Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The art of St. Nicholas brought to you on St. Patrick’s Day March 17, 2017

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market, Minnesota.

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Elko New Market, Minnesota.


IT’S SELDOM THESE DAYS that I find a church door unlocked while on a leisurely, non-destination drive.


The stained glass window of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of this congregation, is situated in the balcony. I didn't go into the balcony as a sign banned unapproved visitors per insurance requirements.

The stained glass window of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of this congregation, is situated in the balcony. I didn’t go into the balcony as a sign banned unapproved visitors per insurance rules.


A statue of Mary outside the front of the church.

A statue of Mary outside the front of the church.


Looking up at the tall tall steeple.

Looking up at the tall tall steeple.


So when Randy and I stopped in Elko New Market and found the front doors of St. Nicholas Catholic Church open late on a recent Saturday morning, we were surprised. During our brief visit, not a soul appeared, except images of the saints patronized therein.


Statues like this one of Mary fill the church.

Statues like this one of Mary fill the church.


How lovely the stained glass.

How lovely the stained glass.


Just look at that altar.

Just look at that altar.


As a life-long Lutheran, I’ve always been fascinated by the ornateness of Catholic churches. Statues, flickering candles, detailed stained glass windows, grand arches and more contrast sharply with the plainness of most Lutheran churches. I often direct questions to Randy, Catholic raised and educated, but a Lutheran now for 35 years. Rituals and tradition are such integral parts of Catholic worship.


The stained glass at St. Nicholas is exceptional in its detail, design and workmanship.

The stained glass at St. Nicholas is exceptional in its detail, design and workmanship.


Looking toward the balcony and back of the sanctuary.

Looking toward the balcony and back of the sanctuary.


More stunning stained glass.

More stunning stained glass.


Impressive woodworking on a confessional, one of two.

Impressive woodworking on a confessional, one of two. The other is now a storage space.


I found art even on these cards on a rack inside the entry.

I found art even on these cards on a rack inside the entry.


My appreciation for aged sanctuaries runs strong. I find in the art of stained glass and sculptures, in the architecture of a church, a certain reverence and peace that comforts and uplifts me. And that, I suppose, is why I am so drawn to churches like St. Nicholas, anchored atop a hill along Church Street in Elko New Market.


Art outside St. Nicholas.

Art outside St. Nicholas.


TELL ME: Are you drawn to aged churches? Why?

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Part IV from Wanamingo: Touring Trinity Church March 24, 2016

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Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Second Avenue, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

Trinity Lutheran Church, 301 Second Avenue, Wanamingo, Minnesota.

THE LUTHERAN CHURCH STANDS solid on a corner lot a few blocks off Wanamingo’s Main Street. Brick strong. Enduring strong. In the faith strong.

The cornerstone of this ELCA church is dated 1922, to the left in this photo.

The cornerstone of this ELCA church is dated 1922, to the left in this photo.

A cornerstone on Trinity Lutheran Church simply notes LUTHERAN CHURCH 1922. I know nothing more about the history of this congregation, of this building.

The beautiful sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

The beautiful sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

That matters not. For I appreciate churches like this which are lovely houses of worship. For these truly are houses to the families of faithful. Therein, worshipers, if not related by blood, are related by the commonality of faith and lives shared. They truly become family in joy and in grief.

One of my favorite stained glass windows in Trinity is this one of Ruth gathering grain to help support her mother-in-law. The window is partially covered by the balcony.

One of my favorite stained glass windows in Trinity is this one of Ruth gathering grain to help support her mother-in-law. The window is partially covered by the balcony. To me, this window symbolizes deep love and devotion to family.

This trio of stained glass windows rises above the altar.

This trio of stained glass windows rises above the altar.

One of the windows flanking the side of the sanctuary.

One of the windows flanking the sanctuary.

Within the walls of an aged sanctuary like Trinity, visual symbols of faith embrace those who enter therein. Intricate stained glass windows shine the light of grace and of Scripture.

One can only imagine the messages delivered from this sturdy pulpit.

One can only imagine the messages delivered from this sturdy pulpit.

The sturdy pulpit with its handcarved trim looms as a time-honored place for preaching of the Word, the wood dulled by the hands of many preachers.

Balcony pews.

Balcony pews.

Worn pews reflect the history of generations.

Another view from the church aisle.

Another view, this from the center church aisle.

Art, history and a heavenly presence prevail. It is here, within the walls of Trinity. Visually. And in spirit.


The risen Lord centers the trio of stained glass windows above the altar.

The risen Lord centers the trio of stained glass windows above the altar.

A basket holds church bulletins and other worship essentials.

A basket holds church bulletins and other worship essentials.

Church mail slots.

Church mail slots.

A final message for worshipers is posted on a window next to an exterior front door.

A final message for worshipers is posted on a window next to an exterior front door.

FYI: Please check back next week for more posts in my “from Wanamingo” series.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


A Wisconsin school honors orphans via “The Orphan Bed Exhibit” April 25, 2013

The main building at the orphanage, built in 1886, housed offices, a reception room, chapel/auditorium, boys' cottage, living quarters for employees, a sewing room, attic and linen storage. This main portion today serves as the Owatonna city administration building.

The main building at the Owatonna orphanage, built in 1886, housed offices, a reception room, chapel/auditorium, boys’ cottage, living quarters for employees, a sewing room, attic and linen storage. This main portion today serves as the Owatonna city administration building. File photo from December 20, 2011, blog post.

THREE HUNDRED AND TWENTY miles from the Minnesota State Public School Orphanage Museum in Owatonna, a group of Lutheran school students in Hales Corners, Wisconsin, just southwest of Milwaukee, are honoring orphan children of the 1920s and 1930s.

The story of how this came to be involves me, a dedicated and creative middle school language arts teacher/musical theater director, and a bit of personal family history.

Several weeks ago, teacher Judy Lillquist, a native of Le Sueur, MN., who has lived in Wisconsin for 20-plus years, commented on a December 2011 blog post I published after a visit to the Owatonna museum. (Click here to read that story.)  She discovered my orphanage stories while researching for her school’s production of  Annie Jr. My posts included photos of simple orphans’ beds in a stark orphanage bedroom. (Click here to read my second orphanage post.)

The boys' bedrooms are stark, devoid of anything homey. This small room slept three.

This photo of an orphan’s bed inspired Lillquist to create “The Orphan Bed Exhibit.” The orphans were not allowed to sleep on their pillows; those were just for show. File photo.

Those orphan bed photos inspired Lillquist to work with her students in creating “The Orphan Bed Exhibit” which accompanies the school’s spring musical, Annie Jr., showing this Friday and Saturday at Hales Corners Lutheran Middle School.

Working with middle schoolers on a musical seems challenging enough. So I really have to admire Lillquist’s efforts to personally connect her students and audience members to the plight of actual orphans via “The Orphan Bed Exhibit.” The exhibit includes a synopsis of the inspiration behind the project.

The orphan bed designed by Lillquist.

The orphan bed designed by Lillquist.

Using cardboard boxes, paper, tape, glue, clearance bed sheets and other everyday materials, Lillquist’s sixth graders built 20 orphan beds. Those attending the musical will see silent orphan statues (students), attired in tattered dresses, stationed next to those beds.

Beds were packed tight into sparse bedrooms in the cottage.

Beds were packed tight into sparse bedrooms in the Owatonna orphanage cottages. File photo.

The scene is meant to make a powerful impact. Lillquist explains:

In my research for the play, I began formulating an idea of somehow showing our audience how important it is for us to count our blessings. I for one am very thankful for a warm home and comfortable bed. It gives me a heavy heart knowing that the orphan children of those days were not so fortunate, my husband’s dear grandmother among them.

…The beds pay homage to the orphan boys and girls of the 1920s and 30s. Our plucky little orphan girls get to play that role for a little while. Some children played that role their entire lives. This is simply to honor their memory.

A photo of some of the school's residents on exhibit in Cottage 11, which housed boys ages 6 - 13.

An Owatonna school orphans photo displayed in Cottage 11, which housed boys ages 6 – 13.

For Lillquist’s family, this is personal as her husband’s grandmother and siblings were placed in a state orphanage after their mother died. Lillquist shares:

Once placed, she would wave across the lunchroom at her two brothers. When she was finally fortunate enough to be adopted, her new family decided one year to go back to the orphanage to adopt her sister. That was her birthday present. She was in her 80s when she told us this story.

She never saw her brothers again once she left the orphanage and she could not bear to tell us what eventually happened to her sister.

Can you imagine?

I expect “The Orphan Bed Exhibit,” combined with the theatrical performance of Annie Jr., will drive home the message Lillquist intends:

Our families are blessed and that’s the message of the exhibit.

FYI: Hales Corners Lutheran Middle School, 12300 West Janesville Road, Hales Corners, Wisconsin, presents “The Orphan Bed Exhibit” at 6:30 p.m. Friday, April 26, and at 12:30 p.m. Saturday, April 27. The curtain rises on Annie Jr. a half hour later.

Thank you to Hales Corners students, and especially to Lillquist, for their dedication to this project. I am honored to have been, in some small way, a part of this undertaking.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling
“The Orphan Bed Exhibit” image courtesy of Judy Lillquist


Rejoicing in the Sunday School Christmas Program December 16, 2012

Sunday School students at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, present the Christmas story Saturday evening.

Sunday School students at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, present the Christmas story Saturday evening.

EMBEDDED DEEP in the memories of, I expect, many Midwestern Baby Boomers like me is the rich tradition of the Sunday School Christmas program.

There is simply nothing sweeter, nothing more meaningful to me, than viewing the Christmas story from the perspective of a child. Such telling, such re-enacting of the biblical account of Christ’s birth exorcises the frills, the stress, the hustle and bustle, the worldliness from my holiday experience. And that is a good thing.

Every little girl wants to portray an angel...

Every little girl wants to portray an angel…

For one evening, for one hour, I take it all in—this most basic sharing of the gospel by darling angels in glittery halos and restless wings, by usually rambunctious boys cinched in bath robes, by the honored two portraying Mary and Joseph, by the other children who sing and tell of Jesus’ birth.

Dressed in holiday finery, the little ones wait in the fellowship hall before the start of the worship service.

Dressed in holiday finery, the little ones wait in the fellowship hall before the start of the worship service.

It is a magical time, a butterflies-in-your-stomach worship service for the children, giddy with joy yet nervous about stepping before the congregation,.

I grew up with the Sunday School Christmas Program, lined up on the basement steps of the old wood-frame church in Vesta packed shoulder to shoulder with my classmates, awaiting that moment when the organist would begin playing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and we would enter, pair-by-pair, into the sanctuary.

An angel proclaims the news of Christ's birth.

An angel proclaims the news of Christ’s birth.

Although costumed pageantry was not allowed in the conservative Lutheran church of my youth, I remember with fondness those traditional Christmas hymns—“Away in a Manger,” “Joy to the World,” “Behold, A Branch is Growing,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem”—which told of Christ’s birth as did the memorized sharing of the gospel when we each “spoke our piece.”

I always prayed I would never be assigned to recite the confusing verse: So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David…

And so the years passed until I outgrew the Sunday School Christmas program.

The cast from the biblical account of the Savior's birth.

The cast from the biblical account of the Savior’s birth.

Decades later I would pass the tradition along to my own three children, this time in a Lutheran church which allowed the costumed pageantry of sharing the biblical account of the Savior’s birth. The halos and bathrobes, the reading of the gospel, the singing of Christmas hymns all wove into their memories.

Now I am at that place in my life when I sit side-by-side with my husband in a pew, our children grown and gone, not yet married, awaiting those Christmases when the tradition of the Sunday School Christmas Program will pass along to the next generation.

