Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Preserving Trondhjem, a Minnesota country church February 25, 2019

 

Completed in the fall of 1899, the Historic Trondhjem Church sits atop a 100-foot high hill near Lonsdale. Listed on the National Register of Historic Sites in Minnesota, this Norwegian church has walls constructed with 24 corners to brace it against the wind. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

HOW SACRED THESE PLACES. These country churches. These structures built long ago as gathering places for the faithful.

Country churches, at one time, centered worship and social life in rural areas. Their importance in family and community histories continues. Not so much as active entities, although some still are, but as places preserved. Places of value for their connections to family roots, their history, their art, their stories.

 

Volunteers prepare a luncheon at Trondhjem. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Because I’m drawn to the simplicity and beauty of country churches, I’ve toured many in mostly southern Minnesota. I’ve also attended socials and festivals at many. There’s nothing like the cooking and baking of church folks who welcome guests into basements and fellowship halls.

 

Historic Trondhjem Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Among the churches I’ve visited is the Historic Trondhjem Church in rural Lonsdale. While years have passed since I attended an event at this hilltop church and museum, I remain appreciative of this Norwegian landmark. And I remain on Trondhjem’s mailing list.

 

Some of the grant monies will fund preservation of the altar painting. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Recently a letter arrived from the Trondhjem Community Preservation Society Board about a matching grant of up to $15,000 from the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation. Through a program titled “Engaging Artists and Communities to Preserve Nordic Heritage Churches,” the preservation group hopes to fund several repair and restoration projects. Those include painting the exterior of the 1899 building, preserving the original altar painting of Christ in Gethsemane by Marcus Holm, replicating the front stair entry and restoring the “Eye of God” window.

 

Members of the Trondhjem Community Preservation Society/The Hallelujah Chorus sing at an event several years ago. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

That’s a lengthy list of projects. But if I know people like I think I do, they will step forward by the March 31, 2019, deadline with enough monies to match that $15,000 grant administered through Partners for Sacred Places.

If you are interested in donating to the preservation and restoration project at this rural Minnesota church, please send your gift to:

TCPS

P.O. Box 259

Lonsdale, MN. 55046

 

TELL ME: Have you supported a similar project? Let’s hear.

© Copyright 2019 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond filling bellies at a Faribault “soup kitchen” June 28, 2016

A sign in front of the church advertises the free meals served here twice a week.

A sign in front of the church advertises the free meals served here twice a week.

FOR DONNA STROHKIRCH, finding funding for Full Belly based out of Faribault’s Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is an ongoing effort. Feeding the 60 -70 people who come for the non-profit’s free meals on a Wednesday evening costs about $100.

The Guild House dining room and kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The Guild House dining room and kitchen. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from an unrelated event.

It is, says Donna—meal planner, shopper, cook, greeter and so much more—a miracle that the kitchen continues to operate. She’s already had to trim back from serving three meals weekly to just once a week. And even though she’s dipped into her Social Security income to provide for those in need, this seventy-something woman remains prayerfully optimistic. God always provides, she says. With a smile.

The beautifully-designed tickets, complete with directions to the gardens on the back.

The beautifully-designed tickets, complete with directions to the gardens on the back.

Sunday afternoon, Full Belly benefited from a Cathedral-organized Garden and Landscape Tour. I talked with Donna about her meal ministry after touring six Faribault area gardens on a brilliantly sunny and beautiful summer afternoon in southern Minnesota.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is the first Episcopal church in the U.S. to be built as a cathedral. Construction began in 1862 and was completed in 1869.

The Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour is the first Episcopal church in the U.S. to be built as a cathedral. Construction began in 1862 and was completed in 1869. It attracts lots of visitors interested in this historic building.

Inside the air conditioned space connecting the Cathedral and Guild House, Donna answered my questions between welcoming guests to a dessert table. “It’s always been my mission to have a soup kitchen,” she says, referencing the extensive poverty she witnessed in Alaska before moving to Minnesota three years ago. Shortly thereafter, with the support of family, she started Fully Belly. It’s truly a family affair with a daughter-in-law, grandkids and several unpaid volunteers assisting Donna.

Beautiful gardens, complete with benches, grace the area that connects the cathedral to the Guild House.

Beautiful gardens, complete with benches, grace the area that connects the Cathedral to the historic Guild House, left.

They serve full, well-balanced meals, not just soup, to anyone in need. Most diners are elderly, living on fixed incomes. “Food is me,” says Donna, who comes with a broad background in the food profession. “Love and food kind of go together.”

Lovely lilies in a side garden remind me of

Lovely lilies in a Cathedral side garden remind me of Matthew 6:28, “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin.”

It’s clear from our brief conversation that Donna’s purpose extends beyond filling empty bellies. “It’s my mission from God to help people. I’ve always taken care of people,” she says. Full Belly also provides much-needed fellowship. It is that social aspect, that showing love to others, that food for the soul, which fuels Donna’s passion for feeding others a free meal once a week. She mingles with her dinner guests, talks to them, makes them feel welcome.

Flowers grow alongside the Cathedral and Guild House and in expansive beds.

Flowers grow alongside the Cathedral and Guild House and in expansive beds.

Donna is clearly passionate about feeding the hungry in the Faribault community. And then she mentioned one more thing: She’s always wanted to go on a mission trip. But she lacks money for such a trip and she’s dealing with health issues. Yet, she seems determined. I expect, as she has with Full Belly, that Donna will find a way to finance a mission trip, fulfilling what she views as her life’s mission—to help people.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Full Belly, including information on how you can support this meal ministry. Full Belly serves a free meal from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Wednesday evenings at the Cathedral Guild House, behind the church (515 Second Avenue Northwest) near downtown Faribault.

The Community Cathedral Cafe also serves free meals at the Cathedral Guild House from 5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Check back as I take you to the gardens featured on the Fully Belly fundraiser garden tour.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part I: Inside Holden, an historic Norwegian Lutheran church in rural Minnesota March 31, 2016

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

THE LAST TIME I STOPPED at Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, the heavy oak doors to the sanctuary were closed and Sunday morning worship underway. Not wanting to intrude in the middle of the service, my husband and I instead wandered the cemetery, vowing to return.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

The beautiful sanctuary of Holden Lutheran Church.

Several weeks ago we did, on a Saturday afternoon, en route home from Wanamingo to Faribault along the back roads rather than the more direct Minnesota State Highway 60. Goodhue County Road 30 led us right by this landmark Norwegian brick church standing high and solid among farm fields and farm sites.

A photo of the "old church" is posted in the present church.

A photo of the “old church,” built in 1871, is posted in the present church.

With my rural roots and deep appreciation for country churches, I was excited to tour this church built in 1924. The congregation was established in 1856. Previously, members worshiped (for 53 years) in a standard wood-frame country church.

Holden's Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

Holden’s Norwegian heritage is reflected in this rosemaling art hung in the narthex.

This congregation is especially notable for its strong Norwegian heritage tracing back to Telemarken, Norway, specifically the village of Holden. From thence comes the name.

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was built in

This memorial to the Rev. Bernt Muus was unveiled in May 1937. It is dedicated “In gratitude to God who enabled the pioneers to establish His church in this community…and to the pioneers for building upon Jesus Christ and His Word.”

Holden Lutheran is also notable for its connections to Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. A memorial on the church grounds honors Holden’s first pastor, Bernt Julius Muus, who founded St. Olaf and helped to found Luther. He shepherded Holden for 40 years.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Stained glass windows fill the sanctuary, including this one in the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

Grapes carved into wood along the balcony.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

A view of a sanctuary side aisle showcases the craftsmanship of this church.

This is a place of deep history and heritage reflected in craftsmanship and artifacts within the church building.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery surrounding the church.

A gravestone in the old part of the cemetery.

And in names—like Gustaf, Tollef, Ole—chiseled in to stone in the graveyard.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

I trail Randy from the back church parking lot into another section of the cemetery.

