donations stay in Rice County.

Ringing bells for the Salvation Army. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Give directly at red kettle donation sites in the county; via checks mailed to the Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021; or through an online link that will be included in the video. The concert will feature a spot from the Salvation Army. Sheriff Troy Dunn, who heads the county’s Salvation Army outreach, is serving as emcee.

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army in the past. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo by Randy Helbling.

Randy and I have, for many years, rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s been a joyful, humbling experience. But this holiday season, because of COVID-19, we decided given our high risk age status, not to volunteer. Yet, I am helping in another way. Ciesluk asked if he could incorporate holiday/Christmas photos I’ve taken around Faribault through the years into “Christmas in Faribault 2020.” I agreed. Like him and his team of organizers and musicians, I am happy to help bring joy to others during an especially challenging year.

© Copyright 2020 Audrey Kletscher Helbling