After the service, my friends' children, Nevaeh (Mary) and Braxton, pose for photos in the fellowship hall.

After the service, my friends’ children, Nevaeh (Mary) and Braxton, pose for photos in the fellowship hall.

TELL ME, is a Sunday School Christmas Program (or something similar) part of your Christmas experience? Do you have such fond memories from your youth?

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Reaching “the nations” November 21, 2011

I STILL REMEMBER the derogatory label, even after all these years. “Gooks,” he called them. I lashed back, defending the Asian families who fled their war torn countries to start new lives in America in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“Didn’t your great grandparents immigrate here?” I asked, trying to control my emotions as I confronted the Faribault man who spit out the venomous word. But I knew, even as I spoke, that I could not quell his hatred.

Now, nearly 30 years later, I hear similar disparaging terms directed toward Somalis and Sudanese and, yes, Hispanics, too.

Don’t we ever learn?

These thoughts, of anything I could have considered, passed through my mind yesterday afternoon as I photographed Hmong families participating in a “Let the People Praise!” mission event at my Faribault church, Trinity Lutheran.

Deacon Johnny Vang of New Life Lutheran Church, Robbinsdale, with his wife Tina and children, Leviticus, 10, Cecilia, 7, and Christian, 4.

I could forgive the man who nearly three decades prior had spoken with such ignorance. But I could not forget.

The organizers and participants in Sunday’s mission gathering wouldn’t expect my thoughts to wander back to that previous unwelcoming American attitude toward Southeast Asians. But I am honest and this post would not be mine if I ignored that unsettling flashback.

With that historic frame of reference, I could only admire the faith and fortitude of the men and women who stood before me in the sanctuary singing in the Hmong choir, speaking of their mission outreach to Southeast Asia and in Minnesota, specifically in Robbinsdale and the east side of St. Paul.

Members of the Hmong choir wore colorful, ethnic costumes.

The congregation, including individuals from the Hmong community, sang at Sunday's mission celebration.

Churches initially embraced Cambodian and Laotian refugees in the years following the divisive and turbulent Vietnam War. I remember, during my first newspaper reporting job out of college in 1978, writing about a Southeast Asian family resettling to the small Minnesota town of Gaylord. I don’t recall details now, but the compassionate sponsorship of this family by a local church made an impression on me.

That care and love triumph over the hateful words and attitudes of the past.

It pleased me to listen to those involved in the Hmong Lutheran Ministry speak of mission trips to the Communist countries of Laos and Vietnam and to Cambodia and Thailand. The “Communist” part certainly doesn’t please me, but the Christian outreach does.

“They are hungry for the gospel and they want to be saved,” a Hmong deacon told us.

My favorite photo of the day shows the Vang children, Leviticus, Cecilia and Christian on the floor in the narthex, the church doors into the sanctuary flung wide open. This symbolizes to me the doors that are being opened to Christianity through mission work here in Minnesota and in Southeast Asia.

Later the Rev. David Seabaugh of Bethel Lutheran Church in St. Paul, home to a Liberian ministry, used nearly the same words: “The Liberian people are hungry for the gospel.”

I considered then how complacent I’ve sometimes become in my Christian faith, even in my free access to the bible, and in my personal outreach.

I needed to hear this Scripture from I Chronicles 16: 24:

Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

God doesn’t care if we’re black or white or yellow, or even Lutheran for that matter, or where we live. He considers us “the nations.”

Today, just like 100 years ago when the Germans and Italians and Swedes and Norwegians and so many others immigrated to America, “the nations” are still arriving on our doorstep.

Are you welcoming them?

A sombrero rests in the side aisle prior to a musical performance by Hispanic children from the Le Sueur and Henderson areas.

Members of the Hispanic children's choir perform.

A representative of the Sudanese ministry spoke at the mission gathering. "Before, we suffer a lot," he said, calling it "God' s plan" that the Sudanese came to America and to Minnesota.

