Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

I know that my Redeemer lives April 16, 2017

WE FILED INTO THE BALCONY of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Sunday School children clunking up the stairs in our shiny patent leather shoes. I felt a tinge of nervous energy fueled by too much chocolate taken from Easter baskets and eaten for breakfast.

 

My vintage 1960s purse, reclaimed years ago from my mom’s toy box.

 

I was dressed in my Easter finery—lacy anklets tucked into shiny shoes, lime green skirt skimming my knees below a sleeveless floral shirt accented by a matching lime green jacket. I carried a lime green purse. I looked as fashionable as a skinny Minnesota farm girl can in a homemade ensemble topped by an Easter hat with ribbons tailing down the back.

 

 

If my childhood Easter memories were nothing more than those of fashion and of candy, I would feel shallow and lacking in my faith. But I am thankful to have been raised in a home by loving Christian parents who got me to church every Sunday to learn of, praise and worship God. After the service, I clunked down the narrow basement stairs to Sunday School. And there I learned the song that, each Easter, I still sing from memory:

I know that my Redeemer lives! What comfort this sweet sentence gives! He lives, he lives, who once was dead; He lives my everliving head!

 

Art of the risen Lord photographed inside St. Mary’s Catholic Church, New Trier, Minnesota.

 

In the balcony of that rural Minnesota church, I sang with enthusiasm and joy of my Redeemer. Eight verses. The voices of farm girls and boys singing with such gusto. Every Easter. The words are still imprinted upon my memory more than 50 years later: I know that my Redeemer lives!

And I still sing them with joy.

#

MY DEAREST READERS, may you be blessed with a joyous Easter.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Praying for the tornado survivors March 6, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 11:19 PM
Tags: , , , , , , ,

ON SUNDAY I ATTENDED morning worship services at Peace Lutheran Church in Echo, the sister congregation of St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta, the congregation of my youth.

St. John’s members have been worshipping at Peace since a July 1, 2011, series of downbursts with wind speeds of 90 – 100 mph ripped the south roof from the sanctuary.

St. John's, hours after the July 1 storm tore through Vesta. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

Just to the north, west and east in this region of southwestern Minnesota, EF-1 tornadoes with winds of 95 – 105 mph wreaked havoc on farms and on the neighboring community of Belview.

Eight months later, St. John’s is still in the process of rebuilding.

Eight months after the storm, St. John's is still under construction with a new addition to the right. Congregants had hoped to be back in the church by Easter, but that likely will not happen until May.

The narthex was expanded and a pastor's office and handicapped accessible bathroom were added on the southwest side of the church built in 1974. This photo and the one above were taken on Saturday.

Despite the inconvenience of driving additional miles to worship and the temporary loss of their church home, St. John’s members realize the situation could have been so much worse. No lives were lost in the storms and their church could be salvaged.

This we—visitors and members of the two sister congregations—understood as we bowed our heads to pray for the survivors of the recent deadly tornadoes.

© Copyright 2012 by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

The armless Jesus at storm-damaged St. John’s in Vesta August 4, 2011

THE ARMLESS JESUS stood there, shoved into the back corner against a desk in the dark fellowship hall packed with misplaced pews.

That’s when I panicked, thought for a moment that Jesus had lost his arms in the July 1 storm, until I realized his appendages had been removed, not broken.

To the right in this photo, stands Jesus. His arms were removed and lie behind him on a desk.

The statue of Christ has been my greatest concern ever since a series of downbursts with winds of 90 – 100 mph ripped half the roof from St. John’s Lutheran Church, exposing the sanctuary and Jesus to the heavens.

One month after that strong windstorm, I returned to my hometown of Vesta in southwestern Minnesota and viewed the damage I’d only seen in photos. The town looks better than I’d feared, although I’m certain if I’d been there right after the storm, I wouldn’t be writing that.

St. John's, hours after the July 1 storm with half of the south roof ripped off by high winds. The roof fell against and cracked the bell tower, which has since been taken down. Photo courtesy of Brian Kletscher.

It’s the damage to St. John’s that I knew would impact me the most emotionally. My worries centered on that Jesus statue, the single remaining visual reminder of the old 1900 church building across town where I was baptized and confirmed and worshipped for the first 18 years of my life. In May of 1982, I was married in the new brick church built in 1974.

Jesus, who once blessed us with outstretched arms from the altar of the old church, was alright. For that I was thankful.

As St. John’s members await word from an engineer on whether the damaged building is structurally-sound or will need to be demolished, they are attending their sister church, Peace Lutheran, in Echo seven miles to the north.

That seems to be working for now. But come winter, when travel can sometimes be difficult and dangerous on the southwestern Minnesota prairie due to blowing snow, options to worship in Vesta may need to be considered. Or maybe not. Pastor Dale Schliewe doesn’t expect the church to be rebuilt by the time the snow flies.

Right now, though, church members are more concerned about getting the building process started. That could include an expansion.

No matter what ultimately happens, this congregation remains a thriving one, attended by many members of my extended family. My great grandfather, Rudolph Kletscher, helped found St. John’s. The first church service was held in his home one mile east of Vesta.

My emotional attachment to this congregation runs deep, rooted in that legacy of faith passed from generation to generation.

I understand that a building does not comprise a church. Yet, when I walked into the empty sanctuary of St. John’s, gazed upward at the tarp covering the missing roof, saw the splintered wood, walked around the pews jammed into the fellowship hall, noticed Jesus standing armless in the corner, spotted the hymnals stacked on a kitchen counter and skirted the pile of debris in the church parking lot, my soul ached.

Inside the sanctuary, you see the damage to the roof, now covered by a tarp. To the right, a stained glass cross centers the worship area in this photo shot at an angle.

One month after the storm, the south side of the roof is covered with a tarp.

A debris pile on the edge of the parking lot includes pieces of steel from the roof and brick from the bell tower.

Another angle of that debris pile shows uprooted trees and, to the east, a house which was damaged.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

One year short of three decades May 15, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 5:52 PM
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

ON THIS DATE 29 years ago, I married my sweetheart.

And, yes, May 15, 1982, was also opening weekend of fishing. And, yes, several guests did not attend because they chose to go fishing. Others were in the field.

Here our wedding guests are pelting us with rice as we exit St. John’s Lutheran Church in Vesta. (For those of you unfamiliar with Vesta, pull out your Minnesota map, focus on the southwestern corner of the state, zero in on State Highway 19 and you’ll find this small town between Redwood Falls and Marshall.)

In this church congregation (different building) where I was baptized and confirmed, Randy and I exchanged our wedding vows. (My glasses really were that gigantic and we really did look that young and skinny.)

During the reception at the community hall, we were whisked away for awhile to the municipal liquor store across the street. Then, later, after supper, we danced the night away with family and friends.

Today we celebrated by shopping at a home improvement store. Pretty pathetic, huh?

Not too worry, we’re also planning to dine out. And even if we weren’t, the most important part of every anniversary for the past two decades and nine years has been that I am with my husband.

I have one question, though: How did nearly 30 years pass so quickly?

© Text Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Photo by Williams Studio of RedwoodFalls