The Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church embodied and expressed a Lutheran tradition in America that originated in Sweden. There had been two separate and distinct attempts to establish a Swedish Lutheran mission in America. The first of these attempts ultimately failed; the second led to the creation of the Augustana Church.
The second endeavor, and that which brought the Augustana Church into being, was connected to the Swedish immigration of the 19th century. Beginning about 1820, more than a million Swedish citizens left their homeland and immigrated to the United States. The peak of the immense influx was reached in a twelve-month period between 1887 and 1888, when a total of 91,813 Swedish came to America.
Though some of these early immigrants settled in the eastern sections of the country, the majority of the Scandinavian immigration moved into the central and upper Mississippi valley. The first Swedish Lutheran pastor to minister to these Swedish immigrants was Lars Esbjorn, who came to America in 1849, and established himself at Andover, Ill. This is the same locale where the "mother church" of the Augustana Synod was organized in 1850. Traveling to surrounding communities, Pastor Esbjorn established a number of preaching stations and organized several new congregations. In a small Swedish community north of Burlington, Iowa called New Sweden, he discovered a congregation which had been functioning since 1848 under the leadership of a layman, Magnus Hokanson. Hokanson was later ordained and became a member of the Augustana Ministerium.
As the settlers heard that a Swedish Lutheran pastor was at work in the Midwest, calls for pastoral work poured in upon Esbjorn from all directions. Within a short time he was overwhelmed with work, and appealed to friends in Sweden for help. In response to Esbjorn's pleas, several gifted men from the Swedish Church joined him in the United States. T.N. Hasselquist accepted a call from Galesburg, Ill., in 1851; Erland Carlsson came to Chicago in 1853; O.C.T. Andren assumed charge of the congregation in Moline, Ill., in 1856; and Jonas Swensson began his work in Sugar Grove, Pa., the same year. These men constituted the ministerial leadership which laid the groundwork for what was to become the Augustana Church.
Esbjorn and his people felt that hope for the future lay not in isolation, but in cooperation and association with other like minded Lutherans in America. Thus, from the beginning of his ministry, Esbjorn allied himself with a group of Norwegians led by Pastor Paul Anderson of Chicago who had separated from the Eielsen Synod. When the Synod of Northern Illinois was organized in 1851, as a district of the General Synod, both Esbjorn and Andersen, and their congregations, were received into membership. The Swedish congregations constituted the Mississippi Conference and the Norwegians the Chicago conference. Together they formed the United Scandinavian Conference.
One of the major undertakings of the Synod of Northern Illinois was the maintenance of a college and seminary. The school was called, "Illinois State University," and located in Springfield, Ill. Pastor Esbjorn was called as a Scandinavian professor and began his teaching at Springfield in 1858. By this time, however, it had become evident that a serious theological split existed within the Synod of Northern Illinois. On the one hand, the Scandinavians represented the conservative wing, opposed to any confessional compromise. While the other group led by Francis Springer, held the theological position of S.S. Schmucker of Gettysburg, Pa., which involved a modification of the Augsburg Confession. The mutual suspicions and antagonisms engendered by these theological differences eventuated into the first serious rupture within the General Synod. This occurred in 1860, when the United Scandinavian Conference, led by Esbjorn, voted to separate from the Synod of Northern Illinois and so also from the General Synod, and to establish an independent synod and seminary.
Leaders who had been present at the founding of the Augustana Synod in 1860 gathered for a picture in 1890.
Front row (L-R): Rev. P.A. Cedarstam, Rev. Peter Carlson, Dr. Erland Carlsson, Dr. Tufve Nilsson Hasselquist, Rev. M.F. Hakanson, Dr. Eric Norelius.
Back row: John Erlander, Peter Beckman, Rev. John Pherson, Rev. Hakon Olson, Dr. G. Peters.
The founding of the Augustana Synod was accomplished at the constituting convention held in the Norwegian Lutheran Church at Jefferson Prairie, Wis., June 5-11, 1860. Among those present were eleven Swedish and seven Norwegian pastors; and nine Swedish and five Norwegian lay delegates. They represented 36 Swedish and 13 Norwegian congregations with a combined membership of 4967. They voted to establish the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and a theological seminary for the training of pastors and teachers. The very name "Augustana" referred to the unaltered Confessio Augustana. The polity which the first constitution affirmed was closely patterned along the lines being used by the district synods of the General Synod.
The Augustana Church was identified by several different names over the years. It was called the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America, 1869-1894; Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Synod in North America, 1894-1948; and the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1948-1962.
For the first ten years of its history, 1860 to 1870, the Augustana Church included both Swedish and Norwegian elements. These were difficult years. The hardships of pioneer life were made more arduous by the stringencies imposed by the Civil War. But the new church grew and expanded in spite of hardships. Under the guidance of its first president, T.N. Hasselquist, the synod inaugurated an effective home missions program directed by a central board. By 1870 the Augustana Church could report a confirmed membership of 19,355 and an annual contribution to the cause of missions of $3,594.
During the first decade, the foundations were also laid for the educational work of the church. Augustana Theological Seminary, which was established at the constituting convention of the synod, was a continuation of the Scandinavian professorship which the United Scandinavian Conference had founded at Springfield in 1858. Within a few years, the preparatory department of the seminary had expanded into a four-year college. The Scandinavian settlers in Minnesota established their own academy at East Union in 1863. This institution was later moved to St. Peter and its name changed to Gustavus Adolphus College. As new settlements sprang up in other sections of the country, a number of additional educational institutions were created. Bethany College at Lindsborg, Kansas opened its door in the fall of 1881; Luther Academy at Wahoo, Neb., began operations in 1883; and in 1893, Upsala College was organized in Brooklyn, N.Y., and later moved to East Orange, N.J.
Immigration, which had been temporarily halted during the Civil War years, mounted steadily after the conclusion of the conflict and brought ever larger numbers of Scandinavians to America. Among these, the Norwegians often outnumbered the Swedes. Thus, by 1870, it had become apparent that both Swedish and Norwegian elements in the Augustana Church would be able to do more effective missionary work among their own countrymen if they could work as separate nationalistic groups. At the annual convention in 1870, by mutual consent, the Norwegians withdrew from the Augustana Church and organized their own independent synod. The Augustana Synod was thus able to concentrate its attention upon the Swedish immigrants to America. This did not involve, however, a policy of exclusiveness and isolation. At the same convention that the Norwegians withdrew, the Augustana Church voted to accept membership in the conservative Lutheran federation known as the General Council.
The interval from 1871 to 1910 may be characterized as the period of expansion in which the Augustana Synod experienced its most notable growth. The number of congregations increased more than eight-fold, the number of communicants almost nine-fold, and the number of ordained pastors almost eleven-fold. The geographical expansion was similarly impressive, stretching from the eastern seaboard to the Pacific Coast, and Canada to Texas. This growth was largely due to the new home mission strategy started in 1870, and which succeeded in winning large numbers of immigrants to the church. Home missions had previously been administered by a centralized board which supervised the program, employed the missionaries, and formulated policy. In 1870, this arrangement was abandoned in favor of a decentralized course of action. The synod was divided into five conferences (Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas and New York) which were not independent synods, but rather administrative divisions with limited autonomy.
The responsibility for initiating and executing home missions in all its phases was vested in these conferences, a strategy which proved so successful that it continued to operate until 1937 when once again home missions was placed under the jurisdiction of a central board cooperating with the several conferences. It should be noted in this connection, that as the Augustana Church expanded into new territories, additional conferences were added, so that by 1960 thirteen conferences, each with its own administration, constituted the Augustana Lutheran Church in America.
As interest in the various phases of American missions increased, a corresponding concern for foreign missions emerged. From 1870 to 1905 the Augustana Church addressed this interest by participating in the support of the foreign mission program of the General Council in India and Puerto Rico. In 1905, while continuing its contribution through General Council channels, Augustana initiated its own foreign missionary endeavor in China. This became a substantial undertaking which continued until the Chinese communists drove all non-Chinese missionaries from the country. Also during this period, Augustana worked in Persia and with a number of American Indian tribes. The Women's Missionary Society of the Augustana Church, founded in 1892, gave continued and substantial support in all these projects.
Although many factors cooperated in this notable program of expansion, perhaps no agency was more effective in reaching people, arresting their attention, and enlisting their participation and support than the church press. Shortly after his arrival to America in 1855, Dr. Hasselquist began publishing his newspaper, "Hemlandet," which sought to inform the immigrants regarding matters both spiritual and temporal. In spite of many difficulties it continued to serve the church, and was given stability with the incorporation of the Augustana Book Concern in 1889. Since that time, the Book Concern continued to give invaluable aid to every phase of the work of the Augustana Church as "the service station of the synod."
The years from 1910 to 1930 may be characterized as the period of Americanization of the Augustana Church. About 1910, Swedish immigration began to diminish, and with the advent of World War I the stream of European immigration practically ceased. American churches which had previously given their first attention to nationalistic groups, were enabled to turn to the larger American community with a renewed and broadened sense of community concern. This was the case with the Augustana Church. Several factors were involved in this development, but none more directly than the language question. Prior to World War I, the Swedish language predominated through Augustana. An "Association of English Churches" within the synod had indeed been in existence since 1908, but these congregations represented only a small minority. However, during the war the use of any language other than English was looked upon with suspicion, and a large percentage of Augustana congregations adopted the use of English in both worship and the conduct of business.
Furthermore, during the war years, when the entire nation was mobilized for action, Augustana was drawn into various cooperative endeavors for the alleviation of suffering and the rehabilitation of war-torn Europe. Of special importance was the Lutheran Commission for Soldiers and Sailors Welfare, which provided a framework of Lutheran cooperation for the eventual development of the National Lutheran Council. As an active participant in the affairs of the National Lutheran Council, the Augustana Church joined forces with those of other member bodies to bring the Gospel to bear upon numerous phases of national and international life. The growth of community consciousness is reflected in the frequent pronouncements and resolutions made by Augustana relating to such subjects as community welfare, gambling, liquor, the League of Nations, refugee aid, food and clothing collections, etc.
The period from 1930-1962 may well be characterized as a time of enlarged vision. Emerging out of the great depression of 1929-1932, the Augustana Church, under new leadership, reorganized the basic structure of its administrative procedures. The office of the president, in both the synod and conference, was given a larger measure of executive authority. Specific boards were created to supervise the various phases of church activity. This development gave the church a new administrative efficiency which mobilized its resources for more effective work.
Cooperative relationships were established with other inter-church agencies, giving Augustana wider opportunities for Christian service. In 1947 Augustana became a charter member of the Lutheran World Federation and in 1948 a charter member of World Council of Churches. And when the National Council of Churches of Christ in America was formed in 1950, Augustana was one of the charter members.
The vision which was perhaps the most cherished ideal of the Augustana Church was that of a larger Lutheran unity in America. With the conviction that synodical divisions among Lutherans in America along nationalistic lines were no longer necessary or desirable, the Augustana Church entered into merger with the United Lutheran Church in America, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (Suomi Synod), and the American Evangelical Lutheran Church to form the Lutheran Church in America in 1962.
Augustana was served by the following presidents: T.N. Hasselquist, 1860-1870; Jonas Swenson, 1871-1873; J. Sjoblom (secretary), 1874; Eric Norelius, 1875-1881; Erland Carlsson, 1882-1888; S.P.A. Lindahl, 1889-1891; Peter Johan Sward, 1892-1899; Eric Norelius, 1900-1911; L.A. Johnston, 1912-1917; G.A. Brandelle, Vice President, 1918; G.A. Brandelle, 1919-1935; P.O. Bersell, 1936-1951; Oscar A. Benson, 1952-1959; and Malvin H. Lundeen, 1959-1962.
Compiled by: Steven E. Bean, Archives Specialist, February 1993.
Source: The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, ed. Bodensieck, Julius, 1965.