A musical performance by the Sudanese.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Celebrating Reformation Sunday October 30, 2011

The steeple of Vista Evangelical Lutheran Church near New Richland, not to be confused with St. John's Lutheran Church in Vesta, with an "e" and located in Redwood County.


No, I don’t drink coffee in the church basement; only rarely anywhere. No, I don’t eat lutefisk. No, I don’t especially like red Jell-O.

Yes, I eat hotdish. Yes, I studied Luther’s Small Catechism. Yes, I’m proud of my German Lutheran heritage.

And, yes, today I sang “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Today marks Reformation Sunday, that Sunday when all good Lutherans commemorate the Reformation led by Martin Luther.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret here. When I was a wee girl attending St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta, memorizing the Ten Commandments and all the parts of the Catechism, I was confused by Martin Luther and Martin Luther King Jr. It took me awhile to realize the teacher and pastor weren’t talking about the same man.

There, got that out of the way. So back to today and church services…

We sang all those wonderful old hymns like “A Mighty Fortress,” “Just As I Am” (which always reminds me of Billy Graham), “The Church’s One Foundation,” “Take My Life and Let It Be” and “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder” (which was unfamiliar to me, but apparently is a tent revival song).

I take comfort in singing those hymns of old, so deep and rich and soul-connecting. Accompanied by string instruments and a piano during this morning’s worship service at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, the words seemed almost poetic. Lovely. Just lovely to sing.

And the pastor’s words were reaffirming as he preached that the Reformation is about “God’s amazing grace in Jesus Christ,” a message that has been around since the days of Adam and Eve, way before Martin Luther.

Reformist Luther, he said, “chose to follow the Scriptures,” that salvation comes through Christ and not by anything we can do.

And in the middle of that sermon, the preacher said something that surprised me, coming from a Lutheran pastor and all. “We’re not talking denominations, but the way to salvation. It comes through Jesus Christ alone.”

The salvation part didn’t surprise me; it was the “denominations” part.

But I was glad to hear it said out loud in church because—even though I’m a deeply-rooted Lutheran—I know there won’t be any signs in heaven directing Lutherans one way, Catholics another, Methodists that direction…

I would do well to always remember the words of the old hymn:

Just as I am without one plea

But that Thy blood was shed for me.

And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee

O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


St. Mary’s of Melrose, Part II July 17, 2011

STARK CHURCHES appeal to me. The ones with the simple wooden cross, the white clapboard siding, the time-worn pews settled upon plain plank floors.

But the ornate houses of worship likewise snag my soul with crosses of gold, walls of brick and gleaming, carved pews.

One of the many ornate carvings at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Melrose.

I am most comfortable with, most accustomed to, the unadorned churches of the Lutherans, my religious heritage. We keep things simple. No cluster of burning candles. No wafting incense. No pools of holy water. Minimal, if any, gold.

Perhaps for that reason, when I step into an historic Catholic church, I feel like I’ve entered a foreign land. I am often awed by the opulence, by the details that visually overwhelm me.

The side aisle on the left leads to an ornate altar in St. Mary's which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

That’s exactly how I felt upon entering St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Melrose, featured here in an earlier post. Overwhelmed. But good overwhelmed. Because I could not possibly present all of the images I wanted to share with you in a single post, here are the remainder.

No matter your religious affiliation, you simply have to appreciate a place like St. Mary’s. What beauty. What art. What history. What heavenly splendor.

This was the top or bottom of something. Can't recall what. But it sure is stunning.

Look at this gorgeous, carved door, will you?

Golden statues. Beautiful.

Just look at this detailed side altar. I could have spent hours in St. Mary's.

And then I discovered these collection baskets hanging from a rack. We Lutherans don't have wicker baskets with long handles. These contrast so sharply with the the ornateness in the church and that is why I so appreciated this grouping.