Here in this rural place, the wind blows steady on a sunny spring-like March afternoon. I meander with my husband among the gravestones, noting a weathered holiday wreath on one. And then, as I step back and back and back to photograph this massive church in its entirety, I skirt a mound of fresh earth. Not that long ago, mourners gathered here, like the Norwegian speaking settlers 160 years prior, to grieve and to bury a loved one.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

In the church basement, I found and photographed a portion of the church centennial photo.

Time imprints upon generations in the cycle of life.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

The front entry to Holden Lutheran is stunning. Faith, hope and love are chiseled above the oak doors.

Through these church doors, below the far-reaching steeple tipped with a cross, the faithful have gathered here to worship God, to exchange vows, to baptize children, to mourn the dead. And in late autumn to dine on roast beef, pulsa, lefse, rommegrot and fruit soup at the annual All Saints Dinner celebrating Holden’s Norwegian heritage.

FYI: Check back tomorrow for more photos from Holden Lutheran Church.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One woman’s promise to God January 6, 2015

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

The Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

IT STANDS STATELY and tall on the campus of Shattuck-St. Mary’s School in Faribault. The Chapel of the Good Shepherd, or, to be exact, the Eunice Shumway Memorial Chapel of the Good Shepherd.

Inside the historic sanctuary, the pews face the aisle rather than the altar.

Inside the historic sanctuary, the pews face the aisle rather than the altar.

Eunice’s mother, Augusta Shumway, pledged $20,000 to build the chapel. After construction began in June 1871, Augusta lost nearly everything in the Great Chicago Fire of October 1871. Despite her loss, Augusta fulfilled her promise, sending $15,000 in insurance payments to Bishop Henry Whipple. She later donated more monies to the school.

Looking up at the altar and the stunning stained glass windows above it.

Looking up at the altar and the stunning stained glass windows above it.

The bishop quoted his friend Augusta in his book, Lights and Shadows of a Long Episcopate: Being Reminiscences and Recollections of the Right Reverend Henry Benjamin Whipple:

“Bishop, I promised God to build the chapel in memory of my daughter. I owe but one debt, and that is to God. I have collected enough of insurance money to complete the building, and here it is.”

Two behind-the-altar windows up close.

Two behind-the-altar windows up close.

Wrote the bishop: It was a noble instance of woman’s faith.

Whipple summarizes well the intentions of Augusta, who only a dozen years earlier lost her 13-month-old daughter.

The bell tower spire is a Shattuck landmark.

The bell tower spire is a Shattuck landmark.

What faith. What hope. What generosity.

BONUS PHOTOS:

The arched wooden front doors present an impressive entry.

The arched wooden front doors present an impressive entry.

The exterior is tastefully and simply decorated for the holidays.

The exterior is tastefully and simply decorated for the holidays.

Outside the front door. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Outside the front door. The church is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just inside the doors, a creche.

Just inside the doors, a creche.

A close-up of the Holy Family shows Joseph viewing the Christ Child.

A close-up of the Holy Family shows Joseph viewing the Christ Child.

On a wall inside the entry.

On a wall inside the entry.

Beautiful stained glass above the exterior entry doors.

Beautiful stained glass above the exterior entry doors.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Wishing you a blessed Christmas December 25, 2013

ATTENDING CHURCH SERVICES has always been a part of my Christmas time celebration for it is Christ’s birth I focus on today.

I recently photographed these scenes at Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, an historic Faribault, Minnesota, church:

Christmas, Fourth Ave UMC sanctuary

 While the sanctuary stood empty, I imagined the pews packed with worshipers,

Christmas, sanctuary Nativity

the baby Jesus already laid in the manger,

Christmas, cross stitch

the anticipation of children restless with excitement.

Christmas, Nativity

What a joyful time.

Christmas, stairway Nativity

May the blessings of peace, happiness and joy be yours today and in the year ahead, for unto us a Saviour is born, Christ the Lord.

Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

On the road in Wisconsin: Duo country churches near Shennington October 20, 2013

NUMEROUS TIMES I’VE PHOTOGRAPHED these side-by-side country churches along Wisconsin State Highway 21 just west of Shennington:

Photographed while driving by in the winter of 2010.

Photographed while driving by in the winter of 2010.

Photographed while traveling by in the spring of 2011.

Photographed while traveling by in the spring of 2011.

Another shot of the two churches taken in spring 2011.

Another shot of the two churches taken in spring 2011.

Several months later, in December 2011, I snapped this image.

Several months later, in December 2011, I snapped this image.

My most recent photo, shot on Sunday afternoon, October 13, 2013.

My most recent photo, shot on Sunday afternoon, October 13, 2013.

Beautiful, aren’t they? St. John’s and St. Peter’s Lutheran. German and Danish.

Not once have I stopped to investigate why two houses of worship, seemingly from the same time period, are separated only by a cement parking lot.

I should stop, shouldn’t I?

For now, though, I must rely on information published on Waymarking.com. Because that info is copyrighted, you’ll need to click here to read what I learned.

Every place has a story.

If you know anything about these two churches, please submit a comment so that we can all learn more. I’m certain there are stories to be told.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

In Lenora, Minnesota: An historic stone church October 10, 2013

STUDYING THE BOOK OF PROVERBS the other evening with my bible study group, the discussion turned to the value of wisdom over silver, gold and rubies.

We all agreed that we’d rather have godly wisdom than wealth.

And then the talk somehow sidetracked to churches and whether monies spent to build ornate structures would better be used to serve the missions of the church. Eventually we concurred that, when done for the right reasons—to honor God, a physically beautiful sanctuary is God-pleasing.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The Cathedral of Saint Paul. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The exterior of the 1865 Lenora United Methodist Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from October 2012.

The exterior of the 1865 Lenora United Methodist Church. Minnesota Prairie Roots photo from October 2012.

I’ve been inside both, from the sprawling and ornate Cathedral of Saint Paul in St. Paul to the simple plainness of a country church with handcrafted pews.

Jeremiah Fowler Stevens built and donated the pews.

Jeremiah Fowler Stevens built and donated the pews in the Lenora church.

Like the pews in the Lenora United Methodist Church, the oldest church in Fillmore County in southeastern Minnesota. The congregation was established in 1856 by a pioneer circuit rider who led camp meetings there boasting attendance of 2,000 plus souls. The church closed in the late 1920s (as Lenora was bypassed by the railroad and dwindled in population) and today is open for special events and concerts and the occasional worship service.

Looking from the front toward the back of the church.

Looking from the front toward the back of the church.

The bible study exchange and the mention of the historic Lenora church by bible study member Jeff, who recently visited this church with wife Mandy, reminded me of my visit there a year ago and that I needed to share those photos here.

When I went online to research the church in preparing this post, I discovered that Brad Boice, an award-winning Elvis impersonator, will present inspirational and uplifting music along with his wife, JulAnn, from 3 p.m. – 5 p.m. this Sunday, October 13, at the Lenora church.

A simple touch of lanterns upon windowsills of the church.

A simple touch of lanterns upon windowsills of the church.

Now if there’s anyone who’s glitzy silver and gold and rubies rhinestones, it would be Elvis.

Brad Boice may be all that when impersonating the famous 50s singer. But he’s also a man of faith as evidenced in this online quote:

I thank Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, for my family, friends and the talents that He has given me. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that God would take me to the places that He has.

Another view of the historic church.

Another view of the historic Lenora church.

Sunday afternoon that place will be inside the Lenora church along Fillmore County Road 23 in Lenora (near Canton).

Don’t expect silver or gold, rubies or rhinestones. Instead, expect inspirational spiritual songs within the confines of a simplistic house of worship on the National Register of Historic Buildings.

The rustic Lenora church doors.

The rustic Lenora church doors.

FYI: Click here to learn more about Lenora United Methodist Church.

And click here to learn more about Elvis impersonator Brad Boice.

Watch for a post tomorrow from Lenora, in which I introduce you to Fannie Miller.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling