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.

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

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Part III from Pleasant Grove: Saddle up for church February 3, 2017

cowboy-church-95-sign-close-up

 

PUT ON YOUR TEN GALLON HAT, pull on your cowboy boots, and sattle (sic) up your horse or just come as you are in your horseless carriage.

That’s the invitation extended on the Pleasant Grove Church of Christ website for Cowboy Church. Cowboy Church? What exactly is that?

 

cowboy-church-97-church-building

 

I wondered the same when I happened upon a banner outside the church in the unincorporated village of Pleasant Grove, yet another interesting place discovered on an autumn day trip to southeastern Minnesota. Pleasant Grove. What a lovely sounding name.

 

cowboy-church-96-sign-with-church-in-background

 

But back to that sign. Cowboy Church, according to the website, is a casual bluegrass worship service held at 6 p.m. on the fourth Sunday of the month. It apparently features cowboy musicians and western music, which seems logical given the name. And a meditation.

Past events at Cowboy Church have included an ice cream social; serving of a cowboy’s favorite dessert, pie; and a beef stew supper. Sounds like a good time to me.

TELL ME: Have you ever heard of, or attended, Cowboy Church? Or share a unique church experience outside traditional worship.

This concludes my three-part series from Pleasant Grove, located east of Stewartville or southeast of Rochester. Click here to read Part I and click here to read Part II.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Celebrating God’s Creation at Trinity Lutheran in Faribault February 8, 2016

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Worship opened with the hymn, "All Creatures of Our God and King," shown on the big screen next to a mountain crafted for the 2015 Mt. Everest themed Vacation Bible School.

Worship opened with the hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” shown on the big screen next to a mountain crafted for the 2015 Mt. Everest themed Vacation Bible School.

GOD’S CREATION FOCUSED every aspect of worship at my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, this weekend.

Quilted snowflake art by Kevin Kreger, who coordinated the Creation themed art display,

A snippet of snowflake art quilted by Kevin Kreger, who coordinated the Creation themed worship service.

The theme seemed ideally suited for a February weekend when a blizzard was forecast for portions of the state.

A painting of sunflowers jolted color

A sunflower painting jolts color into an art display.

Come this time of year, Minnesotans are beginning to long for green grass, sunshine and warmth.

The Rev. Paul Rieger uses a book to showcase Creation during the children's object lesson.

The Rev. Paul Rieger uses a book to showcase Creation during the children’s object lesson.

Singing about, hearing about and viewing depictions of God’s creation lifted my spirits. The words of my favorite hymn, Beautiful Savior; a scripture reading from Genesis; and a display of artwork brought in by worshipers highlighted Creation.

Viewing the art after the 8 a.m. worship service.

Viewing the art after the 8 a.m. worship service.

God's creation of fish depicted in this crocheted art piece.

God’s creation of fish depicted in this crocheted art piece.

Lots of Creation art in many mediums.

Lots of Creation art in many mediums.

After worship—after the singing and preaching and listening—congregants perused art displayed within the sanctuary. Creation worked into fabric and photos, yarn and paintings, wood and paper, and more. So much talent crafted by the hands God created.

Crosses, because they are made of materials from the natural world, were interspersed with the other art.

Crosses, because they are made of materials from the natural world, were interspersed with the other art.

And then there was the-feet-in-the-hammock photo that flashed onto the big screen during the pastor’s sermon. He used the image to illustrate that “God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.”

A simple bowl of fruit rests as a work of art and and example of God's Creation.

A simple bowl of fruit rests as a work of art and and example of God’s Creation.

Slight laughter rippled across the pews of the Lutheran church. Yet, the point was made. God rested. And so should we. But do we?

BONUS PHOTOS:

More artistic examples of God's Creation.

More artistic examples of God’s Creation.

Autumn leaves in fabric...more of God's Creation.

Looking up at autumn leaves in fabric…more of God’s Creation.

An overview of the major portion of the art display, including my photo on the big screen.

An overview of the major portion of the art display, including my photos on the big screen.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Gather with the Norwegians and the Lutherans this weekend in rural Minnesota June 21, 2013

IF YOU’RE NORWEGIAN (which I’m not), appreciate historic country churches (which I do), rejoice in the preservation of old buildings (which I do) and value worshiping God in a rural setting (which I do), then venture into Monkey Valley this weekend.

If you can’t resist a tasty meal in a church basement (which I can’t), love strawberries (which I do), enjoy good fellowship with the locals (which I do) and delight in a beautiful and historic country church (which I do), drive south of Monkey Valley to Moland on Sunday.

A rear view of the Old Stone Church, a simple structure with three shuttered windows running along each side of the building.

A rear view of the Old Stone Church, a simple structure with three shuttered windows running along each side of the building.

Within miles of each other, two area churches are celebrating this weekend, first with a Norwegian church service in an 1875 limestone church, appropriately called the Old Stone Church and located 2.3 miles south and west of Kenyon along Monkey Valley Road.

A stone's throw from the Old Stone Church, a view of Monkey Valley.

A stone’s throw from the Old Stone Church, a view of Monkey Valley.

The road name alone was enough to draw me to this ethnic worship service three years ago. As one story goes, monkeys escaped here from a traveling circus and fled into the woods. True or not, I’m buying it.

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, "Ja, vi elsker."

During a worship service filled with music, choir and congregational members sing in Norwegian, “Ja, vi elsker.”

To read about the Norwegian worship service I attended in 2010 and to learn more about the Old Stone Church, click here and here and here.

Sunday’s once-a-year worship service begins at 9:30 a.m.

Moland Lutheran Church, a Norwegian Lutheran church south of Kenyon in Steele County, the subject of my post which was Freshly Pressed in July 2010.

Moland Lutheran Church, a Norwegian Lutheran church south of Kenyon in Steele County near Owatonna.

About the time the service wraps up at the Old Stone Church and you’ve finished mingling, you’ll start thinking about lunch, conveniently served at Moland Lutheran Church a few miles to the south and west at 7618 84th Avenue N.E., rural Kenyon, close to where the counties of Rice, Steele, Dodge and Goodhue meet.

From 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Moland folks will serve pulled pork sandwiches, potato salad, strawberries with angel food cake and/or ice cream, chocolate cake (if the menu is the same as in 2010) and beverages. As church meals go, I’d highly recommend this one for the food, the hospitality and setting.

Be sure to check out the sanctuary and history of this 1884 country church before leaving. Moland reminds me of the Lutheran church I attended growing up in southwestern Minnesota.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

The Moland folks serve a generous amount of strawberries with two scoops of ice cream.

To read my 2010 post on the Moland strawberry festival, click here.

My Moland post, “In Praise of Preserving Country Churches,” was featured in WordPress’ “Freshly Pressed” on July 9, 2010. That’s a huge honor for any blogger, to have his/her work selected as among the best of the day from WordPress blogs world-wide. You can read about that honor by clicking here. Last year I was also featured in WordPress and you can read that post about the Faribault Heritage Days Soapbox Derby by clicking here.

The real honors, though, go to all those men and women out there who preserve country churches and serve all those delicious meals in church basements.

FYI: To read about more church dinners/meals, check out the Faribault-based blog, Church Cuisine of Minnesota, by clicking here.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Fifty-one years of presenting The Last Supper Drama at a rural Minnesota church March 22, 2013

St. John's members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John's.

St. John’s members portray the disciples in this undated vintage photo, the first record of a photograph from The Last Supper Drama. Actors, from left to right, are Luverne Hafemeyere, Earl Meese, Vicgtor Luedke, Howard Meese, Virgil Bosshart, Arnold Keller, P.L. Golden, Alvin bosshart, Paul Bauer, Elmer Covert Sr. and Arnold Bauer. Photo courtesy of St. John’s.

THOUSANDS OF MILES from Milan, Italy, in the flat farm fields of Rice County in southeastern Minnesota, Leonardo da Vinci has left his mark on a small congregation.

For 50 consecutive years, St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, has presented The Last Supper Drama, a theatrical interpretation of the master artist’s most famous painting created in 1495 as a mural in an Italian monastery.

St. John's 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in the sanctuary.

St. John’s 50th presentation of The Last Supper Drama in 2012.

I penned those two opening blog post paragraphs during Holy Week 2012, shortly after attending the St. John’s performance.

So update that number. The congregation is slated to present its 51st The Last Supper Drama at 8 p.m. on March 24, Palm Sunday.

I’d advise attending because you don’t get more grassroots basic than this in the retelling of Christ’s final meal with his 12 disciples via a script penned by a long ago St. John’s pastor.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ.

Judas grips the bag of silver, his reward for betraying Christ, as seen in the 2012 drama.

Each disciple speaks of his personal relationship to Christ, making this a particularly introspective drama presented by members and former members of St. John’s.

The parking lot at St. John's United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation's annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

The parking lot at St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is nearly full 20 minutes before the congregation’s annual performance of The Last Supper Drama.

Truly, there’s something about slipping inside this rural 1800s limestone church as evening melds into night, settling upon aged pews among those who have worshiped here for generations, that is particularly comforting.

It is good for the soul to sing and pray and listen, to sweep your thoughts into a meditative mindset for Holy Week.

That this country congregation continues with a tradition begun in 1963 impresses me. Such uninterrupted longevity is a testament to faith, an appreciation of history and a clear understanding that still today, perhaps more than ever, The Last Supper Drama needs to be shared.

A view from the balcony before the drama begins shows the spotlight to the left and The Last Supper table below. The actors enter, spotlighted in the dark church, to take their seats at the table. There they "freeze" in place to mimic Leonardo da Vinci's painting.

A view from the balcony before the drama begins shows the spotlight to the left and The Last Supper table below. The actors enter, spotlighted in the dark church, to take their seats at the table. There they “freeze” in place to mimic Leonardo da Vinci’s painting.

FYI: St. John’s United Church of Christ, Wheeling Township, is located 10 miles northeast of Faribault. Take Minnesota State Highway 60 east for eight miles and then turn north onto Rice County 24. Drive two miles to 19086 Jacobs Avenue.

Click here and then here to read my detailed The Last Supper Supper Drama posts from 2012.

Click here to read my post from 2011.

© Copyright 2013 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

 

A photo psalm of Thanksgiving November 22, 2012

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One of many rocks which grace the Kasota Prairie, rural Kasota, Minn.

1 Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock or our salvation.

The Freedom choir sings during an outdoor mission festival in the woods south of Janesville, Minn., in August.

2 Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.

A snippet of a crown in a stained glass window at Trinity Lutheran Church, Faribault, Minn.

3 For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods.

“The Prairie is My Garden,” a painting by South Dakota artist Harvey Dunn, showcases the prairie I so love. Here I’ve photographed most of a print which I purchased at a yard sale for a bargain $20.

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him.

5 The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.

American soldiers receive The Lord’s Supper in Korea, May 1953. Photo by my foot soldier father, Elvern Kletscher, who fought on the front line during the Korean War. My Dad wrote this home in a letter to his parents: “Sure was good to go to church. I had communion. I always try and make every church service they got over here. Once a week the chaplain comes up here on the hill.” Powerful words. Powerful photo of our soldiers kneeling on Korean soil to partake of The Lord’s Supper.

6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;

A pastoral spring scene near Roberds Lake, rural Rice County, Minn., near my Faribault home.

7 for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.

Psalm 95: 1-7, New International Version of the bible

Photos copyrighted 2012, Audrey Kletscher Helbling