Aas experiences Minnesota’s bridge to Norway

“I will be back to the Midwest” vows Ambassador

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum Mindekirken Council President Jana Deach and Pastor Kristin Sundt draw Ambassador Aas’ attention to the balcony stained glass windows featuring Martin Luther, St. Olav and Hans Nilsen Hauge.

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum
Mindekirken Council President Jana Deach and Pastor Kristin Sundt draw Ambassador Aas’ attention to the balcony stained glass windows featuring Martin Luther, St. Olav and Hans Nilsen Hauge.

Leslee Lane Hoyum
Rockford, Minn.

“I was told that Midwestern celebrations of Norwegian heritage are unparalleled,” said Norwegian Ambassador to the United States Kåre Aas during his first visit to Minnesota. “It is unbelievable, and one must experience it to understand it.”

Ambassador Aas’s first two stops over Syttende Mai weekend included two significant Norwegian-American institutions: Mindekirken and Norway House. Now neighbors, many see them as polar opposites; however, they actually complement each other, as the ambassador was about to learn.

The Rev. Kristin Sundt and the Mindekirke council welcomed the ambassador to the only Norwegian-American church in the United States with a full-time, Norwegian-speaking, Norwegian-born pastor, that worships in Norwegian each Sunday. It is a church steeped in the Christian traditions of the Norwegian immigrant. With keen interest the ambassador listened to the immigrant story of the nearly 100-year-old church and how it still is home for Norwegians and all those interested in experiencing the rich cultural heritage it offers.

Pastor Sundt and Congregation President Jana Deach proudly highlighted the stained glass windows that relate Christ’s revelation to His Apostles. They specifically brought the ambassador’s attention to the balcony windows that feature Martin Luther, St. Olav, and Hans Nilsen Hauge, the noted Norwegian revivalist lay minister. Then they turned the ambassador’s attention to the altar painting, “He is Risen,” by Norwegian immigrant August Klagstad, formerly of Drammen. It is a reproduction of Axel Ender’s original that hangs in the Molde Church.

From the fellowship hall rosemaling to the language classes to the food to the great emphasis on Norwegian music, Ambassador Aas learned how the church provides ongoing reminders of the strength and faith of the Norwegian immigrant and how those traits continue in today’s parishioners.

The work of the church made a big impression on the ambassador. He said, “One of the best pieces of advice I received from former Norwegian diplomats to the United States was, ‘don’t just live and work in Washington, D.C. Get out and engage yourself in society. Meet the real America and its Norwegians and Norwegian-Americans.’ Now I understand.”

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum Ambassador Was visits Norway House.

Photo: Leslee Lane Hoyum
Ambassador Was visits Norway House.

Norway House
Just out Mindekirken’s back door and across the parking lot, the ambassador found Norway House, the mission of which is to serve as a bridge between the United States and contemporary Norway. Here the ambassador met members of the Norway House board and President and CEO Karen Owen Tuzcu. “The concept of Norway House,” Tuzcu explained, “began in 2004 with a small group of interested Norwegian Americans and then Norwegian Consul General Thor Johansen. We needed a single building in which we could bring together the many programs that support our heritage and culture.” In 2013 Norway House purchased a credit union building behind Mindekirken to serve as its headquarters.

With an architect’s plans before them, Tuzcu explained to Ambassador Aas that eventually Norway House will be a conference center that will architecturally and functionally link America’s Norwegian heritage to contemporary Norway. It will incorporate all the amenities needed to serve its mission, including an auditorium, meeting rooms, events hall, food service, and more. With both office and meeting space, Norway House can also serve as a home for other Nordic organizations.

As Ambassador Aas learned, both Mindekirken and Norway House play a significant part in the Norwegian-American tradition. One protects the past, the other secures the future. Together they are in harmony. Each serves as a bridge between the Midwest and Norway.

“I did not understand the significance and weight of Norway here until this visit,” said Ambassador Aas. “The interest and commitment to Norway and its position in the world is gratifying. There are many possibilities for cooperation, from a mutual heritage, to how we work with new citizens in our respective countries, to business and cultural opportunities. I see the possibilities,” he continued. “I will be back to the Midwest and now look forward to meeting with other Norwegian-Americans in areas committed to Norwegian-American relations, such as in the Pacific Northwest, Texas, and Florida. It opens my eyes.”

This article originally appeared in the June 6, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.