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From Norwegian State Church to American Free Church
    by J.C.K. Preus (Volume 25: Page 186)

Of the early Norwegian emigrants to America, it may truthfully be said that in general they were a religious people. Some were devout Christians; others were indifferent to religion; a few were scoffers. With exceptions, however, they wanted a church in their midst. The community, they felt, was incomplete without it, especially in the eyes of the women. Children should be baptized and confirmed; marriages should be solemnized by a pastor; in sickness and death, there was need of a minister and a suitable burying ground. But it was far from clear just how the church should be organized, or how it was to function, in the land of the free.

It was to be expected that a people reared in a state church should encounter many problems in establishing a free religious institution in a strange country. And it was perhaps inevitable that there should be differences of opinion as to how to proceed. Many who made the Atlantic crossing maintained that congregations should be organized in America as nearly as possible after the pattern of the homeland. Others were equally determined that the proposed free church of the New World should break with old-world traditions. Most of the immigrants, though by no means all, were agreed that they must have an ordained pastor, that the worship service should [187] follow the order or ritual of the church in Norway, and that preaching, teaching, prayer, and hymn singing should be emphasized. The minister was to be in charge of all activities, including the administration of the sacraments. As for the general direction of the congregation, however, the pastor’s authority was definitely to be limited.

If the transition from state church to free church was to start in an auspicious manner, it was highly important that cordial relations between the pastor and the members of his congregation should be established from the very outset of their joint endeavor. Without mutual confidence and good will, there could be little hope of peaceful progress in planting a church on the frontier.

It was by no means a simple matter, however, to develop such a relationship. Most of the early pioneer pastors were young and inexperienced. They may not always have exercised the patience and wisdom required in dealing with new and difficult problems — and in working with people of varied backgrounds. On the other hand, it should be remembered that a substantial — but not necessarily a preponderant — number of the earliest immigrants were husmenn (cotters) and others with limited resources. These folk often came to America with deep prejudices against "officialdom" in Norway, including the clergy. Since ministers in the old country were appointed and paid by the government, it was assumed that they were primarily servants of the state. Concern of such clergy for the spiritual welfare of the average man especially of the poor and uneducated — would perforce be secondary. At least, this was the thought of many of the rank and file who left the Old World for the New.

For the immigrant with such a point of view, it was not easy to readjust to the new situation in a fledgling free church. Furthermore, individuals in a new congregation in America might readily have heard some itinerant lay preacher speaking of ministers as self-seeking, spiritually dead officials of a sterile church. When a frontier community finally selected a [188] pastor, it was no wonder that it took time and patient effort on his part to break down ingrained prejudice and to gain the confidence of the people. It was difficult to convince them that their minister was not seeking either power or riches for himself — and that instead he was truly dedicated to serve rich and poor alike through the ministry of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Quite naturally, the question of the minister’s authority in an immigrant church was a touchy one. Some parishioners might have had an unhappy personal experience in the Old World; others had no doubt heard of ministers who were overbearing toward their congregations. A case in point developed when the Reverend J. W. C. Dietrichson, the first ordained pastor from Norway to serve in the settlements, began to show signs of investing the ministerial office with powers reminiscent of those of the state church. {1} The people were quick to object. What they conceived of as the American spirit of equality was not to be restricted. They made clear their belief that the authority of the minister should be limited to what the constitution prescribed — or to what, in addition, the congregation had directly conferred upon him. There was to be no repetition in America of the authoritarian practices they had known in Norway.

Surely prejudice ran deep in the hearts of the immigrants. During the first half of the nineteenth century, the gulf separating the upper from the lower classes in Norway was seemingly impassable. To appreciate how serious was the breach between classes, one need only read a little book by Knud Langeland, distinguished pioneer author and editor. In Nordmændene i Amerika, he points out that the ruling class and the common folk — the haves and the have-nots — were perhaps more distinct from one another in Norway than might be expected in a country boasting that it had had no slaves and no serfs. Langeland came from the lower class, but as an [189] immigrant he completely overcame that supposed handicap. Reinforcing great natural ability with a lifetime of hard work, he made a name for himself in America. He served as a member of the Wisconsin legislature and became the first editor of Skandinaven, a highly respected Norwegian-language newspaper in Chicago. As a fitting honor for one who had been a leader in supporting education, that city named a public school for him. But throughout his life, Langeland never quite forgot his resentment toward the official class in the country of his birth. {2}

Langeland’s account may have emphasized conditions not entirely typical in Norway; still it cannot be shrugged off as an isolated instance. His story reveals achievements in America not possible for one of his class across the Atlantic. In addition, he knew that many of his boyhood friends of the early nineteenth century could testify to shabby treatment accorded poor and uneducated people by the clergy. Such cases must have been sufficiently frequent to arouse widespread suspicion that in America also there was danger of perpetuating a similar discrimination.

As a minister and his flock struggled to bring order out of chaos in an early immigrant congregation, problems were often compounded. A striking example of what conditions in a free church might be like is provided in a letter, written some years before the Civil War, by the wife of Pastor Johan Storm Munch. The letter reads in part: "In the Dodgeville and Otter Creek congregations they are aldeles gale (plain crazy) . They will not incorporate, and they will not band themselves together to form an organized congregation. They will build churches, but these are to remain open to any and all landstrygere (vagabonds) who may happen along and want to preach to them; and believe me, there are a lot of them in this country. Law and order do not prevail in their congregations; this is a free country, they say, and each one may do as he sees fit. If he wants to give the pastor something, well and good; if [190] not, well that’s that; they will have nothing to do with orderliness in their church. Obviously it cannot continue in this manner; the more so because Munch has received less than half of what he was entitled to during these years."

Further on in the same letter, Mrs. Munch writes of a particular troublemaker: "This man, well-to-do and of great influence among the Norwegians, was constantly trying to make trouble for Munch, opposing him at every opportunity. Finally he became a Methodist; nevertheless, because of his affection for his countrymen, as he put it, he would attend their congregational meetings for the purpose of ‘guiding’ them, lest the ministers should exercise too much power over them; it made many of them aldeles gale." {3}

Other complicated problems had to be solved in making the transition from state to free church. The question of how the organization should be financed was always present. In Norway, the state took care of most expenses through the medium of taxation. As a result, many ill-informed people supposed that a church and its benefits were — and naturally should be — free. Should not this be the case in America? How, immigrants asked, could newcomers, in the midst of their bitter struggle for existence, build and pay for churches and support a minister? How should they go about raising the needed funds? Should they tax themselves or use an assessment plan? Or should the decision be left to the individual to pay what he thought was fair and reasonable? Should what one paid be in proportion to the contributions of others? Many did not believe in paying the pastor a salary — and offered ingenious substitute proposals. Why not attach a farm to the parsonage and let the minister cultivate it for a living? Or, better still, why not let him take a homestead and support himself on it — as his parishioners had to do?

As a rule, no major difficulties arose in persuading the people [191] of a settlement to organize a congregation, to call a pastor, and to build a church. The great majority was in favor of all these moves from the beginning. But such questions as the location of the church, the purchase of land, and the providing of a parsonage were hotly debated. So, too, were certain provisions of the constitution and bylaws; decisions on all these details produced sharp disagreement and prolonged argument. But the all-absorbing, perennial problem was finance. How to develop a sense of responsibility for the monetary affairs of a congregation was a question with which the church would have to grapple throughout the first and second generations.

