In the 1870s, Swedish immigrants were on the move. Some were coming directly from across the Atlantic, but many were moving from their first locations in Iowa and Illinois out to new lands, good farm ground opening for settlement at bargain prices thanks to the homestead act and the railroad land grants.
At Galva, Illinois, Lewis Headstrom's company was arranging for Swedes in that region; the Bishop Hill, Andover, Victoria, Altona and Galesburg communities, to make just such a move. Quite a group from Varna, Illinois had recently left for the same area in Nebraska. It was possible to sell Illinois land for a much higher price than Nebraska's and expand ones possibilities. Down in southeast Iowa the earliest colony, New Sweden, saw such an extensive exodus toward the new State of Nebraska that its Baptist church would never be the same again.
Earlier, two Swedish preachers came together to America. One would become the president of the Augustana Synod. The other, his junior, would be a frontier pastor in the new state and go in a very different direction, though both stayed in touch as we know from surviving letters. They were T.N. Hasselquist and A.N. Sweders.
A great opportunity appeared for young John Grönvall: a position as manager of a cooperative grain elevator at Durant along the new branch of the railroad in Polk County.
They were all headed for the same place: Stromsburg, dear to my heart.
The first Swede Home church
It was Sandahl's book that fired my interest, that revealed so much that was unknown or poorly known about these early days of the immigrant church in Nebraska. His "History of the Nebraska Conference" of the Augustana Lutheran church is the best source I know. Particularly provocative is this quote about Stromsburg:
"To start Lutheran church work in this sectarian stronghold was by no means an easy task."
"Sectarian stronghold!" Sounds like an interesting story. Believe me, it is.
Rev. Charles F. Sandahl,
Sandahl, the Hults, Flodmans, Thelanders and the others from Varna settled around what became Swede Home. Anchored by the Calvary Lutheran church, which is now about all that remains except for a few residences, Swede Home once had a post office and businesses including a general store and blacksmith shop. It did not have a railroad, which the new town of Stromsburg a half dozen miles away did have. Stromsburg boomed, Swede Home did not. But, claims Sandahl, they were the first Swedish church in Polk county.
Calvary Lutheran Church of Swede Home today
Granted; but to see the whole picture one must read the rest of his story. Long before the Lutherans (and Sandahl is true blue Lutheran) could venture into the "sectarian stronghold" they had to deal with some of their local sectarians.
Birthplace of Stromsburg Swedish Baptist Church
On a recent return to Polk County this picture was taken. Assuming the farm place had not moved at some time in the interim, this was the place where the Swedish Baptist congregation of Stromsburg was formally constituted in 1873; the farm of Mattias Samuelson. When the leaves have fallen, the spire of Calvary Lutheran, Swede Home, would be visible for it is on the same section of land. Furthermore, present at this meeting was Swede Home's pastor, C.H. Lundgren, who then and there became a Baptist. Sandahl suggests he had been one all along.
Pastor C.H. Lundgren
Unlike in the New Sweden, Iowa, community where the original Swedish church spawned Swedish Methodist and Swedish Baptist congregations all along the same road, this new Baptist church cast its lot with the town of Stromsburg. In fact, it took advantage of a free building lot which the unprejudiced town company offered to any church group. The Swede Home Lutherans were spared unwanted neighbors and the "sectarian stronghold" was on its way.
Pastor A.N. Sweders
Now the young traveling companion of T.N. Hasselquist was dispatched by the Kansas Conference of Augustana, no doubt in consultation with pioneer pastor S.G. Larson of the Mead-Swedeburg area, to be Swede Home's pastor. He was A.N. Sweders, one of those innovative Lutheran mission pastors who, like O. Olsson down in Lindsborg was inclined to favor limiting church membership to those who could bear witness to a personal experience of conversion. The official policy of Augustana, no doubt duly considered, was to allow such things as letters of transfer and only require assent to the creedal beliefs as established to permit membership...leaving the condition of the soul to the judgement of God and not men. Olsson altered his position; Sweders never did. Orthodox-minded Swede Home parishoners called in S.G. Larson and even Chicago pastor Erland Carlsson and others to counsel Sweders. He persisted, and was voted out.
While at Swede Home, Sweders had assisted in the formation of a Mission congregation in the town of Stromsburg. Because this was called the Swedish Lutheran Mission congregation, he evidently was seen as having usurped the Lutheran's place in the town company's offers of building lots to bona fide church groups. The town company was unprejudiced; unlike places such as the Iowa Halland settlement, or Wausa, where the town companies were wholly Lutheran.
Eventually pastor L.P. Ahlquist accepted a call to Swede Home (and York) churches and the congregation had a minister acceptable to the orthodox, and Sandahl. They had yet to build a house of worship, conducting their meetings in the local school, while both the Baptists and Mission groups had built churches in Stromsburg. Swede Home's claim to be the first Swedish congregation in Polk country must be upheld, but not without ambiguities.
Sweders' homestead today
On the same recent visit to Polk county, we took this picture of the farm of A.N. Sweders a few miles north of Swede Home, and of his final resting place in the Stromsburg cemetery. (Pastor C. Lundgren is also buried there, but without a marker)
Sweders' marker at Stromsburg
STROMSBURG'S SWEDISH BAPTISTS
These first members can not be so easily traced as the later New Sweden, Iowa, group. It could be presumed that some came through the agency of Galva, Illinois. Sandahl reports that the Lundgrens were not among the Varna immigrants. Many Swedish Baptists could be found at Galesburg and an early conference meeting was held at Altona, both near Galva.
It should be noted that the Baptist movement, like the Mission Friends, did not originate in America but was underway in Sweden at the time of the immigration. We do not know where Lundgren converted, but Olof Peterson and Peter Carlson who soon arrived to assist him had been converted in Iowa.
"Olof Peterson and Charles' brother Peter Carlson, by the way, were both subsequently ordained by the Baptist Church and served the New Sweden Baptist congregation for many years. During the late 1870s Olof Peterson and several other leaders of this church left New Sweden and settled in Stromsburg, Nebraska, moves that led to the decline of the New Sweden Baptist Church."
In the New Sweden, Iowa, section of L.J. Ahlstrom's history of the Iowa Swedish Baptists, there is a picture of fifteen of the earliest members of their congregation there. Of these, all but five, and perhaps even some of them, left for Stromsburg in or around 1878. In addition to the Petersons and Carlsons, there were Blooms, two Schillerstrom daughters, and no doubt others. Ahlstrom observes with satisfaction that the Lutheran historian describes these, all former Lutherans, as being among their "most pious and experienced" members. More information about this area is given in the New Sweden, Iowa, section. For now, it is clear that a major component of Stromsburg's Swedish Baptists came from here around 1878. By the time Rev. Palm arrives from Sweden to lead the congregation in 1879 their ranks had swelled to one hundred.
Because Ahlstrom's account includes so much information, we quote from it here, beginning with Olof "Sailor" Peterson:
Peterson was born Aug. 2, 1807 on the isle of Qland, Kalmar lan, in the Baltic. At an age of twelve went to sea, continuing a seafaring life for eleven years, visiting the West Indies, Australia and New Zealand. For several months his ship was detained at a port in New Zealand for repairs and a new cargo. Here he often attended the meetings of a Methodist missionary who preached in a big tent, and when he expounded John 3: 14-16 the young sailor was awakened and began a new life. His captain, a warmhearted Christian, gave him good advice and a New Testament. In 1838 he returned to Stockholm and after that made only occasional trips to the coasts of Finland and Russia. In Helsingfors, Finland, he heard pastor F. G. Hedberg preach a gospel sermon and experienced the full joy of salvation.
In 1841, Peterson married Anna Margret Ekengren. He was engaged as missionary by the American Seamen's Friend Society of New York and worked principally among the Sailors in Stockholm, 1841-1847. During this time he came in direct contact with the English Methodist missionary, George Scott, and all the leading separatists in Stockholm, including Pastor Hedberg from Finland. And as F. 0. Nilsson was engaged by the same Society, these two men had met in Stockholm and were no strangers to each other when they met at New Sweden. Peterson had introduced the Baptist pioneer, Captain Schroeder, to the most prominent Pietist in Stockholm, C. 0. Rosenius. Schroeder speaks of O. Peterson in his History of the Swedish Baptists, N. J. Nordstrom in his History of Baptists in Sweden, and J. Bystrom in A Freechurch Pioneer as a pioneer figure in the new evangelical movement. A. Wiberg also includes Mrs. Peterson as an influential gospel worker.
When Peterson in his memoirs mentions the small private prayer meetings in Stockholm with the singer, Oscar Ahnfelt, Dr. Fjellstedt, the Palmquist brothers and others he concludes thus: "The prayer-hours together with these believers were the most happy moments in my life." He continued his missionary activities until 1847 "and then," he says, "I decided to leave Sweden in order to get more freedom to worship our God."
These paragraphs connect "Sjöman" Peterson directly with the leading names of the Swedish revival movement as well as revealing where he earned his nickname "Sailor" Peterson. Now, we follow him to Iowa, where both Nilsson and Palmquist mentioned above have visited the New Sweden congregation, the oldest in Iowa and have immersed a number, including the Lutheran pastor, M.F. Håkanson:
Before they arrived in New Sweden the Petersons were well posted on both the Methodist and the Baptist doctrines, but when pastor Hokanson was baptized Peterson still opposed this step. When G. Palmquist visited him for the first time here, in October, 1851, and told him of his doubts about infant sprinkling as scriptural baptism, Peterson could not agree with him, and he was a charter member and trustee and 'they considered themselves as orthodox Lutherans.' In May 1853 both Palmquist and Wiberg were entertained in the Peterson home. In May the following year, F. O. Nilsson came and the Lutherans expected something extraordinary, but 'he preached in the log house like Palmquist and Wiberg and many wept over their sins.'
On May 22, 1854, both Mr. and Mrs. Peterson were baptized in the same way and at the same place as their pastor, Rev. Håkanson, but unlike him, they did not recant.
This ordination certificate is well written and preserved among Peterson's written memoirs.
A later Stromsburg Baptist pastor, J.O. Backlund, has written a book about their three leading pioneer pastors: they are G. Palmquist, A. Wiberg and F.O. Nilsson. Please note the name L.L. Frisk; he will also come to Stromsburg, but remarkably as the pastor of the Mission church! More on that later.
We hope that when readers enter the Stromsburg cemetery at its center gate, and see this gravesite to the left, just inside (across from Joe and Ruth Sundberg), they will look with new appreciation on the final resting place of Olof Peterson.
"Peter Carlson was born March 12, 1817, in Kalmar Jan. Married Charlotta Schillerstrom in April 1846. They immediately began their wedding tour with a journey to America where they arrived before the end of May, going directly to New Sweden. Carlson became charter member and trustee in the Lutheran church. Later he was converted, during the revival early in 1854, and both he and his wife were baptized by Palmquist, Feb. 24. It was the day following this that pastor Hokanson refused to sprinkle a baby when he arrived in Burlington and he was very likely an eyewitness to this baptismal scene and soon followed the example of his trustee. Carlson was a fairly gifted speaker and after Håkanson moved to another field he sometimes supplied the pulpit in the Lutheran church.
(Håkanson would go to Swede Point / Swede Bend, where he would encounter C.A. Björk, a founder and first president of the Mission Covenant, as one of the deacons there.)
During a protracted meeting in the Baptist church in May, 1860, Peter Carlson was ordained to the ministry of the gospel. Rev. L. L. Frisk, moderator, Rev. N. J. Rundquist, clerk. "Then," concludes the narrator, "there was a good meeting and great edification in our church." The state missionary, Rev. O. Lindh, has this to say: "My home was always with our friends, C. Carlsons, who afterward moved to Stromsburg, Neb., where they fell asleep, believing in Christ."
Magnus Carlson came from Kisa, ostergotland, 1846, at the age of 22. In reading the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John the light of salvation filled his soul and he found peace with God. Became a charter member and deacon of the Lutheran church. In 1852 he married Miss Josefine Schillerstrom. Both were baptized by F. 0. Nilsson in May, 1854. In his diary he makes this remark: 'Many condemned us for taking this step.' The family moved to Stromsburg, Neb., 1878, where Carlson died at the age of 88 years.
