Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

The kindness of a faith community July 20, 2018


CHOCOLATE MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER, right? Or at least it helps.

Chocolate lifted my mood recently following the death of my friend and pastor, the Rev. Dr. Michael Nirva. He died June 9 in Sweden from complications related to cancer. His unexpected death while traveling with family hit me, and our congregation at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault, hard.



From across town, First English Lutheran Church reached out, gifting Trinity with a basket of hugs and kisses. Of the Hershey’s chocolate variety. The congregation’s act of Christian love and sympathy touched me and many others. How thoughtful and kind and caring.



Likewise, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church sent a plant to honor Pastor Nirva at a celebration of life service last weekend. What a blessing to live in a town where such grace is extended to a faith family grieving the loss of its senior pastor.

Thank you, First English and Our Savior’s.



© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In this season of ongoing grief, I hold hope July 18, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of Valley Grove Cemetery.


THESE PAST SIX MONTHS have marked, for me, an unprecedented, extended period of grief.

Jan. Carl. Harold. Elaine. Deb. Michael. And, yesterday, news of Ruth’s death. Whether family by blood, by faith and/or by friendship, each of these individuals held a place in my heart. I grieve their deaths.

But I grieve in hope, because I am a woman of faith. I believe in heaven, in eternal life. Therein lies my comfort.

On Saturday, that hope rose in familiar hymns like “Crown Him with Many Crowns” at the celebration of life service for my friend Michael, also my (senior) pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. He died on June 9 from complications related to cancer, diagnosed only months earlier. He died while traveling in Sweden, far from his Minnesota home.


A snippet of Jesus’ face in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


At the service, Michael’s pastor friend the Rev. Mark Noren advised us all to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart…and He will make your paths straight.” We repeated those words aloud from Proverbs 5. Words of strength and promise in a difficult time. He urged us to love our neighbors, to be there for others in prayer, support, encouragement and companionship.

I witnessed that care throughout the service. When a Sudanese choir of six sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” in an upbeat tempo of unrestrained joy, I observed one singer gently wipe away the tears of another with her open palms. Such tenderness.

I watched, too, as a friend leaned into Michael’s youngest daughter, shoulder to shoulder, compassion in the closeness of two grieving young women.

More compassion came in the caring words of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod Minnesota South District President, the Rev. Dean Nadasdy, who spoke of the mutual love between pastor and congregation.


The Good Shepherd stained glass window at Immanuel Lutheran Church, rural Courtland. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


I felt that love in a tangible way at the visitation when I grasped the handle of the shepherd’s staff Michael received last year at a celebration of his 25 years in the ministry. At that event, I was honored to read a poem Michael wrote. He held an MA in English with a focus on poetry. We both loved language and words and penned poetry. He excelled in preaching. And he excelled in humor with a dry wit that often caught me by surprise. I marveled at his quick comebacks, his ability to unleash a humorous line with seemingly no effort. It was a gift.

But he sucked at gift-wrapping. Forgive me if you find that word inappropriate to connect to a pastor. Last December I was paired with Michael as our bible study group wrapped Christmas gifts for the Angel Tree ministry at our church. My efforts to teach him how to properly fold paper and wrap a gift failed. I finally gave up and suggested he dispense and attach the tape. I think he was relieved. Oh, how we laughed as we wrapped those gifts, extending love to our neighbors in need in the community.

I shall hold dear the memories of a man I valued not only as a pastor but as a friend. Life will always bring us grief as long as we choose to love. I accept that part of loving. For I have hope. Always hope.

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling.


Consider the lilies February 2, 2014

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“NO WONDER IT FEELS SO COLD,” my husband said when he returned to the warmth of the house and checked the outdoor air temp this morning. “It’s 16 below.”

An overview of flower art from members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Minnesota, displayed in the chancel during weekend worship services.

An overview of flower art from members of Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Minnesota, displayed in the chancel during weekend worship services.

Bundled in our coats, caps and gloves, we trundled outside to the warming Chrysler for the short drive to Trinity Lutheran Church. There we would find a breath of spring—an assortment of flower art—to lift our spirits.

A floral batik by Arlene Rolf graces a wall in the narthex. Inside the sanctuary, my flower photos are showcased on the screens.

A floral batik by professional artist and Trinity member Arlene Rolf graces a wall in the narthex. Inside the sanctuary (left through glass wall), my flower photos are showcased on three screens.

This is precisely what we needed on a morning when Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, indicating six more weeks of winter. Not that we Minnesotans need Phil to show us that. We know our winter will run into mid-March and most certainly longer.

The beautiful and stunning floral quilt art by Kevin Kreger is displayed below a wood carving by noted Faribault artist Ivan Whillock. Kreger coordinated the "Consider the Lilies" floral display at Trinity.

This beautiful and stunning hand-pieced floral quilt art by Kevin Kreger is displayed below a wood carving by noted Faribault artist Ivan Whillock in the sanctuary. This photo is taken looking up from the bottom of the wall hanging.  Kreger, a gifted quilter and musician, coordinated the “Consider the Lilies” floral display.

But for this one hour, we focused on the beauty of flowers, of God’s creation, and the very real promise that God cares for us, just as He does the lilies of the field. “God is in control of our lives,” said the Rev. Warren Schmidt.

Church secretary Jennie Kingland created this lush detailed floral in counted cross stitch.

Church secretary Jennie Kingland created this lush, detailed floral in counted cross stitch.

As Rev. Schmidt’s sermon, “Consider the Lilies,” unfolded, he placed us in the lush setting where Jesus preached his “Sermon on the Mount.”

Flower art buffeted both sides of the chancel, here near the baptismal font and pulpit.

Flower art buffeted both sides of the chancel, here near the baptismal font and pulpit.

Earlier, we’d listened to the gospel lesson, Jesus’ words written in Matthew 6:24-34, including these verses:

And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

This same hand-embroidered art, displayed in church, hangs above my bed.

This same hand-embroidered art design, displayed in church, hangs above my bed.

To listen to those reassuring words, to view the beautiful floral art and the bouquets of flowers uplifted me.

"Is there beauty in the cross?" asked the Rev. Warren Schmidt. He emphasized the height, depth, breadth and width of God's love for us, shown in His son's death on the cross so that we might have eternal life.

“Is there beauty in the cross?” asked the Rev. Warren Schmidt. He emphasized the height, depth, breadth and width of God’s love for us, shown in His son’s death on the cross so that we might have eternal life.

I am assured of God’s love and care for me. And, because of Christ’s death on the cross, as the pastor said, we are “the perfection of beauty before God the Father.”

Glorious floral art by Marilyn Borchert.

A snippet of bold floral art by Marilyn Borchert.

How wonderful is that?


From Matthew 6:26: “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

If God cares for the flowers and the birds and the rest of His creation, so surely He values and cares for us.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


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


In praise of old, familiar Christmas hymns December 25, 2011

The doll representing the Christ Child during the Trinity Lutheran Sunday School program on December 17.

FOR THE FIRST TIME in as long as I can remember, I missed Christmas Eve worship services. We were traveling home from a family gathering in southwestern Minnesota.

So this morning, back in Faribault, my husband, eldest daughter, son and I attended Christmas Day services at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault.

While a morning worship service doesn’t hold quite the mood-setting anticipation of worshiping on Christmas Eve with candles glowing soft and white holiday lights sparkling bright in the fading daylight and kids restless with excitement, I appreciated the contentment of singing old, familiar hymns on Christmas morning.

From the opening “Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful” to the recessional “Joy to the World,” and many songs in between, I was reminded of all those childhood Christmas Eve worship services at St. John’s Lutheran in Vesta.

Dad hurried to finish the milking early so we could get to church, to participate in the Sunday School program and sing the same old, familiar hymns we sang today: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” “From Heaven Above to Earth I Come,” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

Although we didn’t sing “Silent Night, Holy Night” this morning, we listened to a teenage girl coo a sweet, lovely rendition. And we heard another teen strum “What Child Is This?” on his guitar.

It was a lovely service of praise, voices uplifted in the joyful comfort of aged hymns to celebrate Christ’s birth.

From my family to yours, we wish you a most blessed Christmas.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The Sunday School Christmas program December 18, 2011

KIds wait in the narthex of Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, for the processional into the sanctuary during the Sunday School Christmas program. I shot with natural light, meaning a slow shutter speed, perfect for capturing the "can't stand still" action of these little ones who were so excited.

CHRISTMAS IS NOT Christmas to me without the Sunday School Christmas program.

From little on—when  I recited my “piece” at the St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Sunday School Christmas Eve program, hoping I wouldn’t get a long bible verse with a word like “Nazareth” to trip my tongue—to today, when I can simply sit and observe, I’ve always treasured this part of celebrating Christ’s birth.

Through the years, my own three children participated at Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, playing the roles of Mary and an angel and Joseph and maybe even a shepherd. I have forgotten.

I do remember, though, the year I was 7 ½ months pregnant with my son and waddled into church feeling like the Blessed Mother herself. That was 18 years ago.

Saturday night I grabbed my camera and attempted to capture those moments that have always endeared me to this special children’s worship service—the red Christmas dresses, the bathrobe shepherd’s garb, the fluttering of angel’s wings, the joyful singing of familiar Christmas hymns, the kids who can’t stand still no matter how hard they try or don’t try, the goodie bags…

At Trinity in Faribault, a new generation of children sang and I remembered those Christmases so many years ago back on the prairie, waiting in the basement of  St. John’s, inching up the stairway, walking in pairs down the church aisle singing “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful…”

Such memories. Such joy at Christmas time.

The beginning of the children's Christmas program at Trinity on Saturday evening.

Children, ages 3 through kindergarten, sing. Lots of action here.

The angels wait just outside the sanctuary for their cue to enter.

The angels approach the manger at the front of the church.

"O Antiphons," lined up below the pipes of the organ, were used during Advent services to symbolize the names or titles given to the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, in many Old Testament prophecies.

After the service, I found this cue card for the children and this hymnal, open to "Joy to the World," on a front pew.

DO YOU HAVE special memories of a Sunday School Christmas program?

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


The white elephant gift no one wants December 12, 2011


He truly outdid himself at the annual Family Game Night Christmas party at Trinity Lutheran Church in Faribault this weekend. And he wasn’t even there. Rather, Jesse was hermited away in his grandpa’s farmhouse near Barrett, without internet or more than four television stations, writing his dissertation.

Jesse left his wife, Tammy, behind to carry out his mission. Initially, it couldn’t have gone any better had he been there himself to execute his plan.

But he missed the moment when my husband selected the gaudy holiday picture frame from among the wrapped white elephant gifts. From the shape of the package, I knew immediately that Randy had chosen the wrong gift—the garish Christmas-themed frame which each year is returned to the exchange pile. No one wants the darned thing. It’s that ugly.

Last year, Jesse took the frame home after I brought it back for the exchange. Apparently since then, my friend has been plotting his revenge.

He got it Saturday. Randy opened the gift to find my face smiling back at him. Jesse had taken my outdated 2005 photo from this blog, enlarged it and tucked it into the frame underneath mini photos of his family, another family and my family. It’s tradition that whoever gets the frame must tuck a photo into it. Jesse started this by placing Tammy’s high school graduation picture into the frame. That image has mysteriously disappeared.

This year, though, Jesse tweaked the tradition by blowing up my image. (BTW, I don’t look much like this anymore, readers. My hair is shorter and graying and my glasses are rectangular, not oval.)

The frame no one wants.

Anyway, party-goers doubled over in laughter when they saw my framed photo in the hands of my loving husband. I waited to see if he would keep my picture or trade it away in a snap.

