Proposal for the paper I’m scheduled to present next month at the 22nd annual Conference on Illinois History sponsored by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. Conference program and registration information are available HERE. Sessions will be conducted by Zoom, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My session will be from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 7.

Session 15: Ethnicity and Immigration in Illinois (Registration)
     “Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation in Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860,” Peter Ellertsen, Independent Scholar
     “Illinois Jews’ Experiences Serving in the Military During World War II,” Adam Taylor, Purdue University
     “From South Bohemia to the Capitol: The Life of Czech-American Congressman Adolph J. Sabath,” Martin Nekola, The Czechoslovak Talks

My proposal was submitted early in March, just as the pandemic was gathering steam and community spread was manifesting in Springfield. The paper itself, which is in the throes of final edit now, will come out to about 12,000 words. Unlike my other research projects, it hews pretty closely to the proposal.


Swedes in Roger Williams’ Garden: Acculturation in Immigrant Churches, 1848-1860: Proposal: Conference on Illinois History, ALPLM, Springfield, Illinois, Oct. 5-9 2020

When he filled out a quarterly report to the American Home Missionary Society on April 1, 1850, the Rev. Paul Andersen of the recently organized Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Chicago told of a problem he wouldn’t have faced back in the old country: “An intelligent and in many respects a highly respected gentleman sent me word that he with his family wished to unite with our church,” but the man “frequently worked in his shop on the Sabbath,” and Andersen’s church required “that only those who give credible evidence of a radical change of heart and who are living according to the precepts of the Gospel shall be admitted as members of the Church.” Complicating the issue was the fact that the AHMS made it a condition of its funding that church members document a “born again” conversion experience. So Andersen told him he couldn’t join the church. “Ministers at home never said anything about it nor did they refuse to admit us to communion,” replied the irate shopkeeper.

Andersen was not the only immigrant Lutheran pastor who faced the problem. “The Swedes have been members of a State Church,” explained the Rev. Lars Paul Esbjörn, a colleague of Andersen’s who also received funding from the AHMS, “and the greater number of them have lived in places where the true religion, conversion, and new birth and sanctification are unknown or mentioned with contempt and disdain.” Writing on Feb. 28, 1850, Esbjörn said “[t]he Swedes consider it an infamy for any one at all to be denied the Lord’s Supper” and he feared he would lose members if he enforced the rule. They found a compromise, and that compromise would become the policy of the old Swedish-American Augustana Lutheran Synod formed in 1860.

At issue was an evangelical doctrine of the Second Great Awakening, ultimately derived from the Calvinism of Puritan New England, restricting membership in a covenanted church to an elect who could prove they were chosen for salvation. As Garry Wills suggests in Head and Heart: American Christianities, this covenant theology was intricately bound up with the American ideal of separation of church and state, or, in Roger Williams’ words, a “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.” Diarmaid MacCulloch, the English historian, catches its spirit very well in Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years when he speaks of “the rhetoric of covenant, chosenness, of wilderness triumphantly converted to garden … served up with a powerful dose of extrovert revivalist fervour.” All of this, MacCullouch says, would lead to “a Christianity shaped by a very different historical experience from western Europe.”

All of these ideas were inextricably bound together, and the separatist ideal of a pure community of believers set apart from the wickedness of the world was inherent in the American system of voluntary religious associations, free of government interference in a New World. This was not the way most Swedish immigrants saw things, and they quickly set about adapting their European pietist heritage to Protestant American expectations. During the 1850s, Esbjörn, Andersen and a growing number of Swedish pastors would develop an immigrant Lutheran church polity that was neither Scandinavian nor American but a creolized blend of the two. The term, coined by cultural anthropologist Ulf Hannerz, describes a process of acculturation whereby immigrant or diaspora cultures create creole, or hybrid, forms that combine old-country and New World elements and “put things together in new ways.”

In addition to the secondary works cited above, I rely on Maria Erling and Mark Granquist, The Augustana Story: Shaping Lutheran Identity in North America; Ulf Beijbom, Swedes in Chicago: A Demographic and Social Study of the 1846-1880 Immigration; and a variety of primary sources translated by the Augustana Historical Society of Rock Island, including Esbjörn’s “Report on the Development and Current State of the Swedish Lutheran Congregations in North America, Presented at the Clergy Meeting of the Upsala [sic] Archiepiscopal See, 14 June 1865” and Eric Norelius, The Pioneer Swedish Settlements and Swedish Lutheran Churches in America, 1845-1860. First published in 1890, Norelius’ history incorporates detailed translations of correspondence and excerpts from his journals from the period.

— Peter Ellertsen, Springfield

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