The emerging free church also had to face doctrinal divisions. Where co-operation and understanding could normally be expected, difficulty and ill will crept in over certain beliefs and practices within the congregations. Prominent in such schisms was the influence of the Haugean lay movement in Norway. Followers of Hans Nielsen Hauge, the great evangelist, had not formally separated from the state church. They did, however, have a strong feeling that many ministers were worldly-minded men, serving a spiritually dead institution. Consequently, the Haugeans quite generally neglected church services, except for formal occasions — baptisms, confirmations, marriages, funerals, and the like. Instead, they gathered in homes, listened to a lay preacher — and spent an hour in hymn singing, testimony, and prayer. These groups were made up of pious, God-fearing people, who shunned worldliness and the common vices. At the same time, they tried, in a semiprivate way, to satisfy their spiritual needs and aspirations. Theirs was a close fellowship; only the "converted" would be admitted to the select "little flock."

A sprinkling of Haugeans — including a number of lay preachers — emigrated from Norway to the early settlements. Some of these leaders of the movement lived quietly in their communities conducting oppbyggelse (devotional gatherings) and prayer meetings. Others, as itinerant revivalists, moved throughout the pioneer settlements, living off the land. Of [192] these preachers, Elling Eielsen was one of the earliest and most influential. He established his home at Jefferson Prairie, Wisconsin. An indefatigable traveler, he visited nearly all the Norwegian settlements from New York to Illinois. Later he went to Minnesota and Dakota Territory, to Missouri, and even to Texas. Wherever he journeyed, he gathered Haugeans for services, prayer meetings, and instruction of children. He preached repentance and conversion and inveighed against drunkenness and immorality. He denounced the Mormons and railed against the state church of Norway — and its clergy in their "long black robes." Nor did he spare the ordained state church pastors already heading congregations in this country.

Eielsen and some of his associates were extremists. They were not typical of the lay preachers of Norway, who generally continued to walk in the footsteps of their more moderate leader. This fact explains, in part at least, why many Haugean lay people joined congregations of the Norwegian Synod and later of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church. It is also significant that a considerable number of ministers in Lutheran synods had their roots in the Haugean movement. Even more influential among the clergy was the Johnsonske vækkelse, the spiritual awakening attributed to Professor Gisle Johnson. {4}

Elling Eielsen, however, was different: he was earnest but crude, unlearned and stubborn within his narrow theological horizon. He had no compunctions about going into an established congregation and organizing an opposition group, even in a community already served by an ordained minister. Gathering what followers he could, he would hold meetings in homes and, where possible, actually build a separate church. He had a habit of denouncing the incumbent ministers as selfish mercenaries, devoid of spiritual qualities. Such unethical practices tended to arouse suspicion among the lay people of a settlement and to encourage troublemakers who might [193] already be undermining the resident pastor. Eielsen’s divisive actions created bad feeling among neighbors; and they multiplied the difficulties of clergy and laymen, who were laboring to bring order, unity, and stability to a pioneer church.

In many settlements, the activity of a variety of sectarian preachers, both lay and clerical, was another disturbing element. Their stock in trade was the deceptive ploy that the Lutheran church was un-American and ought to be supplanted. Although a few persons were misled by these varied and persistent annoyances, the steady transition of state to free church continued. A joint effort in Christian churchmanship, engaging relatively inexperienced pastors and laity, this movement was a signal success. The present generation can hardly fail to be impressed by the soundness of the basic principles undergirding the work of the early church leaders — and by the thoughtful wisdom they brought to a complicated task.

Detailed accounts exist describing how the work of a given congregation was organized and carried on. One such record covers the early history of the parish in Columbia and Dane counties in Wisconsin, embracing the settlements of Spring Prairie, Bonnet Prairie, Norway Grove, and Lodi. The churches included were organized in March, 1847, by the Reverend J. W. C. Dietrichson, pastor of the older Koshkonong congregations. He wrote their constitutions and got the work under way. When he returned to Norway in 1850, Pastor Adolph C. Preus, his successor at Koshkonong, took over the service of the Spring Prairie parish until 1851. In August of that year, his cousin, the Reverend Herman A. Preus, who had been ordained in Norway, arrived and became the first resident pastor of the Spring Prairie congregation. With him was his bride, the former Linka Keyser.

The new pastor began at once to compile a report of his activities in the church, an account that he carefully kept up in full detail from "The First Sunday in Advent, 1851" through the year 1860. In his Ministerial Record, he makes typical entries referring to baptisms, confirmations, marriages, burials, [194] and the like. He also includes a day-to-day diary, listing his routine duties as a minister. What Pastor Preus calls Kirkelige forhandlinger (Official Proceedings of the Congregation) furnishes an important running review of church business. The document, written in Norwegian, forms the basis of this study. {5} Routine and repeated actions by the congregation, the church council, and various boards are not included in full in the quotations which follow. Instead, excerpts have been chosen because they reveal how one minister tried to cope with various knotty problems which inevitably developed. They show, at least in part, how that pastor undertook to direct the transition from the state church of Norway to a free church among the Norwegians in America. In this way, they constitute a brief chapter in the grass-roots history of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America.


By the beginning of the church year on December 1, 1851, Pastor H. A. Preus had acquainted himself sufficiently with conditions in his congregations to plan a constructive program of development for his parish. Although he was only twenty-six and inexperienced in the ministry, he was blessed with confidence and consecrated determination. No doubt he realized that both he and his people had much to learn. He would have to educate himself by doing — by trial and error. He fully believed that God had called him to serve in this particular parish — and that the Lord of the church would not let him down. Nor was this all: he had had experience as a teacher—for three years in Nissen’s Latin School and at the Royal Military Academy, both in Christiania. In addition, he had prepared himself conscientiously for just the type of ministry that America offered.

Entries in his diary reveal the extent of Preus’s preparation for pastoral leadership and his attitude of devotion toward his religious office. On January 2, 1851, while still in Norway, he [195] wrote: "On New Year’s Day, I received a letter — my heart beat fast. It was a letter of call to me to become pastor at Spring Prairie, Wisconsin. . . . This was indeed the most serious and solemn hour in all my experience. I had become a minister! I had a congregation! What significance, what responsibility, in those words! A congregation of souls was turning to me in matters pertaining to their salvation; their spiritual welfare rested on my heart. The Lord shall require their souls at my hands. I shall address them in God’s own Word of reproof and blessing. The Lord says, ‘Lovest thou me? Then feed my sheep.’

"O Father in heaven, give me strength and Thy blessing that I may truthfully say, ‘Yea, Lord, Thou knowest that I love Thee’; and that in due time, in the midst of right many of my flock, we may gather with the great flock of the supreme Shepherd, saying, ‘Here, Lord, are those whom Thou gayest me!"