St. Mary's Catholic Church stands strong as a fortress in Melrose, next to the turkey plant, its towering steeples visible from nearby Interstate 94 in west central Minnesota.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


BibleSticks and battle prayers May 28, 2011

A tattered prayer book carried by my father to Korea, where he fought on the front lines during the Korean Conflict. Touching these pages, I feel the faith of my soldier father.

LAST SUNDAY AFTER SERVICES at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, we watched a brief video about BibleSticks.

Never heard of them? I hadn’t either, until viewing that clip.

“The Military BibleStick is a digital audio player that is pre-loaded with a dramatized recording of the entire New Testament,” according to the Faith Comes by Hearing website. The organization, dedicated to getting the Word of God into the world, “offers 557 Audio Scripture recordings in 553 languages reaching more than 5 billion people in more than 185 countries.”

Part of that outreach includes the U.S. military. Demand is great for the 3 ½-inch long, less than one inch thick, camouflaged, battery-operated BibleSticks, I learned via the video. For whatever reason, the BibleSticks must be processed through military chaplains.

With a $25 donation, we could give a slip-in-the-pocket, portable New Testament to military men and women.

Although I personally don’t know of anyone who has used a BibleStick, I do understand the importance of access to Scripture, especially for our soldiers.

Flashback to February 1952, when my father, Elvern Kletscher of Vesta, was drafted. Less than a year later, he found himself in the mountains of Korea, a U.S. military infantryman fighting on the frontline during the Korean Conflict.

My father, Elvern Kletscher, preparing to leave his Vesta farm home in April 1952, six weeks after he was drafted.

On February 26, 1953, he was struck in the neck by shrapnel at Heartbreak Ridge. Later, he would be awarded the Korean Service Medal with 3 Bronze Service Stars, the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the Combat Infantry Badge and the Purple Heart.

During those combat days, when my dad feared for his life, when he was forced to shoot the enemy or die, he relied on his deep faith in God.

My Dad's worn copy of God Our Refuge.

And he carried with him a 3-inch by 4 ½-inch black book, God Our Refuge. A gift from the St. John’s Lutheran Ladies’ Aid of Vesta, the book includes gospel readings, devotions, meditations, prayers, hymns and more.

Within the pages of that volume, my dad found solace, hope and comfort in the face of constant death.

Now eight years after his death, I cradle the tiny book in my palm, brush my fingers against the brittle, black leather covers, open the curled pages that are loosening from the binding. I think of my father, how he carried this book in his pocket, how he flipped and read the 144 pages, how he prayed while trapped inside the cold earth of a foxhole, while engaging in battle, while lying inside his tent at night.

The inscription reads: To Elvern Kletscher with best wishes from the Lutheran Ladies' Aid at Vesta, Minn.

As I turn to page 117 of my dad’s tattered copy of God Our Refuge, I feel forever connected to him, my fingers touching the paper he touched, reading the words he read 58 years ago as a young soldier in battle:

“In Thine arms I rest me;

Foes who would molest me

Cannot reach me here.

Though the earth be shaking,

Every heart be quaking,

Jesus calms my fear.

Lightnings flash and thunders crash;

Yet, though sin and hell assail me,

Jesus will not fail me.”

HAVE YOU OR SOMEONE you know used a BibleStick? If so, I’d like to hear about your experience with this audio version of Scripture and what it meant to you.

My grandparents, Ida and Henry Kletscher, posing with some of their children, flank my father, Elvern Kletscher, who is about to leave for military service in 1952. My uncle Merlin is the youngest, standing in the front row wearing the bib overalls.

BEHIND EVERY PICTURE, there is a story, including stories about the images of my father and his family, above.

My uncle, Merlin Kletscher, found these two photos in the winter of 2010 while researching for a family reunion. They were tucked inside a worn copy of The Lutheran Hymnal, copyright 1941, published by Concordia Publishing House. That hymnbook belonged to my grandfather, whose name, Henry Kletscher, was inked in gold on the cover. He had taped the edges and binding of the much-used songbook.

The two photos were sandwiched between song 409, “Let Us Ever Walk with Jesus,” and song 410, “Jesus Lead Thou On.”

The latter was one of my Grandpa Henry’s favorite hymns, Uncle Merlin recalls.

“I have not found any other photos or negatives which leads me to think that these pictures were very dear to him,” my uncle says.

Now those photos are also very dear to me. When Merlin handed copies to me last summer, I teared up. Little did my father know then what horrors awaited him on the battlefields of Korea, how his life and death experiences would forever change him.

And my heart ached for my Grandma Ida, standing there beside her soldier son. I wish I had asked her how she felt, how they all felt. Now I have only these photos to show me the close love of a family sending their boy off to war.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling



Sauerbraten and sauerkraut in Morristown November 15, 2010

Diners gathered in the fellowship hall at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Morristown for a German meal served by the Cannon Valley Lutheran High School German Club following a German Fest of Thanks & Praise.

THE LAST TIME I ATE an authentic German meal, I was in high school. The German Club, of which I was a member, was on a Christmas trip to New Ulm, that most Deutsch of all Minnesota cities.

After visiting Domeier’s German Store, a quaint import shop, and Christmas shopping downtown, we gathered at Eibner’s, a German restaurant. Of our ethnic meal there, I remember only the main dish, sauerbraten.

Fast forward nearly four decades to yesterday and a German meal served by the Cannon Valley Lutheran High School German Club at a fundraising dinner in Morristown. The group is traveling to Germany in February. The main dish sauerbraten, beef served atop spaetzle, tasted tangy and vinegary, exactly as I remembered. But then so did several of the other foods like the German potato salad and the purple cabbage, which my friend Mike claimed was transformed from green to purple in a sort of scientific experiment.

The plated portion of the meal included German potato salad, cabbage, brats with sauerkraut, sauerbraten served atop spaetzle (a German dumpling) and bread (rye may have been a more authentic choice).

Magic or not, the meal turned out by the kitchen crew (primarily German students’ parents and CVLHS board members) was worthy of any good German restaurant. I give it five stars.

That said, I honestly could not eat this food on a regular basis. Too much starch. Too heavy. Too all-one-boring blah white, except for that colorful dash of purple cabbage. I fear a steady diet of this would clog my arteries and cause me to gain weight more rapidly than I already am at my slowing metabolism mid-50s age.

In all fairness to the Germans, I’m certain they don’t eat this much or these types of foods daily just like I don’t eat pizza and potatoes every day. In fact, CVLHS language teacher Sabine Bill, who recently moved to Morristown from Germany, told me the German meal served on Sunday is representative of the food eaten in the Bavarian region of southern Germany, not the entire country.

Now I’m unsure where my German ancestors lived, but I know they liked their sauerkraut. My dad was the king of sauerkraut makers, a tradition carried on by my sister Lanae. We got sauerkraut on Sunday served with slices of brats.

Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly eat another bite of anything, I was handed a bowl of bread pudding laced with raisins and immersed in a decadent, over-sweet buttery sauce. My husband complained that his piece was smaller than mine and I offered to share. But I didn’t, not one single bite. I could have. I should have…

The decadent bread pudding...

Typically I don't drink coffee. But it was decaff, went well with the bread pudding and pfeffernusse and was served in the prettiest, sturdiest cups.

Diane, a CVLHS board member, made more than 1,000 pfeffernusse, tiny hard cookies which include black pepper, black coffee and several spices. Each diner got five cookies, served in festive cupcake liners.

On the way out of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church fellowship hall, where the German meal was served, I told my friend Mike that his group had started something. They would have to host this German Fest of Thanks & Praise and the German meal annually.

I could eat this ethnic food once a year. To my several-generations-removed-from-Deutschland taste buds, this homemade meal rated as authentically delicious.

Programs from the pre-dinner German Fest of Thanks & Praise lie on a pew inside Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The fest included prayers, songs and Scripture readings in German.

Between meal sittings, musicians entertained waiting diners inside the Bethlehem Lutheran Church sanctuary.

On my way to the church balcony, I found this CVLHS sign on a bulletin board.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Seeking a book about Lutheran hymn writer Paul Gerhardt October 16, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 12:12 PM
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SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I met a nice woman from Washington. Well, I didn’t actually meet, meet her. Rather she e-mailed regarding an article I wrote about homelessness in Faribault. That piece published in the September issue of The Lutheran Witness, the national magazine of The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod.

Anyway, aside from the fact that Donna and I each attend LCMS churches, we also share a love of books.

“I am a book worm! I love books!” this West Concord, Minnesota, native wrote in one of many e-mails we exchanged. “I love to get books into people’s hands!”

Notice all those exclamation marks at the end of Donna’s sentences. That’s absolute proof to me that this retired library aide enjoys books.

Donna had a purpose for mentioning books to me. She wanted to buy an ad on Minnesota Prairie Roots seeking a specific book, Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns by William Dallman. Concordia Publishing House published the now out-of-print volume in 1921.

The problem: I haven’t yet reached the point of selling advertising on this blog. Believe me, I’d like to earn some money considering all of the time and effort I invest in blogging, but…for now it remains a passion of mine with no financial return.

But back to that book and Donna’s request. Although I’ve been a Lutheran all of my life, I’m not a musically-educated Lutheran. I cannot read a note nor do I know much about the Lutheran musical heritage. However, I can sing, from memory, all of the words to my favorite hymn, “Beautiful Savior.”

This, of course, does not help Donna. I offered to publish this post with the hope that someone out there—and you don’t even need to be Lutheran—has a copy of Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns. This musically-knowledgeable Lutheran wants to give the book to her pastor during October, Pastor Appreciation Month. If you can’t make that deadline, Donna’s fine with that. She has other ideas and can wait until next October.

Donna has already tracked down a few copies of the elusive 80-page rather plain brown book, so copies are out there. She found one for her church library and, after advertising elsewhere, located one in Great Britain. But the price is higher than she’s willing to pay. A retired pastor in Oregon also has the book, but it’s written in German. She wants English.

So, if you have an English copy of Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns e-mail your contact information in a comment (which I will not publish) and I’ll forward it to Donna in Washington.

I’m sure if you ask, Donna will tell you that Paul Gerhardt, born in 1607, was trained to be a Lutheran pastor at Wittenberg, Germany, where Martin Luther studied a century earlier. Gerhardt wrote more than 130 hymns including “Come Your Hearts and Voices Raising,” “Upon the Cross Extended,” “Awake My Heart With Gladness,” “Evening and Morning,” “I Will Sing My Maker’s Praises” and “Now Rest Beneath Night’s Shadow.”

Right off hand, I can’t say those hymns sound familiar to me. Remember, though, I’m no musician, simply a Sunday morning singing Lutheran.

Donna’s pastor, however, based his March 2010 Lenten sermons on Gerhardt’s life and hymns, using those as a window into the life of Christian devotion. That explains why Donna wants this certain book for her clergyman’s private collection.

So if you have a copy of Paul Gerhardt—His Life and His Hymns by William Dallman, in English, not German, e-mail me now.

Danke Schöen.


HERE’S ANOTHER INTERESTING story from my new Washington friend. Donna volunteers at her church library and her daughter, also a bookworm, gave her a book, Hymns of the Evangelical Lutheran Church for the Use of English Lutheran Missions, published in 1896 by Concordia Publishing House.

Said daughter bought the book for $1 at an American Association of University Women book sale.

But here’s the really odd, coincidental connection to me. Inside the book is the name Martha Schultz, Faribault, Minnesota, and the date, January 10, 1903.  So…, if anyone in Faribault, where I’ve lived since 1982, knows anything about Martha, Martha’s ownership of this book and how it ended up in Washington, Donna and I would very much like to know. Send me a comment.  Thank you.

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling