This material has been gathered from many sources, notably the book published in 1895 by Dr. C. G. Wallenius called "Swedish Methodism In America", also small parts of the book by C. Charnquist entitled, "Memories and Auto-Biographical Sketches". The Central Northwest Conference printed an Historial number of the Journal of the Annual Conference held in 1942, a copy of which is included as a part of this history to be placed in the files. The table of churches and that of ministers who have served in Nebraska has been garnered from this Journal. Other conference minutes have been generously used, especially those of the Western Swedish Conference dating from its first session at Omaha in 1894. Mrs. Jane Lind Phillips has written most of the article on the Swede Plain and Stromsburg churches, the research work on this paper having been done by the Rev. J. W. Ekwall. The Anniversary programs of the Holdrege, the Axtell and the West Hill Churches have also been used. Pastors and laymen have answered the call for help in gathering data from some of the churches for which credit is given and gratefullness for cooperation is hereby expressed.
Something should be said about the various enterprises of Swedish Methodism as they concerned the Swedish people everywhere, however, as the Historical Edition of the Journal of the Central Northwest Conference has so well covered this field and a copy having been attached herewith, the work of the Theological Seminary, the Publishing House, Emanuel Home and other institutions and the distinctive publications may be found in this volume to which the writer refers any interested party. There will no doubt be some inaccuracies as church records are not always as complete as one would wish them to be, then too some things may have been mentioned that seem unimportant while others that might have been desired have possibly been omitted for which the writer begs your indulgence.
This historical sketch has been written as a memorial to those heroic souls who have labored long and hard at great sacrifice in order that God's name might be hallowed and His Kingdom advanced through the salvation of precious souls, who found themselves in a strange land using a strange language and learning new customs, but who yearned to make themselves a part of their newly adopted country, Because of their religious cultivation they have been better citizens and have had a part in the development and the progress of this section of our great nation. Much should be said about the contributions that the Swedish people have made in this progress, but volumes have been written on this matter by those who were much more capable than the writer of this sketch.
The Journal of the Nebraska Methodist Annual Conference held September l7-23, 1940 contains this statement under Question 14: "Who are received by transfer from other Conferences?" "The Bishop announced the transfers of Leonard Stromberg, Nels Pearson, and Ralph C. Steele from the Central Northwest Conference, as of April l, 1940." While it is not unusual, in a conference as large as this, to find a number of names under this particular disciplinary question, yet as one reads the next item, one gains the impression that something unusual has happened for we find this additional statement: "Transferred Churches. The following churches came under the supervision of the Nebraska Annual Conference due to the discontinuance of the work of the Central Northwest Conference in Nebraska: Holdrege District - Salem and Holdrege Swedish; Lincoln District - Wesley, Lincoln; Norfolk District - West Hill, Looking Glass, and Genoa; Omaha District - Oakland and First Swedish, Omaha."
This was indeed a momentous event for these items mark the close of almost a century of useful service rendered to the Methodist Church and the Kingdom of our Lord by a small but sincere and faithful group of devout Christians, who had banded themselves together as a bi-lingual group under the standard of the Methodist Episcopal Church. While these churches have lost their identity as a separate group, they have in no sense ceased to be, nor have they ceased their untiring and sacrificial service to the Kingdom; they have merely entered into the larger sphere of activity afforded them through membership in the English speaking Church. This has not been accomplished without having caused a feeling of loss and sadness among especially the older people, those who pioneered the work, in that they feel like aged parents who because of changing conditions have found it necessary to sacrifice their independence and live out their declining years in the home of their children.
The question has often been raised as to whom the Swedish Methodists are? What is their Church? Where did it originate and what kind of government did they have? The Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church was not an organization separate and distinct from the Methodist Episcopal Church, as for instance are some of the other "Methodist" bodies; it was an integral part of the Methodist Episcopal Church, having the same episcopal supervision as the mother church, the same government and doctrines, and elected its delegates to the General Conference as did any other conference in Methodism. Where did it originate? The answer to that question would make an interesting bit of history. One would naturally suppose that it had its origin in Sweden. That is not the case, however. It is true that John Wesley had a very good friend by the name of C. M. Wrangel, who was pastor of a Swedish Lutheran Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and who returned to Sweden in 1768. It was through this man that Captain Webb found it possible to organize a Methodist Church in that city, for which reason Dr. Wrangel has been called the "pioneer of Methodism" in Philadelphia. While on his way to Sweden, he stopped to visit John Wesley in England, where his pleas for the sending of Methodist preachers to America proved more successful than all the requests that had been previously sent by Phillip Embury and Captain Webb.
Having been influenced by Embury and Webb and also by the Wesleys, he organised a society in Sweden in 1771 known by the name "Pro fide et Christianisimo." Its aim was to foster the Christian faith in the manner of the faith and practice of the Wesleyan movement. In 1804 a Samuel Owens, an engineer from Leeds, England went to Stockholm and, feeling the need for pastoral ministration for himself as well as his workers, many of whom were of the Wesleyan faith, he requested that a minister be sent to them by the missionary society. The request was granted and a Rev. J. R. Stephens arrived and organized a church in 1826. This, however, was an English speaking church. Stephens was recalled in 1830 and a George Scott was sent to replace him. He made himself unpopular with the Swedish people through his untactful, not to say unmerciful criticism of the Lutheran Church and its ministers, and while preaching on Palm Sunday, the 20th of March in 1842, a mob drove him out and he found it necessary to return to England. While he did much good and was the leading spirit in organizing temperance and evangelistic societies, it cannot be said, albeit he was called "Swede Scott" for the rest of his life, that he had established a Swedish Methodist Church.
The whole enterprise of Methodism among Scandinavians in the United States of America can be traced to one man, Olof Gustav Hedstrom, known as the "Father of Swedish Methodism". He was born in Kronoborge parish, Sweden, on May 11, 1803. Though a tailor by trade, he shipped as a sailor aboard a freighter bound for Chile South America, but owing to political instability and uprisings in that country, the captain was ordered to change his course and land in New York harbor. Mr. Hedstrom's decision to remain in New York, though contrary to his former plans, was due to the fact that all his possessions had been stolen. He found work in a clothing store and by diligent industry and honest dealing earned a place as partner in the business. Not long thereafter he opened a shop of his own in Pittsville, Pennsylvania, where he became a successful businessman. On June 11, 1829 he was married to a Miss Caroline Pinckney, who was a devout Christian. Three weeks after his marriage, his wife was influential in getting him to attend a Methodist Church in New York, where he was convicted of sin and was converted under the ministry of Dr. Phoebe. From that time he constantly sought to win others for the Christ who meant so much to him.
In 18_3 he returned to Sweden with the avowed purpose of telling his parents and his brothers and sisters about his salvation and to win them for Christ. Having won his parents for Christ and gotten his brother Jonas under conviction, the latter accompanied him on his return to America. In 1835, six years after his conversion, he was received on trial in the New York Conference and manifested his powers as an evangelist in the charges which he served. As the Swedish immigration had not as yet grown to any large extent, he was occupied with preaching in the English language. Dr. Steele, a professor in Boston University, says of him that he had difficulty with many English words, using, as so many Scandinavians do, the "w" sound for "v", saying, for instance, "salwation" for salvation; he was, nevertheless, a successful minister of the Gospel. Many of his friends began writing to him about the need for missionary work among the Swedes who were arriving and settling in New York. Among these was a merchant named George T. Cobb who donated fifty dollars with which to start this work. Others added to it in such large measure that Mr. William G. Rogge and others of the Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church in New York purchased a ship known as the Henry Leeds. This ship was rechristened the "Bethelship John Wesley."
The New York Conference met in the Forsyth Street Church on May 14, 1845 and when the appointments were read the name "North River Mission" was read and Olof Gustav Hedstrom was made pastor in charge, making this the first time that the name of a Swedish minister was read as an appointment to a Swedish charge. Swedes, Norwegians, Danes and Finns were here brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and through their witness Methodism's influence and work was spread throughout American, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Finland. By 1924 it was announced that this Bethelship was responsible for the organization of ten annual conferences and one district within another conference, in all having 617 churches, 540 preachers and some 60,000 members.
Swedish immigration now having increased, large numbers of these people settled in the central states, especially in Illinois. A group of immigrants known as "Johnsonites" had come with their leader, a Mr. Eric Johnson, to establish a colony in a country where they might enjoy religious freedom. (usually spelled "Jansson" -ed) They settled in Bishop Hill, Illinois, in July, 1846, where they formed a communal colony which grew to a membership of about 1100 people. The Swedish immigration continued in large numbers from 1845 to 1854. Jonas Hedstrom had come to Illinois with the family of his betrothed, Diantha Sornberger, and settled near Victoria, where he followed his trade as a blacksmith, while at the same time using every opportunity to spread the gospel of salvation. Many immigrants, having made contact with the genial pastor in charge of the Bethelship, were urged by him to contact his brother Jonas upon their arrival in Illinois. Thus opportunities were afforded him to continue the work that his brother, Olof, had begun in New York. Then too, when the Johnsonite colony became too thickly populated for the size of the colony, and food became scarce, and illness made many low because of the rigors of a severe climate to which many seemed unable to adjust themselves, many of them settled in towns and upon farms in adjacent localities. To these Jonas Hedstrom would bring the gospel message and thus he won many souls for Christ. His organizational ability manifested itself in that he was unwilling to merely preach so as to awaken souls to their needs, but having brought the word of salvation, also established means for fostering and preserving the Christian way of life. As these congregations grew, it became necessary for him to give himself entirely to the work of preaching and his presiding elder, the Reverend Mr. Summers, urged him to join the conference, so when the Peoria Conference met in 1847, he was received into membership and received his ordination as an elder July 21, 1850. Prior to becoming a member of any conference, Jonas Hedstrom organized a class which became the First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church in America.
This was at Victoria, Illinois, on December 15, 1846. The charter members were Mr, and Mrs. Jonas Hedstrom, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Hjelm, and Peter Newberg. A Mr. Hurtig also had planned to join, but was stricken with cholera and died just a couple of weeks before this. He is mentioned here because he was the father of Mrs. C. 0. Norton who figured so prominently in the organization of our churches at Stromsburg and Swede Plain, Nebraska. From this little log church, the work spread to neighboring communities and out of the growing membership many were called into the ministry and the work was carried into other states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, the Dakotas and Nebraska. In 1876 there were Swedish districts in the Illinois, Minnesota and Iowa Conference. Owing to the rapid expansion of the work, there was a distinct feeling of need for the administration of the work by leaders who spoke the language and were familiar with the characteristics of the Swedish people, so the General Conference, meeting in Baltimore that year, was appealed to and an enabling act was granted to organize a separate conference for the Swedish work. This was done in Galesburg, Illinois, on September 6, 1887, and was named the Northwest Swedish Conference.
The conference consisted of 26 preachers in full membership, divided into three districts, with 35 stations and circuits and a membership of 3643 members in full connection, 468 on probation and 34 local preachers. There were 44 church buildings with a valuation of $121,450.00 and 22 parsonages valued at $19,225.00. The missionary offerings that year amounted to $2,025.00. Other conferences have since been organized, namely: The Eastern Swedish, The Central Swedish, The Northern Swedish, The Western Swedish, The Pacific Mission and The Texas Mission Conferences. We are here primarily concerned with the Western Swedish Conference, which met for the first time in Omaha, Nebraska, September 13, 1894, with Bishop Bowman in the chair. The conference continued its blessed work as a separate conference until the year 1928, when it was deemed wise to merge the Northern Swedish and the Western Swedish Conference with the Central Swedish Conference, all of which had at one time comprised the Northwest Swedish Conference, and were thus reunited. The Omaha District of this new conference included all the Swedish churches in Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado. Because of the new Jurisdictional Plan, the Nebraska churches came under the supervision of the Nebraska Conference in the South Central Jurisdiction.
In a compilation of charges in the territory covered by the former Western Swedish Conference, comprising the states of Iowa, Nebraska Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, South Dakota and Wyoming, the Reverend Mr. J. P. Miller of Chicago has listed 131 charges. Thirty of these charges were in the state of Nebraska and were as follows: Axtell (Salem) 1879, Ceresco 1889, Concord 1882, Davey 1889, Emmaus 1898, Fillmore 1880, Genoa 1903, Gothenburg 1885, Gresham 1898, Havelock 1890, Hildreth 1899, Holdrege 1895, Keene 1895, Kearney 1893, Lincoln 1889, Looking Glass 1872, Oakland 1870, Omaha 1868, Ong 1878, Plattsmouth 1888, Plattsburg 1889, Prairie 1887, St. Paul (Fairdale) 1900, Saronville 1872, Shickley 1878, Stromsburg 1876, Sutton 1872, Swede Plain 1874, West Hill 1872, and York 1894. (The date indicates the year in which work was first begun, not necessarily the date of organization.) All of these charges have in some measure contributed to the work of the English speaking churches either by direct merger or by the children of the second and third generations joining the English speaking churches by reason of the language question.
While only eight of these churches were included in the transfer of churches from the Central Northwest Conference, a number of others having seen "the handwriting on the wall", have previously merged with the English speaking churches where they were located, if any, and in other cases transferred into the Nebraska Conference. Such churches were, together with the date of transfer; Saronville 1928, Ong 1929, St. Paul (Fairdale) 1928, Swede Plain 1930, Stromsburg 1920, Shickley 1925. Some of the ministers also transferred into the Nebraska Conference either with their churches or previous to their transfer: C. H. Lind 1920, 0. W. Strombom 1926, C. J. Wells 1926, E. R. Peterson 1927, H. G. B. Barton 1928, J. E. Johnston 1928, C. G. Freeman 1929, J. W. Ekwall 1930, E. G. Samuelson 1938. Other preaching points where the work was abandoned.or merged with another Swedish Church, and thus lost its identity as a church or charge were: Prairie, Ceresco, Davey, Emmaus, Fillmore, Gothenburg, Gresham, Kearney, Havelock, Hildreth, Plattsmouth, Plattsburg, Sutton and York.
Following will be found the historical sketches of the churches received into the Nebraska Conference by reason of the Jurisdictional Plan in 1940;
To this community, known as Westside, came Swedish Methodists from Burlington, Iowa as early as 1869. H. P. Erickson came in 1870, J. Wm. Erickson in 1871, and Theodore Peterson in 1872. The first Swedish Methodist minister who visited these parts was the Reverend Mr. Peter M. Lindquist who preached to them in a home or schoolhouse. In the summer of the same year, 1875, the Reverend Mr. John Linn visited them also. The Reverend Mr. J. Bjurstrom, whose conference appointment read "Nebraska" paid a visit in 1876. John Linn visited them again and held a series of revival meetings in homes and schoolhouses beginning on New Year's day 1877. On July llth of the same year, he returned for a third visit and organized a congregation with the 17 charter members whose names follow: Mr. and Mrs. J. Wm. Erickson, Mr, and Mrs. A. J. Sanderson, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Peterson, Mr. and Mrs. N. P. Anderson, Mr. and Mrs. August Jacobson, Mr. and Mrs. J. P. Carlson, Mr. and Mrs. John Talin, Carrie Talin, N. P. Erickson and John Jacobson. That fall Rev. Olin Swanson was appointed to this charge to divide his time with West Hill in Platte County, 80 miles away. Rev. John Bendix, the father of Vincent Bendix of the Bendix Aviation Corporation, was appointed to succeed Olin Swanson in 1878. It was in his second year as pastor that the church building was erected which was dedicated sometime between July and October in 1880. The Rev. D. S. Sorlin of Chicago, noted among Swedes for his singing ability and as a composer of gospel songs, preached the dedicatory sermon.
As a large number of Swedes had moved into the community from Dover, N. J., Belinda, Iowa, and Andover, Illinois, the church propered. H. L. Lindquist followed J. Bendix, and a parsonage was built during his pastorate. J. B. Anderson was appointed in 1883, Carl Nord in 1886, 0. J. Swan in 1889, C. A. Seaberg in 1893, and during his pastorate, in 1895, an Epworth League was organized, with a membership of 54. In the minutes of 1933, sixty-six members were reported. A. F. Winell was appointed in 1896. While M. L. Wickman, the next pastor, was there the parsonage was remodeled at a cost of $800.00. C. J. Mellberg was the next appointee, in September, 1902, and remained until 1905 when he was made presiding elder of the Nebraska District. J. A. Gabrielson succeeded him in the pastorate. He too was appointed to the presiding eldership in 1907 to succeed C. J. Mellberg, whose health had failed. J. P. Seaberg then became pastor until 1912, when Dr. 0. L. Stromberg was appointed and remained as pastor for 29 years, until his death on July 3, 1941 at the age of 70 years. He was prolific writer, especially of Swedish novels with a Christian moral, had served as editor of the Swedish Advocate known as "Sandebudet" and had been knighted by the King of Sweden for his contribution to Swedish culture and literature. A complete obituary of him may be found, in the parish paper which he edited, "The West Side Herald", a copy of which is placed with this historical sketch, for the historical files. A copy of "Sandebudet" is also attached. (sorry, these are missing -ed)
In 1921 the church was remodeled and a full basement built. The entire interior was altered, new pews and new windows were installed, thus adapting it to the growing needs of the church. This church and its pastor were received into the Nebraska Conference as of April 1, 1940. Its membership numbered 351 and the Sunday School had 180 members. This school has been in continuous service to the community since its organization in 1878, and has had a peak membership of 265. This church is located in the open country, some eight miles west of Oakland and is one of Nebraska's very strong open country churches, and bids fair to minister to this large and prosperous community for many years to come.
Probably the first Swedish Methodist minister to preach to Swedish people in the state of Nebraska was the Reverend S. B. Newman, who in 1869 preached three times and organized a class of eleven people, some of whom had been Methodists in Swedish churches elsewhere, before coming to Omaha. Rev. Newman was presiding elder on the Iowa District in the Northwest Swedish Conference. Owing to lack of men and pastoral supervision, this class soon dwindled away.
But on December 8, 1882 a church was organized by the Reverend H. L. Lindquist with the following charter members: Mr. and Mrs. 0. E. Ring, Elias Swanson, Selma Oak, Mr. and Mrs. C. A. Hagerstrom, Alma Carlson, Sofia Eklof, Anna Johnson and Annie Peterson. A year later to the day, December 8, 1883, the church was incorporated with the following trustees: Carl E. Ring, Otto Lobeck, J. A. Gustafson, Elias Swanson and C. A. Hagerstrom. Following pastors have served this charge: H. L. Lindquist, J. 0. Alven, S. B. Newman, Olin Swanson, John Lundeen, C. 0. Karlson, 0. W. Strom, Frank J. Swanson, Peter Munson, K. G. Norberg, Ture 0. Carlestrom, K. A. Stromberg, Edwin Sahlen, Elmer Bloomquist, John A. Carlson, E. G. Samuelson, Magnus Weber and Ralph C. Steele.
In 1882, during J. 0. Alven's pastorate, this group purchased a church building from the English speaking Methodist Church. P. J. Berg organized a Sunday School in 1887 and an Epworth League of forty members was organized by Frank J. Swanson. On September 13-17, 1894 the first session of the Western Swedish Conference was held in this church with Frank J. Swanson as host. The South Omaha Mission was organized in 1899 with fifty members. This class and the ones at Plattsmouth and Plattsburg were for a while a part of the Omaha charge.
A lot was purchased on the corner of 19th and Burt Streets, upon which a church building was erected that was valued at $8,000.00 and was dedicated by Bishop Henry W. Warren on May 26th, 1907. F. J. Swanson was the pastor when the work was started and Peter Munson when it was finished and dedicated. In 1912 an opportunity was presented to purchase a building and lot adjacent to the church, for the sum of $4,100.00, which was done and a comfortable home was thus provided for the pastors. The Jurisdictional Plan was responsible for the transfer of this church to the Nebraska Conference, together with its pastor, Ralph C. Steele.
The history of this church has been one of constant struggle and noble sacrifice. Though its membership has not exceeded 85 and its Sunday School 70, it has earnestly trained many young people for the Christian life and for service, albeit that service has been rendered mostly in some of the English speaking churches. Now, old and young will continue serving the Lord and his kingdom in the larger and less restricted fields.
The following sketch of the West Hill Church is taken from the 60th Anniversary booklet and written by the pastor, the Reverend David Munson.
In 1879 the church was built. The part which is now the auditorium is the original church. Louie Hedlund gave the land on which the church was built. The eleven charter members were: Nels Munson, Bertha Munson, Swen Nelson, Bengta Nelson, Peter Welin, Elva Peterson, Anna Larson, Anna Baur, Bengta Anderson, Andrew Swenson, Carrolina Swenson. In the first year six more members were added. Of these we have the names of Mr. and Mrs. Jonas Anderson and Mr. and Mrs. John Hanson. The lumber for the church was hauled from Columbus, which is twenty-five miles from here, by the men of the church on wagons. Among the ones hauling material for the church, we have the names of Nels Munson, Swen Nelson, Andrew Nelson, John Hanson, Nels Nelson, Swen Swenson, Fred Peterson, Jonas Anderson and Peter Larson, Sr. John Swanson, a brother of the pastor, was in charge of building the church. The benches were built by the men and the pulpit was built by the pastor, Olin Swanson.
The parsonage was built during Rev. Gabrielson's pastorate. The parsonage was remodeled twice and razed by fire on May 8, 1924. The present parsonage was erected the same year. The west wing of the church and the steeple were built during the time Rev. P. A. Lundberg was pastor. The chancel of the church was added during the time of Rev. Malmstrom. The church was raised and a basement built when Rev. Oscar Lundberg was pastor. When Rev. C. Charnquist was pastor a new pulpit, altar railing, organ and pews were installed. The present windows and a small kitchen on the northwest corner were added during the time of Rev. Gust Freeman. Mrs. Wahlgren donated the south window.
The following ministers have served this church: Olin Swanson, John A. Gabrielson, Nels Munson, C. F. Levin, C. Charnquist, C. M. Holmberg, C. F. Graner, P. A. Lundberg, S. A. Lindeberg, Emil Malmstrom, A. R. Melin, C. A. Fromen, Gust Freeman, 0. J. Swan, A. W. Peterson, 0. J. Lundberg, C. G. Erickson, H. E. Weaver, and the present incumbent, David Munson. Of these seven are living. Four pastors have gone out from this congregation having been recommended to the theological seminary by the Quarterly Conference of this church. The West Hill Church is one of the oldest Methodist Churches in the county.
In 1897 West Hill and Looking Glass were divided into individual charges with Nels Eklund serving Looking Glass Church and S. A. Lindeberg serving at West Hill. Our Swedish work at Genoa was started by Rev. Malmstrom during the time he served this charge. The West Hill Church contributed $300.00 toward the building of the church. These two churches have always been considered one charge since the church at Genoa was organized. According to the Conference minutes of 1928 all old indebtedness was paid up the year ending at that conference. The church has no indebtedness except a small lumber bill for the barn. This we hope can be cleared up at an early date. The parsonage was rebuilt after the fire in 1924. The church was also repapered about the same time. This and the clearing up of old indebtedness on the church was accomplished during the time that Rev. Weaver served the church as pastor. Rev. Weaver also has the honor of having served the church the longest of any pastor. It is a splendid record for any pastor to serve a congregation for 12 years in succession.
The Sunday School has been active as far back as any records are available. Its membership has never been so very large yet a very constructive program has been carried out. An Epworth League was organized about forty years ago and it has continued to do good work. The Ladies Aid has done a most amiable work. We have no records as to when it was organized, but it is safe to say that the ladies have stood by the men in the work since the organization of the church. The Womens Foreign Missionary Society was organized in August 1901 during Miss Alma Jacobson's visit to West Hill. This society began with between twenty-five and thirty members. Mrs. S. A. Lindeberg was the first president. For many years a girl was kept in school in India, The first few years the society met with the Ladies Aid each month. However, the last few years the meetings have been held separately, once every quarter. The membership now is sixteen in number.
The last remaining active Swedish Methodist church in Nebraska
The history of this church parallels that of the West Hill Church as they were considered as one charge with two classes, both of which were organized simultaneously. In 1897 the churches had grown to the point where they felt the need of separate pastors, so a supply pastor, Nels Eklund, was secured from Texas and appointed to this church while S. A. Lindeberg remained as pastor of West Hill. That fall a parsonage was built at a cost of $1,800 with no debt,
After five years, J. P. Seaberg became pastor. In 1905 0. L. Stromberg followed him. He was followed the next year by his brother, Frederick Stromberg. During his pastorate, in 1907, a new church building was erected at a cost of $4,000.00, all paid for. After five years, C. J. Mellberg was appointed and the following year A. E. Sjoding succeeded him and stayed three years, when Gustav Malmquist came for a four year pastorate, followed by Otto Chellberg, who served faithfully and well for seven years. After him C. J. Wells was appointed, but chose to transfer to the Nebraska Conference that fall and the church was supplied by local preachers for two years and in 1928 H. E. Weaver became the pastor by virtue of the merger of the Looking Glass Church with the West Hill Church again, where Rev. Weaver had already served six years. In 1935 David B. Munson was appointed pastor and was followed after two years by a supply pastor. Because of the Jurisdictional plan this church, too, was transferred to the Nebraska Conference and is now a part of the Newman Grove charge on the Norfolk District.
As has previously been mentioned in these records, the church at Genoa was built about 1903, valued at $3,000.00. Rev. Malmstrom had previously been holding services for these people for several years, and the church was organised in April, 1902, with twelve members, but before conference time that year the membership had increased to twenty-one. The membership was composed mainly of elderly people from West Hill who had retired from their farms and desired religious services in their own language, without having to drive out into the country. This church has always been a part of the West Hill charge and was served by its pastors until it was transferred to the Nebraska Conference, when 0. W. Strombom, who was pastor of the English speaking church in Genoa was appointed. Immediately after the conference session he visited every member of the church to ascertain if they wished to continue services either in the Swedish or the English language, as he could use both languages. The members unanimously stated that they thought it time to close their church and worship with the English speaking church, which was located on the same block.
In order to keep the record clear, the following minutes of the quarterly conference called by the District Superintendent, J. W. Ekwall, and also the minutes of the trustee meeting at which time the property was disposed of.
l. It was moved by Jacob Nelson and seconded by S. M. Paulson that the furnace, including the pipes, fittings, registers, etc. be given to the West Hill Methodist Church. Carried unanimously.
The following is an accurate copy of the minutes of the meeting held by the trustees of the Genoa Swedish Methodist Church at the home of Jacob Nelson, Genoa, Nebraska, January 10.
Following trustees were present and voting: S. M. Paulson, John Pearson, and Jacob Nelson. Rev. 0. W. Strombom acted as chairman of the meeting.
The following sketch was written by Miss Helen Backlund, a member of this church.
This church was formerly known as the Swedish Methodist Church of Lincoln, Nebraska and is located on the corner of 18th and J. Streets The Rev. 0. J. Swan had visited Lincoln some time in 1889; through his efforts and those of Olin Swanson, the District Superintendent, a church was organised on July 8, 1889. A group of sixteen Lincoln residents, most of them immigrants from Sweden, met in Mr. and Mrs. Hallstedt's home to organize a parish. Two years before this time Mr. and Mrs. Gust Reynolds, Methodists from Sweden, came to Lincoln and began to seek others of their countrymen likewise interested. A prayer band had previously been started and met in Mr. H. A. Andersen's room. When Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds arrived, the meetings were held in their home at first and later in different homes. A few Swedish ministers made occasional visits to the little group until 1890 when a minister. Rev. A. R. Mellin, was appointed as their pastor.
As the number grew, a hall was rented alternating with the use of the German M. E. Church. A Bible class met awhile in St. Paul's Church. It soon became apparent that a church was needed. A lot was purchased on R Street between 17th and 18th and a temporary structure was erected in 1891. The Rock Island R.R. sought the lot for its right-of-way, and the site was sold and the building moved to the corner of 18th and J Streets. The first event that took place in the new location before the church was on its foundation (it was still hoisted on the moving blocks) was the Wedding of Rev. A. R. Mellin, and the first sermon there was preached September 4, 1892.
Ministers who have served the church are as follows: A. R, Mellin 1890-93, Peter Munson 1893-98, A. F. Winell, J. B. Anderson, C. A. Gustav Erickson 4 years, K. G. Norberg 6 years, Clarence H. Lind 1 year, John A. Carlson 1 year, Edwin Sahlen 2 years, A. W. Lundeen 8 years, Obed Asp 1 year, Winnie Gabrielson 4 years, Lowell Swan 2 years, L. A. Indlecoffer 1 year, Lloyd Peterson 2 years, J. R. Hamilton 1 year, Roger Axford 2 years.
A parsonage was built in 1900 costing about $1,000.00 and during Rev. J. A. Gabrielson' s pastorate the present church edifice was built. The corner stone was laid August 2, 1903 and the completed structure was dedicated June 18, 1903. The building committee was composed of eight members: Gust Reynolds, Gust Skold, Nels Anderson, E. S. Johnson, N. P. Cederdahl, H. A. Anderson, Alfred Burklund and the pastor, J. A. Gabrielson.
Following is a Verbatim copy of the history of the church at Axtell as printed in the program of their 55th anniversary.
The pictures are from photographs we have been permitted to pick out from the private collections amongst the membership. Some of the cuts have been loaned to us for the printing by individuals and the Fridhem Evangelical Lutheran Church. A great deal of credit is due to the fine work which the several committees have done in preparation of the complete membership, constituency and confirmation class lists. We take this opportunity to extend our thanks to each one who has in any way assisted us in the making this little history as complete as possible. Signed- Oscar Chindberg, Pastor
"When we learn to build, we will build with stone well, but with flesh better; temples not made with hands, but riveted of hearts; and that kind of marble, crimson veined is indeed eternal." -John Ruskin
A SHORT HISTORY OF THE SALEM METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH. EARLY BEGINNINGS:
The reverends 0. J. Swan and J. A. Gabrielson were the first Swedish ministers to visit the South Central section of Nebraska where the Salem Methodist Church is located. The reason for their first visit to the town of Kearney and Kearney County had its roots in several letters which Mr. A. Burns sent to Dr. Wm. Henschen of Evanston, Illinois, asking him to send some Methodist preacher this way. Brother Burns and his family had formerly been members of the Swedish Methodist Church at Evanston, Illinois. The urge to go out west brought them in due season out to Kearney County and near Keene. Not finding any friends in the faith they felt lonely and hence the correspondence with Dr. Henschen began. He promised to see what could be done at the next Annual Conference and the result was that pastor 0. J. Swan came by railway to Kearney village some time in the month of January, 1880. He, however, could not find anyone to take him to Keene, so he held a week of meetings in Kearney and returned home. In August that same year he, in company with Reverend J. A. Gabrielson, made another venture out this way and arrived finally at the Burns home where a holiday was declared in observance of the event.
About two years earlier there had been built a short distance from Salem, as Carl Charnquist calls it in his book, "En Torv Katedral" ( A Sod Cathedral). The walls of this structure were entirely of sod and the roof was a self-supporting structure covered first with sod and later with shingles. This church was built as a sort of community affair, though the majority subscribing to its erection were Lutherans. On account of some sort of organization disagreement within that body it seems that about half of the group finally left to join in organizing the Salem Methodist Episcopal Church. Quoting from Fridhem's Jubel-album (p. 106) relative to the incident: "The feelings of sorrow among the people of Fridhem over this matter shall not be described in this article. Suffice it to say that the Augustana Synod and the Lutheran Church of America were, by a few, compared to the State Church of Sweden, and these suggested that it would be better to organize as a different denomination than to have no church at all. Thus a leaven of discontent was introduced and a number of the most prominent and active members demanded their letters and organized as a Methodist Church three miles to the south-east of the Fridhem temple, and the congregation lost a valuable portion of its membership. A statement printed nearly twenty-five years later, about 1904, in Omaha Posten says that one-half of the members left at the time of the division."
When, therefore, the pastors 0. J. Swan and J. A. Gabrielson came to the Burns homestead that August day in 1880 the two streams of interests - the Burns family and the group led by A. P. Falk, Peter Ekwall, John Abrahamson and others - had converged and the community of interest soon crystalized into the nucleus that afterwards formed the present Salem Methodist Episcopal Church. That fall at the conference held in Chicago pastor Gabrielson was appointed District Superintendent for the Kansas-Nebraska District of the Northwest Swedish Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Gabrielson took his residence in the town of Kearney of Buffalo County and from there he visited what is known as the Salem Community as often as his district work permitted him. At the conference in 1881 John Simpson was assigned to serve Salem in connection with his work at Stromsburg. When he came he spent several weeks at a time in the community. During these visits he held Religious Instruction classes, commonly called "Confirmation Classes" with the young folks, and he had the customary public exercises with these classes, besides the holding of prayer meetings in the homes and conducting public worship in the Sod Church mentioned above. Who it was that stopped the use of that church by the Salem group, or how it came that its doors were closed for them is not definitely known, but after a time services were being held in the school house that is located three miles south of the present church and about two miles west of the line that divides Kearney and Phelps County,
The group had increased sufficiently by conference time in 1882 so that Carl Charnquist was appointed then to serve that charge. He arrived in mid-September that year in the town of Kearney, via Union Pacific. He rented a house for the family in Kearney since there were neither parsonage to live in nor church to hold services in. Quoting Charnquist in the above mentioned book, p. 238: "To my field of labor out on the prairie I had a good twenty miles to travel. The Swedish settlers were many, but usually in poverty and they lived in sod-houses or dugouts, which dotted the wide expanse here and there. Each time I were to preach or call on the people I had to travel the long and lonely way across river and sand-bogs and frequently in cold weather and rain, since there was no parsonage out on the charge.
The pioneer life in those days did, to be sure, have some difficulties to be conquered by minister and people alike. Some of the old pioneers still living tell about the three feet sod walls in their houses that certainly kept them warm when the biting Northwest wind swept across the prairie in winter. But, when it rained or when the snow melted in the spring they had the trying job of finding a dry place to place the baby basket so it would not soak too much. And one man tells that it was not uncommon to have to get up in the dead of the night to move the sleeping children and place them on tables or anything handy away from leaks in the sod roofs. Those were the good old days.
THE BUILDING OF THE PARSONAGE:
Again we quote Charnquist, p. 241:
"I soon struck up a friendship with one of the best farmers in the settlement, A. F. Falk, and he became one of my most earnest co-workers. His good wife was also a genuine Christian, and though sixty years had placed its imprint on her brow she was still youthful in spirit, and, possessing a good voice, she took a leading part in the choir. She was active and sacrificed gladly for the Kingdom, and her wholesome Christian character, together with that of her husband, proved to be setting a fine example and influence Godwards."
In January 1883 the Reverend J. A. Gabrielson, the then District Superintendent of the Kansas-Nebraska District, came out and held the First Quarterly Conference ever held on this charge. On Sunday he preached in the schoolhouse near C. M. Nelson's farm, using for his theme: "The Paschal Lamb." It is seemingly at this time that the actual organisation of the church took place. However, some time during the year of 1882 the Reverend John Simpson had received into full connection Wm. Lindquist, who came by certificate of transfer from Ishpeming, Michigan. Pastor Simpson also received on Probation during the same year A. P. Falk, Inga Falk, A. M. Carlson, Sophie Carlson, John Abrahamson, Letta F. Abrahamson, Frank Johnson, Christian Johnson, Charley Peterson, Andera J. Falk, Charles F. Johnson, Lowisa Johnson, Andrew Bjorkman, Britta Bjornson, and P. E. Ekwall. These were now received into full connection and the following received by transfer: August Anderson and Kate Anderson from Galva, Illinois, P. M. Parson and his wife Martha from Chicago, Illinois, Peter Lindquist and his wife Hanna and Mrs. Sophie Lindquist, wife of aforementioned Wm. Lindquist, with certificates from Ishpeming, Michigan. On probation were received that same day (January 14, 1883) Mrs. Tilda Ekwall, Eric Lof and his wife Caroline, Charley Neilson and his wife Johanna, John Nilson and his wife Anna M. and John Manson.
On January 28, 1883 the following were received with certificates of transfer from Evanston, Illinois: Andrew Burn and his wife Martha. And on probation, Peter Manson and his wife Johanna, Gust Johnson and his wife Clara, Bengt Bengtson and his wife Betsie and Johanna Mattson. The congregation and fifteen members on probation.
THE BUILDING OF THE CHURCHES AND OTHER IMPROVEMENTS:
Now it seems to have been time to work for a church structure. Charnquist says: "All of the good natured farmers were very interested in such a venture. Several hundred dollars were soon signed for, and we worked almost night and day to secure more subscriptions towards the church. We succeeded well! Certainly, there were many difficulties, but when love is harnessed before a wagon the load usually comes along. Twenty miles across rivers and sand-bogs we had to transprot the lumber by horse and wagon, but it all went fine. Millionaires were scarce in those days. However, with all in unity tackling the job and supporting it according to ability and love for the cause there could be only success of the venture. . . On Mid-summers Day, 1884, the church stood ready for dedication. It was then evaluated to be worth $1,400.00 (and the parsonage $690.00) all of it paid except $277.00 on the day of dedication. The Reverend John Simpson, C. F. Levin, 0. J. Swan, J. A. Gabrielson and others participated in the dedicatory services and helped to conduct a series of Protracted Meetings during which season many found God and Peace in their hearts."
Charnquist reported to the conference in the fall of 1884 (42) forty-two members in full connection and (3) three on probation. A mighty fine accomplishment by pastor and people to organize the congregation, build the parsonage and church and practically paid for it in the comparatively short time of two years. Such heroism is worth emulating even in our day. Since the railroad came through and the town of Axtell grew up, the appointment has been known by the name of that town.
During the pastorate of A. G. Milton, the Keene Church seems to have been organized from the leadership of the Salem congregation. At any rate, during the year 1895-96 Reverend Milton served Axtell and Keene. It was the first year of the church at Keene's existence. And, during the following year Rev. Mellberg Served the two charges. It is during that latter year that Reverend Mellberg led the Keene Church in the building venture of a church building similar in structure to the one which now stands at Salem. The energetic pastor Mellberg must have received an inspiration in that Keene Church building venture, for in 1898 the Salem congregation dedicated the present building under his capable leadership. Quoting from the 1898 Conference Minutes and the then District Superintendent's report to the Annual Conference, the Reverend A. J. Lofgren says: "The church at Axtell is a frame structure 30x30 and a class room 16x28. It is evaluated to be worth $3,300.00 and the church was dedicated free from debt. The church is a landmark and an honor to the community and all they who contributed to its building. It is a pleasant duty I have here performed when I, in the name of the church, extend to Brother and Sister Mellberg a deep appreciation for the excellent work done in the building of this fine church.
The Reverend Jonas P. Johnson worked with the people during his term in the remodeling and enlarging of the parsonage. Gleaning from conversations with the old timers, one learns that the original parsonage was swung around to stand lengthwise, north and south, instead of east and west as it first did. And, across the west-end, facing the road, was added a two story structure providing ample sleeping and living quarters both up and down stairs. The telephone also seem to have been installed during the year 1906. The bell in the church tower is the result of people's and pastor's endeavors during Reverend Johnson's ministry here. The Conference Minutes states that it cost something like $100.00, and that included in the sum was also the purchase of paint for the church.
The Reverend Oscar J. Swan served the church for five happy years. He tells in a brief sketch written into the records just as he stands ready for his new appointment - West Hill, Nebraska in September 1911. "Due to a severe storm, the plastering in the church became badly damaged. We lined the walls and the ceiling with shiplap and covered that with steel ceiling and painted it." That painting job is about the best the writer has ever seen anywhere, for the church has not been painted since, and one cannot find a flaw or see it peel anywhere as yet. "New lighting system was installed; cement walk laid leading from the church to the road. Fences established around the grave yard and about the parsonage; a cistern was dug and cement plastered, and a kitchen sink with pump drawing "water from the cistern was installed in the parsonage kitchen; a cement walk was laid from the parsonage to the pump and windmill; new foundation was laid under the barn and the barn painted. All of it has been done, with such willing cooperation and ease that it bespeaks a fine people and honor to the congregation."
While Rev. Gust Freeman served the charge the roof of the church building was shingled and the chicken house built, and during the term of Rev. A. W. Lundeen lightning rods were placed on the church. The present garage was built while Rev. Borgman was pastor. It replaced the old barn. The Rev Carl Graner, John Jacobson, A. J. Peterson, John Seaberg, A. G. Milton all served their day well, as did Frank Edwards, Otto Chellberg and Herman Olson. It can truly be said that all of the pastors are kept in loving memory for their gentle and helpful ministry as pastor of the church.
It is indeed difficult to give due credit to all the pastors for some have been more active than others, and some have been exercising more care in recording their work for the posterity. They all raised monuments in the church and the community, though some of them are not built with hands or material things. We mortals find it so easy to state facts in material terms, but when it comes to give expression to the things of the spirit we often fall short. And, that is what troubles the writer somewhat as he is working out this historical sketch.
THE CHURCH SCHOOL:
The work among the children did not materialize until after the rush and fever of building parsonage and church had come to completion. It was in 1884 that the church school was first organized. It seems as though the first attempt to establish the teaching of the young regularly and each Sunday in the fundamentals of religion was made in the Fourth Quarterly Conference late in the month of August that year. Reverend Charnquist was then getting ready to move on and after him came Reverend Carl Garner. Under his guidance, and the superintendency of Frank Johnson, the church school began a very fine and far-reaching work.
It is not much of dramatic or unusual nature that can be said about the work of the school other than that those unsung heroes -the Sunday School teachers- have sowed the seed for a better life here and Eternity, by their patient and never ending toil with the children in the community. The following persons have served the church school as its superintendents; Frank Johnson 1890; Peter Ekwall 1890-92; C. F. Johnson 1892-93; Sam Anderson 1893-1907; Wm. Derby 1907-13; Rev. Frank Edwards 1913-16; O. W. Nordblade 1916-19; Rev. Gust Freeman 1922-29; Miss Alma Samuelson 1929; Mrs. Herman Olson 1930-33. For a few months between the pastorate of Rev. H. Olson and J. E. Borgman, Mesdames Ed. Erickson and Emil Erickson alternated a month each. When Rev. Borgman arrived there was in due season an election, resulting in Mrs. Ed. Erickson being elected superintendent. She is the present active superintendent.
THE EPWORTH LEAGUE;
The young people's society of the church was first organized as an Epworth League the 12th of March, 1692, and the chapter received its charter from the National Office on March 28th the same year. The first set of officers of the Salem League were: President, Miss Alma Samuelson; 1st Vice President, Miss Anna Mattson; 2nd Vice President, Miss Ester Johnson; 3rd Vice President, Miss Hannah Nelson; 4th Vice President, Miss Selma Johnson; Secretary, John Mattson; Assistant Secretary, Amos Ekwall, Treasurer, Ernest Samuelson.
From the incompleteness of the earlier records and allusions found on several instances in the records, it appears that the activities of the league were rather spasmodic during the first years. One statement says, "The league met on a special call May 9, 1899 for the purpose of reorganization," This meeting resulted in the election of the following cabinet: President, Miss Alma Samuelson; 1st Vice President, John Mathinson; 2nd Vice President, Josie Cedarburg; 3rd Vice President, Ester Johnson, Secretary, Hannah Nelson; Treasurer, Ed. Cedarburg.
It seems that this move also died away for there are no records until the time when Rev. 0. J. Swan called the young people together to reorganize on March 10, 1907. On that date the following cabinet was elected, as follows: President, Rev. 0. J. Swan; 1st Vice President, Mrs. Gust Falk; 2nd Vice President, Miss Otilia Carlson; 3rd Vice President, Mrs. Oscar Leafgren; 4th Vice President, Miss Alma Samuelson; Secretary, Miss Lulu Swan; Treasurer, 0. W. Nordblade.
It is from this time on that the young people's society has functioned continually and with a purpose. However, it seems that some time during 1912 there was a shift of emphasis, judging from the fact that the society changed its name from that of Salem League to that of the "Salem Tegner Society". Then again on October 5, 1913, there was another vote taken to determine the name to be "The Salem Workers". Under this new name the society functioned efficiently until the summer of 1922. At this time the minutes state that Rev. Sahlen gave an address before the society, in which he explained the leading points of the different departments and their work in a regularly constituted Epworth League. Following this address of Reverend Sahlen, a motion was made, supported and carried, that the organization of the "Salem Workers" be changed into the "Salem Epworth League".
The minutes indicate throughout from 1907 on that wholesome activities have been carried on by the young people without a break. Likewise, that the society at different times has materially aided the Official Board and the church with its fincances. The following persons have served as presidents of the young people's society: Mrs. Alma Samuelson 1892, no records 1893-98, Miss Alma Samuelson 1899, no records 1900-06, Rev. 0. J. Swan 1907-1911, Carl Falk 1912-15. Emil Erickson 1916-19, Arvid Samuelson 1920, Emil Erickson 1921-25, (second term), Wesley Jacobson 1926-29, Carl Falk 1930-31 (second term), Wallace Peterson 1932-33, Paul Nordblade 1933.
THE LADIES AID:
The women of Salem and Keene Methodist Churches met in the Salem parsonage on October 21, 1896 for the purpose of organizing a Ladies Aid. After some discussion, it was decided to organize two societies, one for Keene and the other for Salem. The reason for this joint meeting was undoubtedly the fact that the two churches were served by the same pastor, the Rev. C. J, Wellberg. Each group elected its set of Officers and they elected for the Salem organization: President, Mrs. C. J. Mellberg; Vice President, Mrs. Victor Carlson; Secretary, Mrs. Andrew Danbom; Treasurer, Mrs. Wm. Derby.
To tell in detail the story of the Ladies Aid of almost any church, as well as that of Salem, would be to make a review of the economic history of the church, for it is no secret that the women in this sort of a society and its work have often proved the financial backbone of the local church. "Whether that is actually true at Salem, the writer does not know. But, it is a sure thing that the Aid Society has had a very material part in the financial program of the church. Often they work and toil without a word of appreciation and yet they make their quiet contribution towards the spreading of the Kingdom of God, efficiently and gladly. May this statement be acknowledged as a tribute to all the fine women who have toiled and loved in Salem in the past, together with they who so nobly carry on the work. If we were poetic, a sonnet should really be composed in their behalf."
The following have served as presidents during the years: -1897-1900, Mrs. C. J. Mellberg; 1901-03, Mrs. Oscar Palm; 1904-05, Mrs. J. P. Johnson; 1906-08, Mrs. G. V. Carlson; 1908-10, Mrs. Andrew Samuelson; 1910-14, Mrs. J. A. Jacobson; 1915-27, Mrs. Gust Falk; 1928-29, Miss Alma Samuelson; 1930, Mrs. Emil Erickson.
THE WOMEN'S FOREIGN MISSIONARY SOCIETY:
Was organized in the year 1901. Its first president was Mrs. Victor Carlson who served in that capacity until 1904. Following her was Mrs. Beckmark who served two years. In 1906 Mrs. 0. J. Swan was elected and served five years. In 1911, in the fall, Mrs. C. F. Edwards was elected and served for three years. Mrs. J. A. Jacobson became the guiding spirit for the society in the fall of 1914 and she served well for six years. The years 1919-22 Miss Alma Samuelson served as leader for the group. Mrs. Gust Freeman followed her for three years, 1922-25, when Miss Samuelson again was elected to the office. This second term she continued until 1929 when Mrs. Carl Falk became president and continues until the present.
The work of this society is certainly not showy so far as its local color is concerned, and that is rather a universal phenomena. Neverthless, these Women's Foreign Missionary Societies do perform a most useful and inspiring function when one takes a broader look about the world and gleans at least a partial glimpse of what that very vital society is accomplishing. It is maintaining women missionaries, who have the opportunity to do work no man is ever able to do. Especially is this true in countries where Mohammedan and Hindu religions flourish. This society conducts and maintains schools and carries on a work that is indeed difficult to describe, but which nevertheless promotes the Kingdom of God on earth as few other agencies do. So the local society, inauspicious as it may seem, is of real importance and great value in the work of the church.
No doubt there are some things, incidents or achievements, and persons, who should have been mentioned in this historical sketch, but we have been dealing with the materials that have been found, as faithfully as we could. May we assure you that gladly would any information of value have been used if it had come to our knowledge. May we likewise ask that any such information be deposited with the records for future use." Signed- Oscar Chindberg, Pastor May 1937.
Prairie was one of several Swedish communities in which the pastor at Axtell preached. Work was started here in 1887 and a church building was constructed in 1894 at a cost of $2,200.00, while Rev. A. G. Milton was pastor. In 1895, when a church was organized in Holdrege, it became a part of this charge and remained so until 1922, when the building was sold and the money used for needed repairs on the Holdrege property. The remaining members were then transferred to that church. This little group, numbering at best some forty members, with a Sunday School of thirty-six, has done a fine piece of work for the Kingdom of God, and their children will continue to labor in the English speaking churches to which they have gone.
The history of the Swede Plain United Methodist Church begins back in the year of 1876 with some Swedish settlers who formed the community at that time. The first meeting was held in the home of C.O. Norton with a visiting minister by name of Rev. Bjurstrom.
This came about largely through the influence of Mrs. Helena Hurtig the mother of C.O. Norton's wife. (She was the grandmother of Mrs. Nettie Carlson) Mrs. Hurtig longed to hear some preaching from a Swedish Methodist minister and that was the beginning. May 14, 1875.
A short time after this John Linn, who was then stationed at (Saronville) visited the settlement and organized a class or society. The charter members were: Mrs. Helena Hurtig, Mr. and Mrs. C.O. Norton, Mr. and Mrs. Swen Hokanson, Mr. and Mrs. L.J. Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. L.P. Walberg, Mr. and Mrs. A.F. Wickstrom, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Stenberg. Jan. 18, 1876. There were thirteen members in all. This newly organized work was linked with Saronville and was visited by the pastor from there once a month.
It must be noted that ten years of work in Swede Plain was carried on before the building of the church, as regular work was begun in 1877 and the church built in 1887. The first meetings were held in a little sod house south of the church. Later as the attendance grew the meetings were held in a schoolhouse which now stands one mile west of the church, but which at that time was located where the church now stands. The school district area was considerably larger than most districts are at the present time and probably included much of the surrounding territory of the church. When the schoolhouse was built it was agreed that it could be used for church purposes as well
The first Methodist ministers did not devote their full time to Swede Plain as the work in the state was quite scattered, the laborers not so plentiful, and the newly organized congregation unable to support a minister for full time service. Therefore when a Methodist minister was not on hand the ministers from the Lutheran, Mission or other churches would come and proclaim God's word to the waiting congregation.
Our first regular pastor was John Linn who served our church during the year 1877. He was born in Sweden. At an early age he lost his father and before he was nine years old was compelled to make his own way in the world. He had not much chance to acquire an education and it is said he could not write his own name until he was grown. In the home of a relative where he was employed, he was taught to read so that he could as was the custom "Lasa for presten" at the usual age. (Confirmation) After coming to America he settled with his wife in Iowa and met with many hardships, his wife dying in 1853. On her deathbed she bade her husband to meet her in heaven. These words kept ringing in his ears and at a revival meeting in Swede Bend, Iowa before the minister had scarcely said his "Amen", Linn sprang to his feet and gave testimony of salvation. Almost immediately he began to preach the word of God.
Our second minister was 0. J. Swan. It seems that he came here from New Sweden, Iowa, in the fall of 1877. He served our church one year, coming up here from Saronville, where he had his home. He preached both at Stromsburg and at Swede Plain. For the service of preaching at Swede Plain once a month he received the sum of sixty dollars a year. While in this vicinity he stayed at the hospitable home of C. 0. Norton. His means of conveyance from Saronville to Swede Plain was a little spotted pony and an open buggy. The pony Mr. Norton had helped him purchase from a doctor at Clarks for the sum of one hundred dollars.
Our next minister in 1879 was Olin Swanson, a young man who probably came out here as his first charge, as we find him enrolled in the Swedish school at Evanston, Illinois, a few years prior to this time. During his ministry with us he served the charge at West Hill as well, spending two weeks at each place. While here he lived at Norton's. He is credited with giving the name "Swede Plain" to our church. You may be interested in knowing whowere some of the new members received into the church. They are as follows: Mr. and Mrs. Peter Bergman, Mr. and Mrs. Charley Flodman, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Moberg, and Mr. and Mrs. Westman.
(some text missing)
...midst Rev. E. R. Peterson and his bride, who came to us from Burlington, Iowa. They worked with us four years, proving to be very efficient and helpful. As a result of our being without a minister for a time, the church was soon filled with worshipers again, who were glad to worship God in their own church under these able leaders. The various departments of the church were strengthened and the community again served by the church in various ways. The church was remodeled at this time and the basement added, which has proved very beneficial to the work. It is necessary to dwell upon the work of Rev. Peterson and his wife among us, for he is well remembered and the work is being able carried on by Rev. Ekwall and his wife, whom we were very fortunate in securing when Rev. Peterson decided to work in other fields, having joined the Nebraska Annual Conference in the fall of 1927.
Rev. Ekwall and his family came to us from Ong, Nebraska where they were members of the Swedish Methodist Church at that place. Rev. Ekwall was at that time a layman in the church, but preached at various times when his assistance was needed. During the time we were without a minister, he was one of the men sent to preach to us one Sunday. He was so well liked by our congregation that we immediately began to see if we could not secure him as our regular pastor. This we succeeded in doing in the spring of 1928. At the Conference held in the fall, he was ordained a regular minister of God and returned to us. We considered ourselves very fortunate indeed in being able to have with us Rev. and Mrs. Ekwall, who were both young people, very enthusiastic in the work, and very capable. They are awake to the needs of the church and have brought about many helpful inovations in many lines. They are both talented musicians and ,are helping in the music department of the church very much. We hope to be able to keep them with us for some time, but knowing the itinerancy of a Methodist preacher, we dare not hope too strongly as other and bigger fields also await these able workers.
This spring the pastor and members of the congregation planted nearly two hundred trees, consisting of Cedar and Ash, on the church yard to be used for ornamental and protective purposes. We have attempted to show how our little church has moved on from the little class first organized in the home of C. 0. Norton in 1875 with but thirteen members, until now in the year 1929, fifty-four years hence, with a membership of one hundred fifteen. We have called to mind the ministers who have served us and have tried to give a few of the outstanding events that have taken place in the way of progress. We believe our church has served its people nobly and well in the earlier days when the work was carried on in the Swedish language among the Swedish speaking people, as well as later when it became necessary to use the English language among the younger generations. We owe much praise and gratitude to the older members who organized (text missing) and is the only member left is our midst of the original thirteen members, and though he cannot be with us in person we feel sure that he is here in spirit.
It is interesting to note that we are again a member of the Northwest Swedish Conference from which we sprung, and the next meeting of the conference to be held in, Chicago.
May the church continue to serve the community as well in the future as it has in the past.
The celebration of our fifty-fourth anniversary was an occasion of great significance and rejoicing to all our members and former members and pastors of our church. Several former members and pastors took advantage of the opportunity of being with us at this time. The meetings were very spiritual and the reminiscences of old and sacred associations in the beginnings of our church brought tears to the eyes of many of us as we listened to the discussions and accounts of the early leaders of our church. It made us all proud of the achievements of our church and gave us a new determination to carry on in the future. Our church transferred into the Nebraska Annual Conference, September 7, 1929, the church having voted during the summer to take this forward looking step, believeing that we should be a part of the great Nebraska Conference. Our pastor, Rev. Ekwall, was also taken in the Nebraska Conference at this time and he was returned to us for another year.
We feel that the church has made great progress under the able leadership of our pastor and his wife. The meetings on Sunday have been very well attended and the messages given have been a joy to us all. The beautiful preludes rendered on the organ and piano by Mrs. Ekwall and Miss Julia Johnson have warmed our hearts and set them in tune to receive the message Rev. Ekwall so touchingly gave us. A fine invocation we have all enjoyed is presented each week since April 28, 1929 by Rev. and Mrs. Ekwall and paid for by different members of the congregation each Sunday. We enjoy having them in the morning service and they also serve as reminders of all meetings held during the week.
During the year sixteen new members have been received into the church on confession of faith. Four members have been dismissed by certificate, and two of our members have passed away, namely C. 0. Norton and Dvern Lind. Nineteen have been baptised during the year and our net membership now is 120. A number of improvements have been added to our church during the year. The platform was rebuilt to extend across the entire front of the church and a new altar was built, the men of the church doing the work on the platform. The altar was made by Carl E. Erickson of Ong, who donated his time for his work. The carpet was relaid by the ladies of the church, it having been necessary to buy a few more yards of carpet. The cost of the above work was sixty-nine dollars which was paid for by the young people's class from money earned giving their play. The thirty-six song book racks were also the gift of the young people's class. Mr. and Mrs. Forrest Sedan having made the racks and installed.them. The four pedestals were made by Forrest Sedan from material taken from the old altar. The gravel, which we enjoy, in front of the church was hauled by J. A. and F. A. Willard, Orlie and Leslie Adelson, Art Scholtz and Clarence Johnson during the month of July. The interior of the church was redecorated in July, 1930, at the cost of $19.60, which was paid for by the young people's class.
J. W. Ekwall removed to Macon in September, 1930 and G. I. Friday of Nemaha was appointed to Swede Plain. This year proved to be a severe one from the standpoint of agricultural depression. Discouragement marked the year because immense losses on feeding of live stock and other misfortunes such as 33 cent wheat and 40 cent corn, making it difficult to meet all expenses and obligations and making it impossible to agitate for any improvements that would cost any large amount. The bulletin was continued each week and the expense was born by the Ladies Aid Society. The Bible school broke all records and enrolled families never before touched. Enrollment reached forty and Rev, and Mrs. Friday and Miss Fern Samuelson were very busy taking care of the bright and eager children who could not be kept away from it by any ordinary hindrances. Following the close of the school, an exhibit of the work was shown in the church parlors after the short Bible school program in the church. The children also enjoyed a trip to York in the big truck owned by Oliver Adelson and again visited Mother Jewel's Home and gave them a nice quilt. They also broadcast a program from station KGBZ through the courtesy of the Henry Field Company and the program was enjoyed by many of the people of this community..........