In a later entry, Preus wrote: "On the tenth of March I went down to Fredrikshald in order to prepare myself quietly for the ministry upon which I was about to enter. . . . Most of my days were spent in the reading of theological periodicals and in the study of the Gospel of John and Acts. . . . Pontoppidan’s Collegium Pastorale was especially effective in quickening me by driving me to a keen self-examination. I was often quite discouraged and had to confess how really unworthy and inadequate I was for the Call which I had accepted. However, prayer and the comfort I could draw from Scripture and good books restored my courage and my confidence that God would forgive my unworthiness and of His grace give me power in my weakness."

During his stay in Fredrikshald, Preus no doubt discussed important personal matters — as he prepared for the great adventure in America — with Attorney William Breder, his cousin and counselor. And he likely also visited his older friend, Pastor M. B. Landstad, whom he characterizes in his diary as "a man in whom is combined a quiet disposition with great knowledge." At the end of his study in the Norwegian city, he [196] felt ready to undertake his life’s work wherever his call might lead him.

On December 1, 1851, now settled in his pastorate at Spring Prairie, Preus set down his first official entry in the carefully kept record of the deliberations and actions of the congregations he served: "Pursuant to a summons [by the pastor], John and Niels Fosmark, Ole Wendelbo Olsen, Erik Olsen Flesche, Lars Johannesen [Møen], John Andersen, Erik Johnson Engesæther, Sjur Johannesen Borgstad, and Hans Halvorsen Warnberg convened at the pastor’s home and, in co-operation with him, worked out a proposal for a constitution and bylaws for the congregations at Spring Prairie, Bonnet Prairie, Norway Grove, and Lodi [Wisconsin]."

There is no record that these men had been elected by the congregations; it may be assumed, therefore, that Pastor Preus had selected them as unofficial representatives of the four parish churches. The gathering at the end of 1851 was almost certainly the first council of Preus’s pastorate, a meeting for which assuredly he had prepared most carefully. It may be taken for granted that Dietrichson’s original constitution was before the selected group. Certainly, also, the minister wished to proceed in such a way that the new council members would feel just as responsible as the pastor for whatever actions were taken. They were not to be mere rubber stamps.

From the beginning, Preus wanted his people to know that, jointly with the minister, they should determine the regulations governing the organization and operation of the congregation. No pastor, no bishop, no hierarchy, no agency of government should prescribe or direct their affairs. A congregation was to be its own final authority; it should operate in freedom, according to democratic principles and practices. The Holy Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions were to be the basic guides. It is historically established that Preus and Synod pastors in general subscribed to the principle that the congregation had ultimate authority — under God and his Word.

Special significance attaches to the fact that the first set of [197] resolutions agreed upon in the council dealt with certain details of the 1847 constitution. A specific point referred to the doctrinal statement in Dietrichson’s second paragraph. This section contained the "Grundtvigian error," which exalted the Apostles’ Creed, as used in the sacrament of Holy Baptism, to a position of authority usually accorded only to the Holy Scriptures. Preus, even before his official call had reached him, had declared that if and when he became pastor of the Spring Prairie parish, he would immediately have that statement corrected. Now that vow was to be immediately redeemed — an impressive demonstration of how leadership could be exercised in an American free church. {6}

The prompt action of Preus on a matter of doctrine assured the congregations that there was to be no compromise with error. The new Spring Prairie minister had a profound conviction — as did the other founders of the Synod — that soundness of doctrine was essential to the establishment of a church, as well as in the subsequent preaching and teaching in the parish. At all costs, the Holy Scripture and the Lutheran confessions must be held inviolate. In a sense, this was Preus’s way of saying, "Let first things come first." It was on this high level that there began the slow, painstaking process of developing, among the immigrants, the churchmanship necessary for the functioning of a Lutheran free church.

In their resolutions, as adopted by the council, the first paragraph covered the "error" in the original constitution in these words:

Inasmuch as the words "baptismal covenant" in the constitution of the congregations is either incomprehensible in the present context, or of necessity must convey a dubious or even incorrect meaning, it is hereby resolved to delete it from the paragraph which deals with the doctrine. [198]

The second resolution prepared at the December council meeting under the new pastor’s leadership is closely related to the first. But it takes an important — though by no means an elementary — stride forward. It deals with the relationship of the congregations to a proposed synodical organization, a concept completely new to people reared in a state church. But why the haste? Why introduce this controversial issue while the congregations were still grappling with comparatively simple but perplexing matters having to do with the effective functioning of a fledgling local church?

The answer is obvious. In the first place, the congregations were already involved in the move to organize a synod. Pastor Dietrichson had introduced the matter and had laid before the people his proposed synodical constitution. Furthermore, they had been represented at a preliminary meeting held at Rock Prairie (Luther Valley) earlier in 1851. In the second place, another conference of pastors and lay representatives had been called for February, 1852, in Muskego, Wisconsin. Here the churches would have an opportunity to take whatever action was deemed necessary to bind them together into a suitable larger organization. Finally, Pastor Preus had already taken the position that the doctrinal statement of the original constitution (although tentatively approved) would have to be corrected. If he and his congregations were to become members of the proposed synod, he no doubt felt that the coming February meeting was the right time for final action on so important a matter.

The second paragraph of the resolutions, adopted on December 1, conveys the council’s decision concerning the whole matter:

The congregations do not approve the resolutions adopted by the church convention at Rock Prairie in 1851, and consequently cannot join the Synod of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The council gave three reasons for this negative action: (1) [199] the earlier convention at Rock Prairie had transacted business without proper authorization from the congregations; (2) it had elected officers and prematurely taken other actions, which the convention declared was the business of the Synod itself — if and when it was organized; and (3) it had deliberately "blocked any opportunity for amendment [of the constitution]." A further explanatory note included in the December resolutions expresses the opinion that the proposed convention, scheduled for February, 1852, would have to take the position that the earlier Rock Prairie gathering had been merely preparatory. The next meeting would also, of necessity, recognize the right of all Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran congregations to send representatives to Muskego.


The bylaws of the early Lutheran congregations in Pastor H. A. Preus’s parish cover practically every point essential to the orderly functioning of these churches: {7}

1. The Lodi congregation, the smallest of the four, is specifically assured of "worship services four Sundays or holidays a year."

2. The minister’s salary shall continue as provided for in the basic law of the congregation ($250 a year).

3. The spiritual affairs of the congregations are in the hands of the minister in consultation with the church council. This consists of twelve members called medhjælpere (assistants). (The term "deacons" will be used in this article.) The one council serves the entire parish, its members being elected and "installed in accordance with the constitution."

4. The council shall "as a rule meet four times a year" or at the call of the minister. [200]

5. "The trustees are in charge of the material affairs of the congregations." Their duties are those usually assigned to such officers. "The trustees shall have the same power and authority to collect the moneys pledged and assessed as the law confers on the official tax collectors of the townships and counties for the purpose of collecting taxes and other public assessments." (The subsequent record indicates that the harsh powers thus conferred were never put into use.)

6. The congregations shall elect ten assessors.

7. "The trustees shall elect from among the membership of the congregations a joint treasurer, who shall receive from the trustees the funds collected, and make payments on their orders, and at the end of the year make an accounting which the trustees shall audit. The treasurer shall furnish bond in the amount of $50.00."

8. "Each member is obligated at the request of the trustees to assist in the collections."

9. Application for membership shall be made to the pastor and acted on by the council, the application to be accompanied by a recommendation from a minister, or the "testimony of two good men of the congregation." Reception of new members "shall take place in an appropriate manner at the first Sunday services of the congregation." An applicant for membership may be admitted to communion, even though his application has not been acted upon, if the pastor approves.

10. Each family head, owning a farm, shall upon admission to the congregation contribute as assessed.

11. "Each confirmed member of the congregation is obligated to contribute toward the religious school, either through voluntary subscription or according to the general assessment."

12. If a person complains that his assessment is too high, the trustees shall bring the matter to the attention [201] of the congregation, which in turn may elect four men to make a new assessment.

13. When a member is unwilling to meet his assumed obligations, the trustees shall bring the matter to the attention of the congregation, which in turn will determine what action, if any, shall be taken.

14. The affairs of the school shall be administered by the school board, consisting of the minister, the trustees, and the deacons. The school board shall define the districts and their size, determine the term of the school, the subjects to be studied, the teacher’s salary. The board shall also appoint teachers, observe whether they perform their duties satisfactorily, and, in case they do not, discharge them.

Within five weeks after this significant meeting of the church council, the report was presented in turn to each of the four congregations; with two exceptions, it was unanimously approved. At the Norway Grove meeting, six votes were cast against paragraph 11 specifying that "every confirmed member is obligated to contribute to the religious school." The Bonnet Prairie congregation amended paragraph 14 to read: "The affairs of the school are administered by a school board, consisting of the minister, the trustees, and three members elected by the congregation." The democratic process was already at work.

It is not surprising that opposition to paragraph 11 should have been voiced at that time. During his parish ministry (1905-1931), the author often had similar experiences, when church members insisted that parents of children who attended the religious school should pay for it. Even around the turn of the century, it was a common practice for a father to contribute for the entire family. This he did even though there were several confirmed children, some of whom were earning their own money — and owned a horse and buggy. Indeed, the practice of responsible stewardship has been slow in coming [202] of age in the church. No wonder that it was a perennial problem in pioneer days.

The report of the December 1 council meeting at Spring Prairie also covers other important matters: the constitution of the congregation, its relation to a synodical organization, the spiritual life of the members, the religious instruction of the children in school, the functions of the board of trustees and of the church council, and the like. Pastor Preus’s Proceedings, covering the years from 1851 to 1860, show clearly that an earnest effort was being made to put the adopted resolutions into practice. It also reveals many of the ups and downs that attended the transition from rather passive membership in a state church to actively responsible participation in the functioning of a free church. The report also traces how the educational process of "learning by doing" works. The relation of the congregations to the synodical organization — an element of churchmanship new to the immigrant — is a case in point.

After the church council and the congregations had decided that on certain terms they would co-operate in the formation of a synod, each church elected one representative to the forthcoming convention. When the time came, they — together with the pastor and four council members, nine in all — packed themselves into an open horse-drawn wagon; in bitter cold, over primitive roads, they bravely drove the eighty-odd miles to Muskego. {8}

At the convention, everything worked out as anticipated, and the way was opened for the Spring Prairie parish to become a member of the Synod. Again the democratic process had functioned well. The majority ruled and there was complete freedom of action. During the year following the Muskego meeting, the congregations of the Spring Prairie parish took action on the resolutions passed at the convention. In general, the four groups approved. At the same time, when [203] they did disagree, they did not hesitate to recommend amendments to the constitution and the bylaws. At one point, Spring Prairie and Bonnet Prairie proposed that certain bylaws should be incorporated in the constitution.

The congregations elected representatives in the fall of 1852 to attend a meeting to be held at Koshkonong in January, 1853. In September, 1853, three of the four churches approved the constitution of the Synod and voted to join that body. All the congregations except Norway Grove then chose delegates to a convention scheduled for October, 1853, at Luther Valley, Wisconsin. There the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America was officially constituted.

A significant event in the history of the Spring Prairie parish took place in October, 1855: at that time the Synod convention was held in Pastor Preus’s church. As the people listened to their leaders — pastors and laymen — their understanding of free-church principles and responsibilities must have been deepened and their horizons broadened. They heard discussions of the two paramount questions before the convention: (1) What steps should be taken to recruit more ministers from Norway or to train young men of promise from among their own people in America? (2) Could a full-time field missionary be called to visit the rapidly forming new Norwegian settlements in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota —there to organize congregations and to hold occasional services until the people could call their own pastors?

The Reverend Adolph C. Preus, president of the Synod, conducted a visitation in the Spring Prairie parish in December, 1856. This was a familiar experience to many of the church members, reminiscent of earlier days in Norway. In the homeland, an official visit by the "bishop" of the church had been a high point in the life of the congregation. It gave to both pastor and laymen an opportunity to discuss affairs of the church — its weaknesses and its strengths. In a crisis, the minister or the congregation might present to the [204] distinguished church leader points of division or criticism for his decision or counsel.

The Spring Prairie congregations were represented at a meeting of the Synod held in the fall of 1857. This gathering convened at Washington Prairie, Iowa, at the parish of the Reverend U. V. Koren. Here the deliberations centered about two matters of the greatest urgency. The first was the question whether the Synod should seek to affiliate with the theological seminary of some other Lutheran synod for the education of its ministers — or to push toward the establishment of its own institution. The decision was made to investigate the possibility of association with another seminary.

The second matter was the proposal to establish a university fund with a view eventually to found an institution of higher learning to meet the needs of the young people in the Synod. The decision was to initiate such a fund. When the actions of the convention were reported to the congregations of the Spring Prairie parish, the idea of a university fund was enthusiastically approved. Without delay, steps were taken to set up a plan for securing contributions. A treasurer was elected and put under bond; he was promised reasonable compensation for his work and instructed to make collections including interest payments on pledges.

Following are the official resolutions of the council of the parish, dated April 19, 1858, regarding an assistant treasurer for the university fund:

1. The treasurer must post bond in an amount to be decided by the congregation.

2. The congregation shall determine the compensation for the work of the treasurer.

3. The treasurer is to collect the amounts pledged, together with interest. In the matter of accounting he shall follow the instructions of the church council.

Each congregation elected its treasurer to the university fund, pursuant to these governing regulations, and the actual [205] campaign for funds — cash and pledges — was under way. Reports of the solicitation, which reached out to all Synod congregations, appear over a period of years in Maanedstidende, the official synodical publication. {9} A study of the receipts and the use made of them reveals that the moneys eventually were used for the establishment of Luther College. The Spring Prairie parish was one of the two or three largest contributors. All these facts indicate one thing: that the understanding of free-church principles and responsibilities was growing rapidly. A final item suggests the tortuous path of transition that the congregations had to follow in developing their relationship to the Synod. As already noted, the president of the Synod had visited the Spring Prairie church. Perhaps — as the result of this contact — the congregations felt prompted to take vigorous action.

Entries in Pastor Preus’s Proceedings trace the record of what each church did:

September 9, 1859. Norway Grove congregation decided to contribute "$5.00 toward the expenses of the president of the Synod."

September 27. Spring Prairie, "$8.00 were appropriated for President A. C. Preus, this sum to be covered by the $4.84 in the alms box, and the rest from the same source as received. The pastor exhorts the congregation to contribute their farthing to the alms box."

September 29. Lodi, "Two to three dollars were voted for the president of the Synod."

October 4. Bonnet Prairie, "A contribution of $4.00 was voted for the synodical president." (Indeed, the democratic process was at work, but oh, how slowly!)


Pastor Preus’s Official Proceedings make it clear that the activities of other denominations and sects — as well as those of [206] various free-lance preachers — were very confusing to immigrants, who had come from established church communities in Norway. The congregations of the Spring Prairie parish had their full share of perplexities arising from this source. In addition, relations with other ethnic groups posed some problems. The Norwegian settlement at this place had had its beginning in 1844. Yankees, Irish, and Germans had previously preempted most of the good land to the west, north, and east. The Norwegians had come mainly from Dane County on the south.

In 1845, Elling Eielsen visited the settlement. At this time, he gathered a small group of Haugeans, conducted services for them, and formed a congregation of 33 souls. Two years later — in March, 1847 — Pastor J. W. C. Dietrichson of Koshkonong, Dane County, established the Spring Prairie parish with a considerably larger membership. He also drew up a letter of call, dated October 15, 1849, which was evidently in preparation for choosing a resident pastor. This letter bears the signature (or the mark) of 150 members of the parish, most of whom appear to have been heads of families. When Dietrichson brought the document to Norway in 1850, he gave it to H. A. Preus, who accepted the call the next year. During the early pastorate of the young minister from the homeland, the two Lutheran groups struggled to find a way of living with one another in peace and neighborliness — if not in sectarian co-operation.

For the spring of 1854, a significant entry appears in the Official Proceedings — to be followed by others of similar importance:

April 19, 1854. The conditions within the congregation were discussed, with special reference to the Christian conduct of the members and their attitude toward the sectarians. The council was agreed that the pastor as well as the church members ought to continue to maintain a passive attitude toward them. [207]

January 10, 1855, council meeting. The pastor presented a report on how the Methodists, especially at Bonnet Prairie, had sought to cast out their nets for the purpose of catching our church members. The cunning and deceitfulness with which the Methodists carry on their proselytizing required special measures of precaution and more than ordinary watchfulness and prayer. Consequently, the pastor at a public meeting had refuted their unfounded assertions. He had by means of the Scriptures and the practices of the church exposed their false doctrines. The congregations also ought to do everything in their power to guard members against the wolves in sheep’s clothing. Specifically the deacons ought to enlighten those of little knowledge, strengthen the weak, steady the wavering, and retrieve those who had been led astray.

June 5, 1855, a conference between the Ellingians and the church council. First, the discussion concerned the third article (of the Apostles’ Creed). The opposition recognized that we used the third article in its correct form, except for the definite article "the," instead of (the indefinite) "a." {10} This point the Ellingians would not concede. Otherwise there was agreement on all points of doctrine under discussion. As a result, it was agreed that in the future we should gather in harmony at one another’s religious meetings and divine services and refrain from every form of slander of the opposite party.

June 26 [1855]. The pastor recommended that from now on, at baptism, the indefinite article "a" should be used . . . instead of the definite article "the." The reason: At the conference with the Ellingians at Spring Prairie, it appeared that the definite article "the" was the only point in the form of the third article used by us to which they objected. The church council concurred in the change [208] proposed by the pastor; not that the expression heretofore in use was viewed as incorrect — on the contrary, it should be regarded as more correct — but in the hope that concord between the church bodies would thereby be furthered. The change could be accepted by the congregation because the difference between the two articles could not be regarded as of essential significance.


Pastor Preus, together with his colleagues, was dedicated to the task of establishing a true and responsible church among the Norwegian immigrants. The Holy Scriptures, as expounded in the Lutheran confessions and by Lutheran theologians, must be their guide. Preus was by no means satisfied, however, with the enunciation of basic religious principles. He was not primarily a theological theorist; rather he was a practical, dynamic churchman. What he and his congregations believed and confessed must of necessity be put into practice. He would apply this point of view also to the thorny problem of relationships with sectarians and others outside his congregation. He did his research with care and presented the results to the church council for prayerful consideration by the members.

The Proceedings of April 11, 1856, carry this report:

A meeting of the deacons, trustees, and teachers was called for the purpose of taking counsel and considering whether the practice of the Ellingians and others, outside of our church body, of assembling and conducting religious meetings in the homes of the congregation, should be regarded as in harmony with the teachings and practices of the Lutheran church. In case it must be looked upon as non-Biblical and un-Lutheran, the question is what ought to be done to curb practices obviously in conflict with the spirit of a Lutheran church. The pastor read excerpts from the Augsburg Confession, the Apology, Pontoppidan’s Explanation, Stenersen’s History of the [209] Reformation, Portas’ Luther’s Pastoral Theology, Spener’s Spiritual Priesthood, all of which touched upon the point under discussion. As a result, the assembly of more than twenty persons expressed its conviction in the following general statement:

1. The pastor, a dedicated servant of God in the Word, properly called by the congregation as its shepherd, teacher, and spiritual counselor (sjælesørger) , shall carry out the holy preaching ministry in the congregation and serve them otherwise in the ministry of the Word. He shall be responsible to the congregation for the teachings spread about and publicly proclaimed in the congregation. Consequently, in order that he may be able to fulfill the obligations assumed when he accepted the call, he must have supervision of all teaching, preaching, and instruction; hence the name tilsynsmand (superintendent).

2. It is not permissible for anyone to present himself as a teacher and preacher, and as such to conduct religious meetings within the congregation contrary to the will of the pastor, but only as authorized by him and on his responsibility. As the pastor is responsible to the congregation for all public teaching within the congregation, it also follows that he is responsible for the manner in which he uses the authority conferred upon him and is obligated to give an accounting for the same according to God’s Word.

3. No member of the congregation has a right to permit his home to be used for a religious meeting or entertainment by a person who has not been rightly called, and consequently has no authority, or who belongs to a group not in unity of faith or in church fellowship with our church body.

4. No member of our church body, whether minister or layman, has a right to intrude into a strange congregation or church body, in order to teach, without a proper call.

We have had the opportunity to become fully [210] convinced that the fundamental principles set forth in the four preceding paragraphs, concerning this aspect of our church government (kirkeorden), are in complete accord with the Word of God, the confessions of our church, Luther’s, Pontoppidan’s, and Spener’s writings, together with other Lutheran fathers, and with the practices of the Lutheran church for more than three hundred years. . .

In order that the above enunciated fundamental Lutheran principles would be carried through and put into practice, it was accepted as most proper that the pastor should hold meetings in the congregations to consider these matters.

A hundred years have passed since these negotiations took place and the guidelines were formulated. The two congregations continued to live and work side by side — but not in cooperation. Gradually suspicions subsided and differences disappeared. Today there is one congregation. In the process of transition, it was finally discovered that essential unity of spirit did exist among the more mature members of both groups. And that was what brought them together.


