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

 

Part II: The detailed craftsmanship of Holden Lutheran Church April 1, 2016

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Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota.

IT IS THE DETAILS, always the details, that define a place, a person, a whatever. In long-standing country churches, especially, detailed craftsmanship prevails.

The sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

The sanctuary as photographed from the balcony.

Craftsmanship and beauty at the altar.

Craftsmanship and beauty at the altar.

This glorious Easter themed window shines above the altar.

This glorious Easter themed window shines above the altar.

Looking from the front of the sanctuary to the rear and the balcony.

Looking from the front of the sanctuary to the rear and the balcony.

Holden Lutheran Church, rural Kenyon, Minnesota, is a prime example with countless stained glass windows, handcarved wood and chiseled stone. I can imagine the rough hands of a Norwegian farmer, the calloused hands of a bricklayer, the creative hands of an artist shaping this church into this glorious house of worship.

I assume this is an original vintage light suspended in the sanctuary.

I assume this is an original vintage light suspended in the sanctuary.

I wonder, though, did long ago parishioners form committees, as Lutherans are wont to do, or did they simply do what needed to be done? The current congregation has several committees, including a Property Management Committee.

Look at the details of three distant crosses in this snippet of a stained glass window.

Look at the detail of three distant crosses in this snippet of a stained glass window.

However Holden evolved, I am impressed, as I often am, by the efforts entailed in building a structure like this for $56,687 in 1924 without modern day tools and equipment. How did they do it? Hard work and determination, I expect.

Gravestones bear many Norwegian names.

Gravestones bear many Norwegian names.

It takes a lot of money to sustain and improve such a massive structure and to pay the heating and other bills. That Holden continues to do so reveals faithfulness, tenacity and a determined spirit that traces to the Norwegian immigrants who founded this congregation.

Confirmation photos hang above a history timeline.

Confirmation photos hang above a history timeline.

History remains an integral part of Holden as evidenced in a time-line posted inside the church and in photos displayed.

Hanging from the pulpit.

The art of a seamstress hangs from the pulpit.

This bible, lying open on the lectern, was turned to

This bible, lying on the lectern, is open to Proverbs 6 – 8.

I photographed this counted cross-stitch art in the church basement. It seems especially fitting for this rural region of Minnesota.

I photographed this counted cross-stitch art in the church basement. It seems especially fitting for this rural region of Minnesota.

Details, too, still matter. One need only look to see them. It is the details, always the details, that define a place like Holden Lutheran Church.

A simple banner message for those exiting the church entry to the south.

A simple banner message for those exiting the church to the south.

FYI: Click here to read my first post on Holden.

© 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

 

Rest in peace, Ole, Sophia, Amelie… May 4, 2015

THERE WAS A TIME when I stayed away from cemeteries. Walking among tombstones, atop burial sites, creeped me out.

But I’ve since matured, realized that a cemetery holds history and art, life stories and loss, and serves as a place to grieve, to honor and to remember loved ones.

A marker at the entry to North Grove Church and Cemetery in Cannon City Township, rural Rice County, Minnesota.

A marker at the entry to North Grove Church and Cemetery in Cannon City Township, rural Rice County, Minnesota.

My most recent cemetery tour took me to North Grove Church and Cemetery just north of Faribault along Minnesota Highway 3. I’ve passed this site hundreds of times in 30-plus years, never once stopping to investigate.

North Grove Church, closed in 1931.

North Grove Church closed in 1931.

Here I discovered a quaint church, long closed.

I opened this door into the church entry, but found the interior sanctuary door locked.

I opened this door into the church entry, but found the interior sanctuary door locked.

Peering through curtained windows, I glimpsed pews and wished I could get inside the locked building.

The Norwegian name, Ole, is common on North Grove tombstones.

The Norwegian name, Ole, is common on North Grove tombstones.

On a quick perusal of grave markers, where the name “Ole” is chiseled in stone many times, I determined that Norwegian immigrants built this house of worship and established this cemetery.

As was common in early Minnesota churches, the cemetery is right next to the church building.

As was common in early Minnesota churches, the cemetery is right next to the church building.

John Dalby of Faribault, who runs the Dalby Database along with wife, Jan, confirmed the ethnicity of North Grove Church. The Norwegian church was started in 1869 and likely closed in 1931, when First English Lutheran Church in Faribault formed, Dalby says.

Too many babies died.

Too many babies died.

Wander this burial grounds and you begin to understand the losses and grief endured by early Minnesota settlers. Babies dead. Wives and husbands gone too young. Immigrants who left Norway for a new, but not always better, life in America.

Ole Christiansen, who lived to age 91, came from Norway. His first wife, Sophia Swenson, died. He then married Caroline.

Ole Christiansen, who lived to age 91, came from Norway. His first wife, Sophia Swenson, died. He then married Caroline.

Then scroll through obituaries on the Dalby Database, which includes 2.5 million records from cemeteries, birth and death certificates and more, and names morph into people. Ole Christiansen is no longer simply a Norwegian name inscribed on a tombstone, but a man who was born in Alerude Odemark, Norway. Husband of Sophia. Then Caroline.

June's first husband was Rice County Sheriff Chuck Carver, who died in a 1971 plane crash. The wreck was discovered several years later. She was remarried to a former Goodhue County sheriff.

June’s first husband was Rice County Sheriff Chuck Carver, who died in a 1971 plane crash. The wreck was discovered several years later. She was remarried to a former Goodhue County sheriff.