Mrs. L. Bloom came with her brothers Peter and Magnus Carlson, 1846, at the age of 14. Mr. Bloom came in 1868, was converted during a revival and baptized by L. L. Frisk. Mrs Bloom was baptized by 0. Lindh, 1873. They also moved to Stromsburg in 1878, whither also others followed.
The writer has not seen the memoirs of Olaf Peterson mentioned above, but has seen those of Olaf Lindh preserved at the Swedish Center at Oakland, Nebraska, which graciously lent their copy for study. While examining the real estate records of Polk County there appeared the purchase of a property in Stromsburg by one Olaf Lindh. Lindh died on a preaching mission to Sioux City after retiring. Did he retire in Stromsburg with his friends, the Carlsons??
The Carlsons' monument at Stromsburg cemetery is near the southwest corner. (Lindh is not buried there) Leander Bloom, and probably others, are.
Rev. Peter Carlson's monument at Stromsburg
New Sweden, Iowa, must be remembered when these Stromsburg pioneer Baptists are mentioned. Their coming surely increased the liveliness of the Stromsburg Baptist church, but they probably could not have imagined the lively times just ahead. Iowans Peter Carlson and Olaf Peterson were both ordained by prominent leaders, and gave aid to C.H. Lundgren in ministry to the Stromsburg flock, while supporting themselves on farmsteads.
Of course it is likely that descendants of these New Sweden people remain in Stromsburg. Hopefully the resurgent interest in genealogy will bring this sort of thing to light.
So far, efforts to connect the Iowa Carlsons with Carlsons in Stromsburg have failed, but "stay tuned." An Olof Peterson descendant living in western Nebraska has contacted us, which we much appreciate. (as of November, 2011, we have moved back to Stromsburg and are eager to expand on this section)
By 1876, the Baptist group had built its first church on site provided by P.T. Buckley of the town corporation. On the advice of professor Edgren of Chicago, pastor A.F. Palm had been called as pastor, soon to be provided with both parsonage and salary. Soon things had progressed to the point that the first church proved too small, and a new one was built in 1884.
Things got really interesting at this same time, when Edgren and his seminary were persuaded to accept the offer from John Ekeley of Stromsburg of forty acres and $10,000 to move the school to Stromsburg. Amazingly, the task was accomplished. Never before and perhaps never since has Stromsburg claimed such a prominent place in Swedish Baptist history.
Central Baptist Seminary of Stromsburg!
Occasionally, there are events in the Swedish immigrant church that can only be explained as results of events back in Sweden. "When lightning struck in Sweden, the thunder could be heard in America." Early on, the free church groups in Sweden had cooperated as the Evangelical Alliance, but a split had come between the Baptists and the Lutheran pietists in that effort. Now the latter group had formed the EFS, usually translated Evangelical National Foundation, but that group was wrestling with such issues as "regenerate membership" and communion outside the state churches.
In the 1870's, P. Waldenström, one of the leaders of this group, was censored by the state church and became the leader of the separatist party. This was the Missionsforbundet, or Covenant of Sweden. The byword of this group was "where is it written?", seeking scriptural base for all questions. One startling result of this idea was embodied in Waldenström's book, "Om Forsoningens Betydelse", On the Question of the Atonement. There he questioned the substitutionary doctrine; that God's wrath was satisfied by the sacrifice of Jesus. He rather inferred that it was God's love that was expressed by the cross, not his wrath. Covenanters (and Free Mission people) in Sweden and America were sometimes called "Waldenströmians." Waldenström would visit Stromsburg twice...more on that later.
In the Seminary chapel, Professor Edgren convened the dissidents
Proof positive that the world of Swedish immigrant churches was a small one is seen in the fact that this "atonement controversy" was not just limited to Augustana and the Covenant. It affected the Baptists as well. Stromsburg pastor A.P. Ekman had a renowned ministry there and figured in the building of Edstrom's school. So, it was a painful shock when Edstrom accused him of preaching a view of the atonement not in keeping with Baptist orthodoxy. Fifty some members withdrew from the church and began meeting under Edgren's leadership in the chapel of the splendid new school. Though few Baptist historians actually use the word "Waldenströmian" when describing this affair, L.J. Almstrom does. He was one member of the high council of leaders summoned to Stromsburg to reconcile the dissention.
Professor J. Edgren
There was a pall of gloom upon the fortunes of the Central Bible Seminary, and it would grow only worse. The seminary is returned to St. Paul where it will ultimately become Bethel, which thrives to this day. Edgren departs the scene, moving to California. Baptist historians profess bafflement over this, quoting "failing health", but local memory indicates a sorrowful moral failure had also occurred. The grand building was briefly revived as a business college; then it burned to the ground. Little evidence remains today of this chapter of Stromsburg Baptist history, except for the street signs for "Seminary Street."
Stromsburg Swedish Baptist Church
But though the seminary was gone, the Stromsburg Baptists continued to thrive. Their church was the envy of Rev. M.E. Peterson when he came to the Mission church in 1886, now "old and gray" by comparison with the Baptists' fine new building. One of the largest of the Baptist Platte Valley Conference, Stromsburg would align itself with both the Swedish and American Baptists, being "dually aligned" and remaining strong.
Stromsburg Baptist Church today
THE SWEDISH LUTHERAN MISSION CHURCH
" In 1870, a party of men met at Galva, Illinois, to organize a colony with Nebraska as their goal. Among those men were Lewis Headstrom and Olof Netsell. The former was chosen for the trip to select a suitable site for the proposed colony...
"Swedes in Nebraska" editor, O.M. Nelson reports that the first group of Swedes in Stromsburg came from "Altoona IL" in 1871. We would expect that among these were the Sundbergs, Younglunds, Engstroms, Nordstroms and others that made up the Mission church charter members.
Though it may be hazardous to glean information from a source hostile to the subject at hand, we believe the Swede Home historian to be very credible. It is equally hazardous to glean information from sources that are so friendly as to omit embarrassing details. So C.F. Sandahl reports that in Stromsburg, " that sectarian stronghold", A.N. Sweders aided the mission friends in building a church on a lot "meant for the Lutherans." Sweders had already raised Augustana hackles by enforcing Swedish revivalist ideas at Swede Home: membership and communion for the converted only. It should be emphasized that the Swedish Augustana Synod was not opposed to conversion. In fact, in the universe of Lutherans it may have been the most cordial to the notion.
The first Stromsburg Mission Church
But in deliberating, and even agonizing over the question of regenerate membership, the policy of the denomination, duly wrought, was to leave the determination of the soul's salvation to the wisdom of the Eternal, and not to the judgement of men. The stern demeanor of the early Augustana clergy was directed not only at those who did not lead lives befitting a confessing Christian, but also against clergy who did not play by the rules set out for them.
There were clearly those at Swede Home who supported Sweders in this, but their minority was shown by a rising vote of disapproval, at which time he departed. The exact timing of this vis-a-vis the establishment of the Stromsburg Mission church has not been examined. But it is worth noting that the Swede Home congregation was early, preceeding the railroad which bypassed it and swaying fortunes in favor of Stromsburg. One might invoke the example of Swaburg up on the Washington-Burt county line, where one modest mission house served the needs, reportedly, of the Lutherans in the morning, the Baptists in the afternoon, and the Mission friends in the evening. (Swedes all) The lines were not so clearly drawn as we, and even Sandahl, might wish to think.
Illustrative of this is the story of Swede Home's very first preacher, another homesteader named C.H. Lundgren. With obvious chagrin, Sandahl must report that he was not only inclined toward regeneracy, but of the efficacy of baptism for regenerate adults only. When the opportunity afforded, he joined the Swedish Baptists and had already written a chapter in Stromsburg's sectarian story before Sweders appeared on the scene. ("sectarian" was the term used by Lutherans against other denominations in those days; the ascerbic Swedish Baptist historian, O. Lindh, reminded his readers that the 16th century Roman church held Lutherans themselves to be sectarians)
An early Stromsburg Mission history remembers that its infant congregation was ministered to by a number of preachers, including "Alstrom" (Ahlstrom, the Swede Home präst) who was a beloved pastor there and not above making Stromsburg a place of mission outreach. It may even be that the Stromsburg group viewed itself after the Swedish model of being a mission association adjunct to the parish church (which role would have been played by Swede Home). This pattern certainly applied in the Swede Bend area over in Iowa. But Sweders and, more importantly, Falk who was soon to be called, were familiar with the mode of ministry we might grudgingly call "professional." That is, the kind of ministerial office we have ever after their time considered "normal", and that already was in place at Swede Home and in the American Methodist and Baptist churches which were assisting the Swedes. Having said that, it is true that both Sweders and Falk had their own farms.
The telling of the origins of the Stromsburg Covenant Church is a "work in progress" and a very interesting one. Facts continue to come to light which were wholly unknown to this writer previously and almost certainly will be subject to further development as more discoveries are made.
Waldenström visits Stromsburg in 1889
In all its faded and yellowed glory, this picture recalls the visit of the president of the Covenant of Sweden to Stromsburg. He would visit America twice, and visit Stromsburg both times to the delight of the populace. The 50 year reminiscenses of pastor Andrew Johnson tell that though he had already eaten breakfast that morning, Waldenstrom could not resist the north Swedish dish, "filbunke", that Mrs. Johnson had prepared. Filbunke is described as "clabbered milk." In that second visit, a tent had been set up, with American and Swedish flags flying. Judging from the crowd, national pride trumped denominational differences on those days.
Rev. Andrew Johnson, host to Waldenström's second visit
Most Nebraska Covenant churches were originally members of the Swedish Mission Synod organized in 1873. Omaha pastor John Peterson, our friend and author of the Conference's 125th anniversary history, has unearthed the fact that Stromsburg was one of the few exceptions to this rule. It was a member of the rival Swedish Ansgar Synod organized in Galesburg, Illinois, in 1874. How did this happen? Read more about Stromsburg and the Ansgar Synod
As the town of Stromsburg was being formed, the real estate and land company marketing its properties only moved here after several years of existence at a place called Galva, near Galesburg and Altona, Illinois. In other words, it was in an established area along the "pipeline" of Swedish immigration which promoted new lands in the west to both newcomers and to local Illinois Swedes who wanted to cash in on their appreciated land values and take advantage of lower prices further west.
So, Galva, Illinois, becomes important in the Stromsburg story and there are two things about Galva that command attention. First, it is very close to Galesburg, the home of the Ansgar Synod. Second, it is the nearest railway station to the famous Bishop Hill colony. The implications of this second fact are still too obscure to measure, but the first fact, the proximity to Galesburg, is coming into sharp focus.
Once it might have been true that interest in the Ansgar Synod, which existed for barely a decade, 1874-1883, was relevant only to hard core historians. Now it becomes relevant even to casual readers of Stromsburg history and so deserves a brief review. The name most associated with the Ansgar Synod was Rev. Charles Anderson, the same Charles Anderson to whom the Stromsburg mission friends wrote in the early '70's requesting the recommendation of a pastor for their new congregation. That pastor, C.A. Falk, was indeed called and became a Stromsburg fixture. (read more about the Falk family)
Rev. C.A. Falk
John Peterson's research has turned up other churches that were members of the Ansgar Synod. One was Swedeburg and another was Wayland. We asked John about the latter, and he replied that we should know about it, since it was right in Stromsburg's back yard! Evidently one of the preaching stations Falk visited evolved into the forming of a congregation at the rural Wayland church southeast of Stromsburg (a cemetery remains there today) and he also guided it into the Ansgar Synod! What a surprise.
If Galesburg were the only Swedish center in America there might still be an Ansgar Synod and Stromsburg might still be one of its members. But there were other centers; notably Swede Bend, Iowa, and a place called Chicago, Illinois. Quite a contingent of Swede Bend people traveled down to Keokuk, Iowa, to participate in Rev. Charles Anderson's organizational conference. Others came down from Swedetown Chicago. These folks were mission friends who were having their own issues with the Augustana Synod, but were not ready to be Americanized quite as quickly as Anderson seemed to be. The new Mission Synod which they formed voted Anderson out. (in strict sequence, it was immediately after this that Anderson formed the Ansgar Synod...it had been his intention that the Mission Synod would be "his.")
Another view; one map labels it "Free Lutheran Church"
Now the Stromsburg Mission church had been visited by ministers of several different ordaining bodies: Augustana and Ansgar Lutherans and Swedish Baptists. Two of these have even retired to Stromsburg and are members of the Mission congregation when pastor Andrew Johnson arrives (most likely Sweders and Falk). He has been warned that this might bode ill, but reports that these veterans were among his best supporters and friends, a heart-warming bit of news and one that has repeated itself in Stromsburg through the years...a favorite retirement spot for clergy.
Lundgren (Baptist), Ahlquist (Lutheran), Sweders (Lutheran Mission Friend),
Next comes M.E. Peterson. He describes a situation which has now evolved beyond the extreme fluidity of the earliest days: the Mission and Ansgar Synods are gone and the Covenant and Free groups have emerged (he refers to them as "fria" and "bundna") The Stromsburg church, he says, is divided in loyalty between these groups, and intend at this time to seek a pastor favorable to the Free faction. (Evidently there was an intent to alternate pastorates, as was done elsewhere) For this they reasonably seek the advice of A. Nordin, founder of the Phelps Center orphanage and later a colleague of J.G. Princell at his school in Chicago.
Nordin is at the time in the east, where the Eastern Mission Association exists in independence from denominational bodies. Peterson is on track to become a professor at the Swedish Congregational school in Chicago, so we may assume that like many easterners, he sees merit in the Congregational direction and is no "fria". But he and Nordin are good friends, and for whatever reason Nordin recommends him to Stromsburg. Peterson, while obviously enjoying the mischief in the situation, reports that the ministry went well and no bitterness ensued.
According to the Stromsburg historian, a pattern of one pastor recommending his successor appears. So Peterson recommends John Quist, who serves rather briefly, and then Quist recommends F.O. Hultman. It may be that in Hultman, strange as it may seem for the oldest Covenant church in Nebraska, we have the first real "bundna" from the old Mission Synod days. Not only that, but one that was much beloved, not the least for such songs as "Thanks to God for my Redeemer" which is fully quoted in the Stromsburg 50 year book and sung by Nebraska Covenanters to this day.
Now the above picture of John Quist is from Eleanor's home church, Westmark, in Phelps county, where he also served. Stromsburg had shared ministers with both Wausa, my home, and hers. This is how "Swedish roots intertwine".
Rev. F.O. Hultman
We should also note that he and his brother J.A. Hultman, the "Sunshine Singer", hailed from the same Iowa community as C.A. Falk and predictably performed at Stromsburg. The original Hultman organ has today returned to its home in Stromsburg.
The original Hultman organ, Eleanor Greenwall performing
When G.D. Hall comes to Stromsburg, his report seems to suggest that the "handwriting is on the wall" for the "fria." The wind is all blowing the Covenant's way, and the final severance, while sometimes lamented and indeed lamentable, was in no way unexpected and sanguinely likened to the earlier segregation of the Baptists with the Baptists, Methodists with the Methodists, etc. Hall is friendly with the local Augustana pastor and his progeny will return to that Synod.
Rev. G.D. Hall
What this event marked, for one thing, was the end of the colorful variety. Whether this remarkable array of ministers called was employed by strategy or simply a virtue of necessity, never again would this occur, either in the Stromsburg Covenant or Free churches. With the departure of the "fria" the Mission church proceeds to join the Nebraska Missionsforening, and ultimately, the Covenant denomination. The Free group joins with that denomination and calls only Free ministers.
Evangelical Covenant Church today
If the "late Ansgar" thinking (Franson-like, dare we say "ecumenical"?) was indeed being followed in the Stromsburg Mission Church, it had no negative effect on the strong Swedish Baptist church there, nor on the Swedish Methodists or Augustana Lutherans. They kept to their own ways successfully and transfers of memberships were no more than one would ordinarily expect. Sweden's Covenant president P. Waldenström visited Stromsburg to large crowds, but ironically his creedal innovations caused more problems in the Stromsburg Baptist church than among Lutherans or mission friends! The Ansgar association would have been no problem to Waldenström, who audienced Free, Covenant and Congregational Swedes in America without prejudice. With Björk, president of the Mission Synod, it might have been different.
With the Stromsburg church ushered in to the Covenant, and the Free Mission going its own way, we enter a more predictable and familiar, if less interesting time, one for others to chronicle. Whether the Mission church "left" a synodic organization or whether that synodic organization simply dissolved beneath their feet is a question remaining unanswered. To label the Covenant church an "independent" congregation seems, from the facts seen here, less than accurate.
THE STROMSBURG FREE MISSION CHURCH
When professor Princell was developing his ideas for a mission friend union on the pages of Chicago-Bladet, one of his colleagues was a former Nebraskan, Fredrik Franson. Franson was born a Swedish Baptist, and had a vision for world missions which were nurtured by the Moody church, which happened to be in Chicago's Swedetown. He also had a vision for American mission friends in which their churches could follow the Moody model: "each church its own synod." What a concept!
He applied this formula not only to the divided Mission and Ansgar Synods, but in concept to fragmented Swedish Methodists, dissatisfied Augustana Lutherans, Swedish Baptists like himself, and anyone else under the sun. Astonishingly, this idea took hold with dramatic success in such places as the Holdrege, Nebraska, area, where churches founded by Franson during an 1880's whirlwind campaign still thrive.
Franson did not make it to Stromsburg. It remained somewhat anchored in the earlier climate of mission friend thinking, but some of his ideas evidently filtered in. If a church were its own synod, it would not be obliged to seek pastors from that synod, but could call anyone it wished. Ideally, it could "sample" pastors from each or any of the synods, or even denominations.
Stromsburg Free Mission Church
This must be considered "circumstantial evidence", but consider the fact: in its early years, the Stromsburg church heard preachers from Augustana (Ahlquist, Sweders), the Baptists (Lundgren, Frisk), the Mission Synod, and even called as permanent pastors the Baptist L.L. Frisk and Swedish Congregationalist M.E. Peterson! (though by his own account, the congregation had thought he was of the Free persuasion)
This points to an identity along the lines of later Ansgar thinking as influenced by Franson, Karl Erixon and J.G. Princell. Both Stromsburg emeritus pastors Falk and Sweders, now retired and members of the congregation, are reportedly in concert with this arrangement. Of course, the door was also open to pastors of the new Mission Covenant, and a succession of these who were very strong in that denomination (noteably F.O. Hultman and G.D. Hall) swayed the congregation in a way that may have been, to some of the old-timers, unacceptable. The "old-timers" being those who remembered the Galva; the Galesburg; the Ansgar days.
But not all the founders of the Stromsburg Swedish Free church need have been old-timers. Princell and his anti-synodical group had a growing following of their own, some say bolstered by recent immigrants who had been reached by Franson's successful Scandinavian campaign. These may have been among those who departed the Stromsburg Mission church in 1910 when it had decided to join with the Covenant, at first only at the state level. They would form the Stromsburg Free Mission church.
There are fine points of rationale that can be adduced in these divisions, but one is tempted to suggest more human factors. Björk, who embodied the Swede Bend / Chicago connection (he led in both communities and was president of the Mission Synod and later of the Covenant) was the nemesis of both Ansgar and the Free Mission leadership, and is seldom mentioned in the annals of Stromsburg. We have not looked to see if any letters of commendation came from his office (as Covenant president) to Stromsburg on their festive occasions. It would not be surprising if they were neither sought nor sent. In this scenario, a joining of "Björk's church" might have been for some (perhaps Falk, were he still living) "the last straw".
A point to be made is that the Stromsburg Free Church is heir to the same tradition that the Covenant church has: each of the great variety of pastors seen above is part of that tradition. It is all one story: a grand idea that should not be forgotten.
Rev. Carl W. Nelson
Rev. E.H. Lindquist
Rev. E.H. Lindquist is remembered for his role in founding the Polk Bible Camp and for serving the Pleasant Home (later Polk) congregations earlier. In all liklihood his wife Esther Nyberg Lindquist is among the Polk Nybergs. He was at Stromsburg for six years and ultimately would be superintendent of the West Coast district.
Stromsburg Evangelical Free Church today