At the meetings of the church council of the Spring Prairie parish, no subject came up for discussion more frequently than the spiritual life of the congregation — as a whole or of its individual members. The leaders spent little time on the theoretical side of the problem; rather they dealt with real life situations. Their reports are full of decisions and actions related to the "spiritual growth" of the people. The Proceedings covering the first regular meeting of the council reveal —among other matters — that the deacons were to have the responsibility of watching over this phase of religious life:

February 19, 1852. Thereupon consideration was given to the question of what steps ought to be taken to further the Christian life within the congregation. The church [211] council was in full agreement with the pastor that the following guidelines would probably be most effective:

1. It is assumed that everyone concerned about this matter would by admonition and example contribute as much as possible toward regular general use of the Holy Scriptures and toward the practice of daily family devotions.

2. Furthermore (on Sundays when there is no regular service) in each of the districts of the congregations, the deacon in the district, or whomever he in consultation with the pastor may appoint, shall conduct opbyggelse (services) according to the following plan: "When a prayer has been offered, or read, and a hymn has been sung, the Gospel shall be read together with a meditation based on it from some approved sermon collection. Another hymn is sung before the closing prayer." The church council considers it desirable that many of the congregation’s members assemble on such days for the purpose indicated.

3. Immediately following these services (conducted by laymen) the respective districts shall gather in the afternoon for Sunday school conducted by able and earnest Christian members previously persuaded to serve. These Sunday schools shall aim to edify as well as to instruct, especially the young, but also the old.

Finally the council pondered whether something ought to be done to improve the school system. But inasmuch as the school board alone, and not the church council, had the right to make decisions in these matters, the council simply expressed its opinion that the school system was falling far short of the standards that ought to prevail, and that the congregation ought to make all necessary sacrifices in its efforts to obtain devout, capable, and zealous teachers, who could give themselves completely to this calling and at the same time be helpful in awakening spiritual life among members of the congregation. In the [212] opinion of the board (the council), such a teacher would be entitled to a higher salary than hitherto.

The record shows that the new official gathering of the church leaders took place some six weeks later — followed by another meeting in mid-May:

April 1, 1852. The church council held its second meeting of the year. It reviewed matters considered by the earlier meeting and reported on the progress made in carrying out the resolutions concerning the laymen’s services and Sunday school in the congregation. The report showed that practically the whole parish was organized.

On May 12 [1852], the Spring Prairie congregation held a general meeting. The pastor reported . . . the resolutions adopted by the church council during the year, and discussed the spiritual conditions within the congregation. He also reviewed its relations to church groups outside the congregation with which they most frequently come in contact. The minister expressed as his opinion that in its relations with these groups, the congregation would be taking the proper attitude and strengthen itself by remaining quiet and refraining from attacks, while at the same time drawing closer to one another and to the pastor in the spirit of unity and love, laboring together in mutual confidence for the advancement of a truly Christian life within the boundaries of the congregation.


In the continuing efforts of the pastor and deacons to further more truly Christian living among church members, instruction of the children received major attention. This work was recognized as a permanent, long-range phase of parish development. In addition to the all-important preaching and teaching, there was the daily private, personal ministry — the real sjælesorg (soul-care), a service which appears to have been [213] part counseling and part disciplinary in character. In these matters, the pastor worked closely with the deacons.

Early entries in the Official Proceedings indicate a variety of examples of how this ministry was carried on. The church council took the following action:

April 1, 1852. Resolved that the congregation considers it highly desirable, indeed a Christian duty, that a member having a case against another, or in any event thinks he has reason for complaint, report the matter to the pastor and to the deacon of his district, who will seek a reconciliation of the two. Should this fail, the matter shall be laid before the church council, where those involved shall appear. The council shall do everything within its power to bring about a settlement between the contending parties.

September 9, 1852, meeting of the deacons. With reference to A A and wife, it was decided to defer their acceptance (into membership) until such time as there is evidence of improvement in their marital relationship. Finally, attention was called to some improprieties, or excesses, that had taken place in Norway Grove and in the eastern settlement at Spring Prairie. {11}

March 6, 1853. Meeting of the pastor and the deacons from the western settlement at Spring Prairie for the purpose of settling a dispute between B B and C C on the one hand and D D on the other. They became reconciled.

April 25 [1853]. Some persons had applied for membership in the congregation. . . . E E must present a certificate from a minister and also clear up a rumor implying moral laxity in her past. F F is denied communion for a period of six months to begin with, because he continues his excessive drinking.

July 1, 1853. G G had sought membership, but for lack of recommendations, was put on six months’ probation. [214] He would not, however, be denied communion, should he request it. The congregation’s spiritual condition was reviewed. The pastor reported on the problem with H H; his procedure was approved.

September 26 [1853]. The church council deliberated concerning the spiritual status of the congregation. . . . Everyone was agreed as to the meaning and basic content of our faith. Consequently, it was to be hoped that a greater degree of unity would be attained . . . when the pastor and church council would co-operate in an effort to enlighten the uninformed and admonish everyone to be humble and charitable.

January 3, 1854. The church council held its first meeting. II is informed that, on account of his ungodly life, he cannot be accepted into membership in the congregation.

January 10 [1854]. New members were received. . . . So also was J J, provided a conference with him showed satisfactory results. K K is denied membership because of disorderly conduct.

July 5 [1854]. Bonnet Prairie. Resolved, that members of the congregation who refuse to pay the sums assessed against them are to be looked upon as having withdrawn from the congregation.

January 10, 1855. The pastor reported to the church council that L L had once again expressed a desire for the Sacrament of the Altar. This he had been refused, because his confession indicated he continued to be unrepentant. The deacons from Norway Grove made their statement, whereupon the procedure of the pastor was approved. Likewise with reference to M M, whom the pastor had admitted to communion following a more intimate conversation which revealed a spirit of repentance.

October 12, 1855, church council meeting. With reference to the reminder issued by the Synod (meeting at Spring Prairie) that pastors and congregations observe the ritual when carrying out the confessional service, the [215] council weighed carefully whether the requirements of the ritual could be complied with in the congregation. {12} The conclusion reached was that this was not only possible but highly desirable; wherefore the pastor should present the matter to the respective congregations.

April 13, 1856. Lodi congregation elected Niels Johannesen Dale deacon to replace N N, who had been removed by the pastor because of negligence and deceit.

March 25, 1859. The deacons met at Spring Prairie. New members were accepted. . . . The acceptance of O O was postponed to permit further investigation of a rumor to the effect that she had given birth to an illegitimate child clandestinely.

These consultations and disciplinary actions by pastor and deacons illustrate the nature of the personal ministry of counseling and correction — and indicate that it was a viable phase of the spiritual life of the parish. The success of this direct method of ministration must have been something of a revelation to those who believed that the ministers from Norway were worldly, self-seeking officials who had no concern for the welfare of their flocks. Other demonstrations of the zeal with which the church leaders were pressing for spiritual growth in their congregations appear from time to time in the official record. The Proceedings reveal, in particular, the concerted action of all church leaders in combating the common vice of drunkenness:

January 4, 1859, meeting of the deacons and trustees. The pastor reported on the spiritual and financial condition of the congregation. . . . As for the spiritual condition, attention was called to two phases particularly deplorable: (1) neglect of the Word of God; (2) drunkenness. The former is evident first of all from the fact that some individuals, though not ill, are not to be seen in [216] church for six months at a time, except on festival days, and even more rarely at Bible study or other religious meetings on weekdays; and finally, their neglect of the Word is apparent in the fact that daily family devotions do not thrive and are observed regularly in only a few homes.

