New book tells the story of Mindekirken
Faith and commitment
A history of a congregation like Mindekirken is not common these days. The audience is not large and the story may not be of interest to those outside the community. Mindekirken: Against the Current, however, should be of interest to many Norwegian Americans, for it tells its story against what was happening in the Norwegian-American community when there was a strong effort to change the language of worship to English. This happened after World War I when the push to be 100% American moved many Norwegian-American institutions to change to English. At the same time, the 100th anniversary of Norwegian emigration in 1925 brought Calvin Coolidge to the Twin Cities, where he spoke to over 60,000 immigrants (some say 100,000) at the Minnesota State Fair Grounds. These events are part of the background of the story of Mindekirken.
Formed in 1922, the congregation needed a building since it was quickly outgrowing any hall it could rent in the Phillips neighborhood. A congregation of mostly young people, it had trouble raising enough money to buy or build a church, but in 1926, it built a basement, where it held services three times a Sunday. Some say 500 people attended every service! Then after they built the lovely church, which still stands proudly on 10th and 21st in South Minneapolis, they had a debt of some $147,000, almost impossible to pay after the Depression set its teeth into the country. In 1933, the worst year of the Depression, conflict broke out and people began leaving the congregation. Still, with the courageous and faithful service of its pastors, Christian Munson and Elias R. Rasmussen, it worked itself out of the hole and finally paid off its debt in 1945 to great celebrations!
Just as the congregation was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, Norway was invaded by the Nazis. This changed the stance of many Norwegian Americans concerning the war. They had hoped America could stay out of another bloody European war, but on April 9, 1940, when Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, opinions changed, and the congregation worked very hard to support the resistance and keep its people informed of what the Norwegian government in exile in London was needing. It hosted many speeches by Norwegians who had escaped the Nazis in heroic journeys by rowboat to the Orkneys, or even to Canada. Many like Sigrid Undset fled Norway via the Siberian railroad and came to America from the west. The congregation heard from many of these exiles. The larger Norwegian American Church helped King Haakon support the Norwegian missionaries who had been stranded without support in their stations in Madagascar and China especially.
Led by the pastor and leaders in the community, Norwegian Americans donated food and clothing worth millions to Norwegians suffering from the war, during and after the hostilities. Many of these stories have now been forgotten but should not be. A reader of this book will find information on these efforts along with the day-to-day work of the congregation.
Then, after the war, a significant number of immigrants from Norway came to Minneapolis and the congregation was there to welcome them and help them as they worked to find place in the New World.
Mindekirken also hosted many visitors after the war and helped with the celebration of the Lutheran World Foundation Third Assembly, which drew visitors from around the world. Some said over 100,000 Lutherans gathered in front of the Minnesota State Capitol for a service on August 1957. Mindekirken invited all the delegates from the Nordic countries to a luncheon at the church, introducing many to the congregation and its mission.
During the Minnesota Centennial in 1958, Princess Astrid, daughter of Olav, visited Mindekirken to honor the Norwegian immigration to Minnesota.
The book tells those stories, always in the context of the work of the congregation, its women’s organizations and their indefatigable stewarding of the congregation’s mission. They raised crucial financial support with their countless dinners, cookbook sales, and many other efforts. Read how the stalwart women like Petrine Thorson and Laura Eng led the congregation in its darkest times; how the leadership labored to have the best musicians and music even in the depths of the Depression, of their concern for China and Jewish missions, and fulfilling its mission of honoring the Norwegian and Norwegian-American culture through its sponsoring of Syttende Mai festivals, Julaften, rømmegrøt luncheons, lectures, and many other events that continued to flourish and grow as the century came to an end.
While the book covers only the first 50 years, one can see how its concern at its birth are still carried forward with the language program, Tuesday Open House, Santa Lucia, Olsok celebrations, the Hauge lecture, and many other events that teach and foster in many a sense for the rich tradition Mindekirken represents and will continue to do into its next century.
Copies of the book can be bought for $35 plus shipping. Please visit the church website to order: mindekirken.org.
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.