As the end of the year approaches it becomes apparent that finances are to be hard to manage. Farmers have met at the county seat demanding reduction of taxes and expenses in general, including salaries of school teachers. We know not what the future holds, but we walk by faith where sight is impossible. We have enjoyed the ministry of our District Superintendent, Dr. A. V. Hunter, who resides at Hastings. This is his last year and we will miss his big brother smile and able administrational powers. Our conference meets this year in Omaha. There is a spiritual lethargy upon the church and let us hope that as we meet together again new strength and power will be our to press the battle of the future.
Certain families did not cooperate during 1931 and the pastor refused to remain longer in the absence of promises to do better. G. I. Friday moved to Cedar Hill and was succeeded by Bev. Shacklock from Maywood. Church members should worship God and not any particular pastor. Thus our church has moved on through the years, and though our interest and enthusiasm may have waned at times, our pastor and his wife worked unceasingly and have been untiring in their efforts to build up the Kingdom of God in this place. We feel that they have been successful and that their reward is great even though we cannot compensate them materially as they deserve. Our hope and prayer is that the Conference may see fit to return them to us another year and yet should opportunity open its door to them, we would not stand in the way, but wish them Godspeed, and at the same time whisper a prayer that God may raise up another to lead and guide us." (Thus far we have quoted Mrs. Jane Lind Phillips, the latter part of her writing bearing the date August 27, 1930.)
Regarding the annals of the church at Stromsburg, they parallel those of Swede Plain so closely that it is needless to make a separate statement except in the matter of the building of the church and parsonage. The church in Stromsburg was erected in 1883 while John Simpson was pastor. A parsonage was built sometime later and is listed in the minutes of the first session of the Western Swedish Conference in 1894.
During the "Centenary Movement" a new English speaking church was to be built and as the corner upon which the Swedish building stood was considered the most appropriate location for this edifice the Swedes donated the lot and sold their building to Mr. 0. C. Danielson and A. B. Lind for $150.00. The building was razed and the proceeds of the sale were used to pay an old debt. The only stipulation made in the transfer of the lot was that the Swedish members were to be permitted to hold services in the newly erected (building) without payment of rent as long as there were enough of them left to desire these meetings. The Rev. E. R. Peterson was the last pastor of the Swede Plain Church to hold such meetings as the elderly people felt that the time had come to enter wholeheartedly into the program of the English speaking church.
The same pastors have served both churches, with a few exceptions, noteably in 1903 when A. F. Winell was appointed to Stromsburg, and Swede Plain had a separate pastor. Following him J. P. Norton became pastor in 1910. Both of these men served the St. Paul charge concurrently with the church at Stromsburg. Lincoln Valley and Gresham had also been outpoints from Stromsburg. The peak membership is listed as 110 with a Sunday School enrollment of 104.
Various ministers of the Western Swedish Conference held services in schoolhouses once a month for several years, but this year St. Paul was made a part of the West Hill charge and the Rev. Emil Malmstrom drove with horse and buggy across the hills some twenty miles to minister to these good people for which he received $90.00 for the year. The next year, however, as Genoa had been added to the West Hill charge, St. Paul was left without a pastor and services were held by various ministers as their time permitted. In spite of this haphazard service this forward-looking people purchased a three acre tract of land in 1907 upon which they planned to build a church. In 1909 the Rev. A. F. Winell added the care of this church to his work at Stromsburg and a foundation was laid for a building costing $3000.00. On the day of dedication, September 4, 1909, it was found that the cost had amounted to $3464.00 of which $3141.00 had been paid, leaving a balance of $323.00, with an extra $623.00 before the church could be dedicated. Actually $686.23 was raised of which $201.63 was paid in cash.
That same month a student, the Rev. J. P. Norton, was sent to the Stromsburg and St. Paul circuit. On November 21, 1911, an overheated furnace caused the church to burn to the ground. It was just time for the Sunday School to begin and the people came carrying buckets with which to fight the fire, but as there was no well on the place and the nearest house was a quarter of a mile away, they stood gazing sorrowfully at the ruin taking place before their very eyes, helpless, when a twelve year old girl from a neighboring Bohemian family, Josephine Matticka, sprang into the building and began dragging out pews. The group was electrified and all ran in saving all they could move, even to taking the doors off the hinges. The last article, a kitchen stove, was being dragged out through the back door just as the floor fell into the basement. Thus everything moveable was saved, but the hapless and self-sacrificing people were left without a spiritual home. Through the wise council of the supply pastor, the Rev. A, F, Winell, a retired minister, plans were made for the rebuilding of the church and a better building soon took the place of the one that was burned. It was dedicated on August 2, 1912 with everything paid in full. They had received $1964.00 in insurance, but they now had a property valued at $3800.00.
In September of that year the Rev. 0. W. Strombom was appointed as the first resident pastor and the charge was made a station. As the church was situated twelve miles from the town of St. Paul and there was no parsonage, it became the lot of the pastor, his wife and two very young children to "board around" for two week periods in the homes of some of the members. So every two weeks they gathered up their luggage, their high chair and baby crib and moved on to another place. One interesting experience the pastor had within the first half hour of their arrival. The hostess after ascertaining that the pastor and his wife had both lived on the south side in Chicago questioned them about acquaintances they might have had in common and it was learned that this good woman's brother had been the pastor's Sunday School teacher in his boyhood. One good thing especially can be said about "boarding around" and that is that the minister's family got so well acquainted with the people and vice versa that to this day minister's family and people alike feel that their is a distinct kinship among them. By Thanksgiving Day a new parsonage costing $1700.00 was ready for occupation. For a small congregation, numbering only twenty-four members, this was very well done, considering the fact that within the space of two years they had constructed two churches and a parsonage.
Such zeal and self-sacrifice merited the revival that followed during the winter, which resulted in thirty conversions and twenty-eight accessions to the church on confession of faith. An Epworth League was organized with twenty-four members that became very active as the young people struggled through the no easy task of conducting their devotional meetings, since none of them had ever been taught to express themselves in public. One young man trying to pray in public for the first time struggled through a short petition and then after a brief pause said: "0 Lord, I can't think of anything else to say, Amen".
After three years the Rev. A. E. Sjoding was appointed to this place and remained for two years when the former pastor, 0. W. Strombom, was reappointed and served the charge for four years more. An addition was built on the parsonage, giving it a more roomy kitchen and pantry, thus making possible the use of the former kitchen for a pastor's study, this cost another $275.00. Rev. Adolph Mohlen succeeded Strombom and remained for two years and was followed by the Rev. N. G. Barton in 1923. Mrs. Barton was called to her eternal rest during these years, after many years of faithful service as pastor's wife and her body was laid to rest in the little cemetery that was beginning to grow all too rapidly.
In 1928 it was deemed wise to discontinue Swedish work entirely and by unanimous vote of the people the charge and its pastor were transferred into The Nebraska Annual Conference and their pastor was .. returned to them to work under the direction of another District Superintendent. The charge is now known as the Fairdale Church and is served by the pastor of the church at St. Paul. The parsonage is now being used for social purposes.
Thus ends an all too sketchy recording of a noble enterprise that meant much more to the early settlers, who aided in the transformation of a virgin country into a vast commonwealth, than we, who benefit by their struggles and self-sacrifice, can imagine, let alone try to discribe. Some of these people were inclined to feel that the change to the use of the English language and the disbanding of the Swedish Conference is a sign of some inherent weakness or distinct failure. Others feel, and rightly so, that God had called this work into being for a very distinct and needed service and that, now since this work has been so well and faithfully done, God has opened the way into larger fields of endeavor through which, albeit they must decrease and the English language churches must increase, the Kingdom of God has been greatly advanced and many souls will sing their glad hossanahs in the celestial choirs who never would have had a chance had it not been for the diligent efforts of the Swedish Methodist Churches in America of which the churches of Nebraska have contributed their due share.
Following are the names and brief data of the ministers who have at some time or other served either as pastors or district superintendents in the Swedish Methodist Churches of Nebraska. This table has been taken from the complete list of all the Swedish Methodist ministers in America as found in the Historical Edition of the Official Journal and Year Book of the Central Northwest Conference for the year 1942.
CHURCHES AND PREACHING PLACES OF SWEDISH METHODISM IN NEBRASKA
The first item the name of the charge, the second the time when work was started, the third the peak membership and the fourth the peak S. S. enrollment.
Axtell, Nebr. (Salem) 1879 62 70