But Randy hung onto the photo until the very end, when he traded Tammy for a decorative rolling pin (equally as ugly as the frame).

I can only imagine the look of surprise on Jesse’s face when he arrived home from Barrett to see my lovely face staring at him from that gaudy picture frame.

DO YOU HAVE a tradition like this, where you keep passing the same unwanted gift around to family or friends? I’d love to hear about your shenanigans via a comment.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


In praise of German food and missions November 6, 2011

A 2009 Thanksgiving display at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

WITH THANKSGIVING only weeks away, it behooves us to begin expanding our stomachs in preparation for the big meal.

It also behooves us to focus our thoughts on thanksgiving and praise.

If you live anywhere near Faribault, you can accomplish both by attending two upcoming events at my church, Trinity Lutheran, at 530 Fourth Street Northwest, across from McDonalds. Trinity isn’t sponsoring the events, lest you think I’m specifically promoting my congregation here.

Rather Morristown-based Cannon Valley Lutheran High School and rural Waterville-based Camp Omega are coordinating these separate Sunday worship services followed by meals.

ONE WEEK FROM TODAY, on Sunday, November 13, CVLHS is offering a German Fest of Thanks and Praise at 4 p.m. followed by a supper of traditional German foods at 4:30 p.m. Attend one or both, and I’d highly recommend both, especially if you appreciate the Mother Tongue and good great German food.

The plated portion of the authentic German meal served last year by CVLHS.

I attended this Lutheran high school’s first-ever German worship service and dinner last year and enthusiastically endorse it, otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it to you here. (Click here to read a blog post from the 2010 German celebration.)

After you’ve thanked and praise, you can indulge in that ethnic meal of sauerbraten with spaetzle, sweet and sour red cabbage, bratwurst and sauerkraut, pfeffernusse and bread pudding (to die for).

And let me tell you, these Cannon Valley volunteers know how to cook.

If you want to partake in the German meal, you need to act soon. Tomorrow, Monday, November 7, is the deadline to purchase tickets, which are $13 for adults, $7 for ages 5 – 10 and free for preschoolers. Call CVLHS at (507) 685-2636.

A portion of Jesus face, photographed from a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault.

THE FOLLOWING SUNDAY, November 20, I’d suggest you return to Trinity at 2 p.m. for a two-hour “Let the People Praise!” service followed by a Camp Omega-sponsored free turkey supper. Yes, you read that right—free worship service, free food.

First the worship service, which truly is two hours long and which evolves around missions: Think of it as Mission Sunday or a mission rally or something along those lines. Missionaries involved in Hispanic, Sudanese, Hmong, Liberian, Anglo and campus ministries will participate.

There’ll be singing by a Hmong choir and Liberians and, yes, even drumming and dancing. In a Lutheran church. Would you want to miss that? I didn’t think so.

I can almost guarantee that you’ll be emotionally and spiritually moved based on the music alone. I anticipate many pastors attending this service and, boy, can they sing.

After the service, Camp Omega is sponsoring that free turkey supper several blocks away at the Faribault American Legion with Gary Thies, mission development counselor for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, as the presenter. He’s traveled to 76 countries and spoken at more than 1,250 churches throughout the U.S. I’ve heard this man speak. He’s fired up for missions. He’ll address “Missionary Ministry in our Daily Lives.”

Thies will also give messages at the 5:30 p.m. Saturday, November 19, and 8 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Sunday, November 20, Trinity worship services.

Anyway, organizers are hoping to fill the Trinity sanctuary and the Legion. If you want to attend the free 4:30 p.m. turkey supper on November 20 at the Legion, you must RSVP to Curt at Camp Omega, (507) 685-4266. He needs a head count soon. You can’t just walk in the door on the day of the dinner and expect to get seated. It won’t happen.

So, there you go—two wonderful opportunities to prepare for Thanksgiving.

© 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