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

Advertisements
 

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:00 AM
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
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.

BONUS PHOTOS:

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.

I’M LUTHERAN.

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