With reference to drunkenness, the assembly was agreed that the situation in the congregation fell far short of what it ought to be. Not only are there individuals who frequently lapse into this vice and consequently have to be looked upon as addicts. But there are others, too, who on special occasions fall into this sin; whereas at other times and ordinarily they live a decent and honorable life; indeed their conduct may be such as to indicate that they not only have respect for Christianity, but actually have been impressed by it.

In addition to the natural sinful desire to indulge, the assembly recognized as a contributing cause the inherited tradition among Norsemen concerning the necessity of liquor, in part as a means of strengthening the body, in part as a means of enlivening their social life, and as a token of friendship and affection.

The consensus of all was that if we are to be successful in counteracting drunkenness among us, we shall have to apply the Word of God, Law and Gospel, in an effort to bring about another attitude — one that abhors the sin of intemperance and instead stresses the importance of whatever is lovable in the sight of God. In this way we would be seeking to help our brethren to see the grievous custom by which they are caught up in their view of liquor, and so confront them with a worthy example.

We therefore agreed to give expression to our common understanding: (1) that liquor, especially the kind being used in these parts, which is mixed with arsenic, a powerful poison, is injurious to the physical constitution and is without any real strengthening quality or benefit to the [217] body, except in rare instances of illness; (2) that liquor is particularly dangerous (a) because of the appetite it so easily kindles in those who use it, (b) because of the temptation one readily may bring — even against one’s own will — to the weak brother, who has a hankering for it but would like to resist, yet lacks the strength to say "No," (c) because of the tragic consequences its misuse in immoderate drinking brings upon the person involved and upon others; (3) that the use of liquor is extremely offensive to the congregation and to many outside the congregation; (4) that offering someone liquor is not at all a sign of true affection for a man or brother, but rather an indication of how blind a person can be with regard to the manner in which one may truly serve his brother and seek his temporal and eternal welfare.

Now therefore, we declare that the use of liquor, except in the case of illness, is extremely injurious to body and soul and in no way beneficial or desirable; furthermore, we exhort all members of the congregation to refrain from the use of it and from offering it to others. In both of these recommendations, we ourselves will earnestly strive to set a good example for others.


Practically all immigrants agreed from the very beginning that there must be schools in their parishes for the children where they would receive instruction in the Christian faith. {13} But how to achieve satisfactory results in the educational process proved one of the perennial knotty problems in all Norwegian settlements. There were, of course, the public (common) schools, but these secular institutions had two serious limitations: they gave no religious instruction and they did not teach reading and writing in Norwegian. In Norway, the schools had traditionally met all these needs. Now the [218] Lutheran free church in America must go through a transition in education.

The Proceedings of the Spring Prairie parish give a quite complete picture of how the congregations faced up to the immediate challenge of the situation. To solve the problems confronting them, the leaders took a series of definite steps. They put a general school board in charge of planning and activating a suitable program. They subdivided the congregations into convenient school districts and determined and co-ordinated the length of the school term — usually one, two, or three months. They sought out and appointed well-qualified teachers and established their salaries — in most instances, eight, ten, or twelve dollars a month, according to training and capability. The subjects to be taught were reading and writing in Norwegian, Bible history, Luther’s Catechism, Pontoppidan’s Explanation of the Catechism, hymn singing, memorization, and catechization.

When an eight- or twelve-week term cut into the program of the public school — which the children would normally attend — the teacher of the church school would compensate by giving instruction in such subjects as arithmetic and English reading and spelling. Members of the school board were to visit the schools once a month and to report on the work of their respective districts. Theoretically, all confirmed members — whether they had families or not — were expected to support the schools by making personal contributions. This was to be done voluntarily or according to assessment. Occasionally, the financial requirement precipitated a crisis, which commonly occurred when some church member objected to an arbitrary decision by the school board or the congregation. The record of January 3, 1853, reveals that when an individual refused to contribute, he was "reminded that according to the rule of the congregation he (they) would perforce have to withdraw from the congregation. Everyone answered in the affirmative, except Erik Eriksen and Ole Olsen, who as a consequence withdrew." [219]

Whenever circumstances permitted, the teacher would also serve as klokker (precentor) . In this capacity, he was expected to provide bread and wine for communion services. In turn, he would receive "whatever each member voluntarily wished to contribute" — or a "voluntary offering of wheat from each farmer." Others were "to contribute two cents per communicant." Further rulings read: "At the first communion each farmer shall pay him (in this case the custodian) from 30 cents to 37 cents; other members at each communion shall pay six cents. The custodian shall supply bread and wine." At times the Sunday-school teacher of a district would be paid by a voluntary offering — in money or in wheat. Pastor Preus’s hope of establishing a full-fledged parochial day school was realized in only two instances: one at Spring Prairie and another at Madison, where he had organized and was serving a congregation. Both schools were of short duration. {14}

After a number of years of experience and experimentation in the congregations, Pastor Preus came to the conclusion that both he and the churches were prepared to adopt a master plan for the schools of the parish. An extended entry in the Official Proceedings covers all phases of this program:

December 1, 1859, meeting at Spring Prairie of the school commission, deacons, and trustees for all the congregations. The following resolutions were adopted:

1. The aim of the school is essentially to impart instruction in religion, thereby awakening and nourishing in the hearts of the children love of the Lord and his Word.

In order that such instruction may be given, it is obviously necessary that the children should be able to read well. Consequently, instruction in spelling and reading must be recognized as basic courses in our schools.

In a district where the school term is less than two months the school must limit itself to instruction in religion. Only in consideration of more advanced pupils, or [220] where the teacher is convinced that the instruction in religion will thereby be furthered and enhanced, shall the teacher feel called upon to give instruction in writing and arithmetic.

Where the school term provides for 82 days a year, the situation is quite different. There the child will as a rule be prevented from attending a part of the English school term. In such cases it becomes the duty of the Norwegian school to supplement the English school by making (English) writing and reading (dictation) regular subjects of instruction.

2. Each congregation shall provide a record book as authorized by the pastor. In it the teacher shall at New Year and at the close of the school (year) present a summary in accordance with the accepted schedule. In this protocol the pastor and members of the school commission shall record their visits and such comments as they may be prompted to make.

3. The instruction shall, as far as possible, conform to the accepted plan of instruction.

4. The teacher is, first of all, to see to it that the children learn to spell correctly; furthermore, that they learn to read audibly, clearly, and distinctly; and, finally, that they give the words the correct accent and pronunciation.

5. An exercise in understanding should accompany the reading lesson; every new assignment given the child for memorization should be preceded by a detailed explanation; this is necessary because it is of first importance that the child should grasp and understand what it is to learn; in this way, memorization is made easier and definite benefits will be derived.

6. The first memory work of the child shall be the five parts of the Catechism and the Table of Duties; at the same time, Bible history shall be read and explained. Subsequently, Bible history and Explanation (of Luther’s Catechism) shall be memorized, as also hymn verses and [221] other materials in the Catechism. It shall not be required that Bible history be memorized word for word, but rather (studied) to a point where the contents are mastered.

7. Members of the school commission shall visit the school in the district where they live at least once a month. Together with the pastor, they shall supervise the school, ascertain whether the teacher is fulfilling his duties, and whether the deportment of the pupils is satisfactory. They shall enter in the protocol whatever they deem necessary. Should they find special reason for complaint, they should so report to the pastor. In like manner, any member of the congregation should consult the pastor or members of the school commission with reference to any substantial complaint or request concerning the school. Each visit is entered in the record.

8. To establish a uniform time table for all the schools was practically impossible. However, the commission was agreed on the following points: During the months of November, December, January, and February, there shall be six hours of instruction daily; during the other months, seven hours. The teacher may then open school at eight o’clock in the morning, if he so desires, or close at five o’clock.

The daily schedule shall include two and one half hours for reading; an hour and a half shall be devoted to catechization; one hour to singing; one hour daily to writing, four days a week through the winter; and one hour two days a week to arithmetic. Through the summer, arithmetic one hour daily and writing one hour daily — in compliance with the provisions of paragraph one, this applies only to schools in the districts where the term is two months. In other schools, the teacher shall determine whether time will be available for instruction in arithmetic and writing.

Information to be recorded by the teacher (in the record book): in whose home the school is being conducted; [222] the number of days in each home; the child’s name and age.

Studies scheduled: reading and memory work in the following subjects: Catechism, Bible history, Explanation, hymns. Other studies where possible: church history, dictation, singing, writing, arithmetic.

Records to be kept of all lesson assignments and grades. The record for each child shall include: attitude, application, ability, number of days attended.


The transition from a state church in Norway to a free church in America inevitably required major adjustments in the management of parish finances. In the homeland, practically all regular expenses were paid out of taxes collected by the state; in contrast, the government of the United States and that of Wisconsin paid nothing, and church members were responsible for financing the whole parish program. It took time, persistent effort, and education to work out satisfactory new procedures in the immigrant congregations.

Christian stewardship always has to be learned the hard way. For the pioneer church members of the 1850’s, financial demands were more than ordinarily difficult. In the first place, they found the new system entirely foreign to their experience. In Norway, people of the congregation at most had given no more than an occasional voluntary offering to missions or to charity. Perhaps they had made a contribution to the pastor at the three great church festivals or had paid nominal fees for special services or for repairs of their church building.

In the second place, most people in the early settlements in the Middle West had very limited means; many had borrowed money in order to reach their destination in the New World. The cost of taking up a homestead — or even of buying a farm — had fortunately been quite modest. But there had still been a perplexing number of other expenses incident to getting settled. The new landowners had to pay taxes and high [223] interest rates on loans and to provide for such necessities as shelter (a hut or log cabin), food, equipment with which to work the farm, and the like. In addition, there was the slow, backbreaking task of clearing the land of woods, a major undertaking in the territory. They must engage in the removal of stones and brush before the soil could be turned for the first crop — another laborious and time-consuming operation.

Even when his crop was harvested, the farmer found the market far from home and the price of wheat and other saleable crops often extremely low. It was hard to get steady work: day labor was not much in demand and wages were small. The hardships and privations of pioneer life became the common experience of the great majority of Norwegian immigrants. Only slowly and painfully — by dint of their own tortured labors over a period of many years — could farmers pay for their land and save money for a well, a cistern, or other elementary conveniences for the family.

Still other serious obstacles lay in the path of Christian folk who earnestly wanted to establish a church: a severe epidemic of cholera, which decimated some areas in the early 1850’s, and the crippling financial panic of 1857. Taking all these adversities into account, it is amazing that the first immigrant families had the courage and faith to form and maintain a congregation in the wilderness. But, step by step, the people of Spring Prairie parish went ahead. They called a minister and assumed responsibility for his salary of $250 a year. They obligated themselves to provide twenty acres of land, to build a log parsonage, and, in 1855, to raise $800 for a stone church. In due time, also, they somehow raised the money needed for other minor annual expenses — including the salaries of schoolteachers, custodians, and precentors (klokkere).

As if performing these financial miracles were not enough, Pastor Preus’s congregations in 1857 joined in establishing a university fund for the purpose of creating an institution of higher education which would supply the young churches with sorely needed ministers and teachers. A thoughtful look at [224] what these people accomplished in the 1850’s makes one wonder whether this decade in our religious history — considering other comparable periods — does not deserve to be called "the heroic age" of the Lutheran church in the Middle West.

Stewardship? It would not be difficult to demonstrate in cold figures that these hard-pressed pioneers outrank the most generous among us in our affluent times in proportionate giving to our churches. Sacrifice? Self-denial? These people knew from experience the true meaning of such words. Most of us have little personal appreciation of the deeper significance of these concepts. In the transition to a truly free church in America, every step of the early immigrants brought them face to face with the reality of self-denial. They never flinched.


<1> The Reverend J. W. C. Dietrichson began his pastorate at Koshkonong, Wisconsin, in 1844. There, at least some of his congregation expressed resentment at his attempt to impose an old-world religious system in a pioneer church.

<2> Langeland’s book was published in Chicago in 1889.

<3> Mrs. Caja Munch to her parents, June 1, 1857. Pastor Munch served congregations in and near Wiota, Wisconsin, from 1855 to 1859. See Helene and Peter A. Munch, trs. and eds., The Strange American Way: Letters of Caja Munch 97 (Carbondale, Illinois, 1970) for another translation of the letter.

<4> Gisle Johnson was an evangelical professor who — with his celebrated colleague, Carl Paul Caspari — dominated the theological faculty at the University of Christiania from the late 1840’s through the next quarter century.

<5> The translation is by the author.

<6> H. A. Preus, Livsbilleder fra den lutherske kirke i Amerika, 70 (Decorah, Iowa, n.d.).

<7> For the sake of brevity, the points presented here are in summarized or partial form. Quoted words are directly from the church records kept by H. A. Preus. Some entries, given in parentheses, include explanatory notes by the author.

<8> J. C. K. Preus and Diderikke M. Preus, trs. and eds., Linka’s Diary on Land and Sea, 1845—1864, 209 (Minneapolis, 1952).

<9> Maanedstidende (Monthly Times) was the earliest Norwegian Lutheran church paper published in the United States. Its first issue was printed in Racine, Wisconsin, in March, 1851.

<10> The point of the discussion turned on whether the correct form should be "the" holy Christian church or "a" holy Christian church.

<11> Letters of the alphabet have been substituted for the names of persons counseled or disciplined in the parish.

<12> Pastor Preus had "reintroduced skriftemaal (confession and absolution) in the parish." The quotation is from Adolf Bredesen, "Pastor Herman Amberg Preus som jeg kjendte ham," in Symra, 6:119 (Decorah, Iowa, 1910).

<13> The commonly used word for this important phase of parish work was barnelærdom.

<14> Bredesen, in Symra, 6:119.

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