June Carver-Zillgitt lived in a jailhouse with her husband-sheriff and cooked for inmates.

The name, Audrey, drew me to this in-ground marker as did the Scripture inscribed thereon.

The name, Audrey, drew me to this in-ground marker as did the Scripture inscribed thereon.

Audrey Saufferrer had five grandchildren.

Grocer O.A. Brekke was termed a man of “sterling character.”

Mathilda Lund was a pioneer resident of the North Grove community.

Trees are budding in the old cemetery.

Trees are budding in the old cemetery.

Those buried at North Grove are 326 individuals who lived and loved and labored, although some were dead at birth, or lived too few days or months or years.

The fenced cemetery holds many stories. The cemetery is sandwiched between a highway and fields.

The fenced cemetery holds many stories. The cemetery is sandwiched between a highway and fields with a woods just a bit beyond as shown here.

I knew none of them. But, after walking among their gravestones, I am reminded that a cemetery holds life stories, if only we pause to read them.

Imagine the hands that worked this pump, those who drank the earth's water. The pump is located behind the church.

Imagine the hands that worked this pump, those who drank the earth’s water. The pump is behind the church.

FYI: Click here to access the Dalby Database, a great resource for anyone doing family history research in Minnesota.

This is one of two old tea kettles sitting near the water pump. I assume they are there  for watering flowers and plants.

This is one of two old tea kettles sitting near the water pump. I assume they are there for watering flowers and plants.

FYI: Janice Uggen Johnson recently published a book, Faith of our Fathers: History of Markers Norwegian Lutheran Church and North Grove Church and Cemetery, Faribault, Rice County, Minnesota (2014). She is an associate member of the Norwegian-American Historical Association. I have not seen or read the book.

The Norwegian-American Historical Association, based at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, is “a private membership organization dedicated to locating, collecting, preserving and interpreting the Norwegian-American experience with accuracy, integrity and liveliness.” It was founded in 1925.

Check back for a close-up look at a memorial in the North Grove Cemetery honoring a young Faribault woman.

© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Touring Hopperstad Stave in Moorhead November 13, 2012

A replica of Hopperstad Stave, a church built in 1140 in Vik, Norway. This replica was constructed in 1998 in Moorhead, Minnesota from cedar, redwood and pine. This is a rear view of the Minnesota stave.

OUR YOUNG TOUR GUIDE spewed information so fast that I could not have written down details about the Hopperstad Stave had I tried.

And, I simply must say this, but I was distracted by the political sticker stuck on her coat, quite inappropriate, I thought, to display while leading a public tour at a public facility only days before the November election. But I did not want to create a scene, so I kept my lips pressed together.

She had already rankled me earlier by informing my husband and me that we likely would not be able to tour the Norwegian church at the Hjemkomst Center in Moorhead because the museum was short-staffed. On a Saturday. We had just driven nearly 300 miles. Do not tell me this after I have paid my admittance fee.

Forgive me for venting. But I needed to confess before taking you inside the replica Norwegian church built in 1998 by Guy Paulson, a retired researcher from North Dakota State University. I do not want such negative thoughts rattling around in my head while showing you God’s house.

A side view of the stave and the Celtic cross which stands near it. The stone cross replicates one located in the church yard of Loen Nordfjord, Norway. The cross represents the period in which Celtic missionaries came from the British Isles to convert Vikings to Christianity.

Yes, apparently the situation changed so that the young woman could leave her admission station to take a group of visitors, including my husband and me, inside the stave. Hallelujah.

Norwegian themed mugs for sale in the Hjemkomst Center gift shop.

I am not Norwegian. I know nothing of Norwegian architecture, have eaten lutefisk only twice, will consume lefse if offered and certainly do not say, “Uff da.”

But I want to assure you that I now am aware of how to pronounce stave. The word does not rhyme with “gave.” The “e” is silent, the “a” short.

I can also tell you that, from the exterior, the Hopperstad Stave resembles a Viking ship.

The roofline which mixes crosses, the symbol of Christianity, and dragons, once a symbol of pagans.  Obviously, the crosses are not visible at this angle.

Carved dragons and crosses mark peaks of the multi-layer roofed church which looms dark and foreboding.

Most of us stepped up and walked through that narrow front door. Others chose to walk around to a handicapped accessible and wider side door.

Stepping, and I do mean stepping, through the narrow doorway, I found the interior nearly equally as dark as the exterior. Missing are the eye level windows I’m accustomed to in the older Lutheran churches here in Minnesota.

An overview of the church shows the small chapel and altar on the left where more intimate religious ceremonies, such as baptisms, could take place. The main altar sits in the background and near center in this image.

Missing also are the pews. Worshipers would stand through services. And those with leprosy or other illnesses (think back to the 1100s) would wait outside the sanctuary, peering through a tiny opening cut into a side wall.

Detailed carvings and paintings define the chapel area.

Other details escape me except that Guy Paulson, who built and donated the stave to the city of Moorhead, carved the intricate designs inside and outside the church. The craftsmanship of his work is exquisite.

Really, sometimes remembering the visual details, rather than the rapid-fire of information overload, is the best way to take a tour.

Amen and amen.

Looking up at the beautiful construction.

Another painting inside the chapel area.

There are no ground level windows, only above. This is looking toward the back of the church, above the narrow entry door.

Two exterior hallways buffet the building. In the original church in Norway, those with diseases like leprosy would wait here as they were not allowed inside for worship.

A close-up shot detailing construction.

Dragon carvings are everywhere, inside and out, this one at the edge of the roof.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling