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Lutheran Swedes In Delaware

9. New Sweden

The first Lutheran pastor who set his foot on American soil in August, 1619, was Rasmus Jensen of Denmark. He was chaplain of a Danish expedition numbering 66 Lutherans under Captain Jens Munck, who took possession of the land about Hudson Bay in the name of the Danish crown. In his diary we read of the faithful pastoral work, the sermons, and the edifying death, on February 20, 1620, of this Lutheran pastor. However, the first Lutheran minister to serve a Lutheran colony in America was Reorus Torkillus. He was born in 1609 at Faessberg, Sweden, educated at Linkoeping, and for a time was chaplain at Goeteborg. Gustavus Adolphus already had entertained the idea of founding a colony in America, chiefly for the purpose of carrying on mission-work among the Indians. Peter Minuit, a German, who had come to Manhattan Island in 1626 to represent the interests of the Dutch West India Company (organized in 1621), led also the first Swedish expedition to Delaware in December, 1637. Nine expeditions followed, until the flourishing colony was captured by the Dutch in 1655. The work of Torkillus, who died September 7, 1643, was continued by John Campanius (1601 to 1683), who arrived on February 15, 1643. Three years later, one hundred years after the death of Luther, he dedicated the first Lutheran Church in America at Christina (Wilmington). His translation of Luther’s Small Catechism into the language of the Delaware Indians antedates Eliot’s Indian Bible, but was not published till 1696. Returning to Sweden in 1648, Campanius left about 200 souls in the charge of Lars Lock (Lockenius), who served them until his end, in 1688. In 1654, Pastors Vertunius and Hjorst arrived with 350 additional souls. Both, however, returned to Sweden when Stuyvesant took possession of the colony in 1655, permitting the Swedes in Delaware to retain only Lars Lock as pastor. Jacob Fabricius, who, after rendering his stay in New Amsterdam (New York) impossible, was laboring among the Dutch along the Delaware from 1671 to 1675, before long also began to do mission-work among the Swedes and Finns, at the same time intriguing against Lock, whose cup of sorrow was already filled with family troubles and other griefs. In 1677 Fabricius took charge of the Swedes at Wicaco (Philadelphia), where he, though blind since 1682, continued faithfully to wait on his office until his death in 1693 (1696). He preached in Dutch, which, as reported, the Swedes “spoke perfectly.”

10. Succored by the King of Sweden

In 1692 the now orphaned Lutherans in Delaware addressed themselves to Karl XI, who promised to help them. However, four years passed before Pastor Rudman arrived with two assistants, Bjoerk (Bioerck) and Auren, as well as with a consignment of Bibles and other books. New life entered the Swedish colony. In 1699 the new Trinity Church was erected at Christina, and in 1700 Gloria Dei Church in Wicaco (Philadelphia). From the very beginning, however, a spirit of legalism, hierarchy, and of unionism wormed its way into the promising harvest. The congregations were not taught to govern themselves, but were ruled by provosts sent from Sweden. In the interest of discipline, Andreas Sandel, who arrived in 1702, introduced a system of monetary penances. In his History of the Lutheran Church in America Dr. A. Graebner writes: “Whoever came to church tipsy, was to pay 40 shillings and do public penance. Blasphemy of the divine Word or the Sacraments carried with it a fine of 5 pounds sterling and church penance; to sing at unseemly hours was punished by a fine of 6 shillings; such as refused to submit to the discipline were to be excluded from the congregation and to be refused interment at its cemetery.” (86.) Eric Unander, who returned to Sweden in 1760, employed the same methods to keep order in the congregational meetings. A. Rudman, after his brief pastorate among the Dutch Lutherans in New York during 1702, returned to Philadelphia. From 1707 to his death, in 1708, he served an Episcopal church without severing his connection with the Swedes. His successors followed his footsteps. From 1737 to 1741 J. Dylander preached at Gloria Dei Church in German, Swedish, and English every Sunday, served the Germans in Germantown and Lancaster, and, in the absence of their pastor, ministered also to the Episcopalians. The same practise was observed by the provosts: Eric Bjoerk, who was appointed the first provost in 1712, and returned to Sweden in 1714; A. Sandel, who also served Episcopalian congregations and returned in 1719; A. Hesselius, who left in 1723, and in Sweden, 1725, published a short report of the conditions prevailing in America; Peter Tranberg, who was stationed at Raccoon and Pennsneck, N. J., from 1726 to 1740, and at Christina till his death in 1748; J. Sandin, who arrived in 1746, dying two years later; Israel Acrelius, who arrived in 1749, saw the language question become acute, served Episcopalian congregations, and returned to Sweden in 1756, where he published (1759) a description of the conditions in New Sweden; Olaf Parlin, who arrived in 1750 and died in 1757; Dr. C. M. Wrangel, who was provost from 1759 to 1768, assisted in rejuvenating the Pennsylvania Synod in 1760, and began a seminary with Peter Muhlenberg, Daniel Kuhn, and Christian Streit as students; Nils Collin, whose activity extended from 1770 to 1831, during which time he had eight Episcopalian assistant pastors in succession.

11. Church-fellowship with Episcopalians

In 1710 Pastor Sandel reported as follows on the unionism practised by the Swedes and Episcopalians: “As pastors and teachers we have at all times maintained friendly relations and intimate converse with the English preachers, one always availing himself of the help and advice of the other. At their pastoral conferences we always consulted with them. We have repeatedly preached English in their churches when the English preachers lacked the time because of a journey or a death. If anywhere they laid the corner-stone of a church, we were invited, and attended. When their church in Philadelphia was enlarged, and the Presbyterians had invited them to worship in their church, they declined and asked permission to come out to Wicaco and conduct their services in our church, which I granted. This occurred three Sundays in succession, until their church was finished; and, in order to manifest the unity still more, Swedish hymns were sung during the English services. Also Bishop Swedberg [of Sweden], in his letters, encouraged us in such unity and intimacy with the Anglicans; although there exists some difference between them and us touching the Lord’s Supper, etc., yet he did not want that small difference to rend asunder the bond of peace. We enter upon no discussion of this point; neither do we touch upon such things when preaching in their churches; nor do they seek to win our people to their view in this matter; on the contrary, we live in intimate and brotherly fashion with one another, they also calling us brethren. They have the government in their hands, we are under them; it is enough that they desire to have such friendly intercourse with us; we can do nothing else than render them every service and fraternal intimacy as long as they are so amiable and confiding, and have not sought in the least to draw our people into their churches. As our church is called by them ‘the sister church of the Church of England,’ so we also live fraternally together. God grant that this may long continue!” (G., 118.) Thus from the very beginning the Swedish bishops encouraged and admonished their emissaries to fraternize especially with the Episcopalians. And the satisfaction with this state of affairs on the part of the Episcopalian ministers appears from the following testimonial which they gave to Hesselius and J. A. Lidenius in 1723: “They were ever welcome in our pulpits, as we were also welcome in their pulpits. Such was our mutual agreement in doctrine and divine service, and so regularly did they attend our conferences that, aside from the different languages in which we and they were called to officiate, no difference could be perceived between us.” (131.)

12. Absorbed by the Episcopal Church

The evil influence which the unionism practised by the Swedish provosts and ministers exercised upon the Lutheran congregations appears from the resolution of the congregation at Pennsneck, in 1742, henceforth to conduct English services exclusively, and that, according to the Book of Common Prayer. In the same year Pastor Gabriel Naesman wrote to Sweden: “As to my congregation, the people at first were scattered among other congregations, and among the sects which are tolerated here, and it is with difficulty that I gather them again to some extent. The great lack of harmony prevailing among the members makes my congregation seem like a kingdom not at one with itself, and therefore near its ruin.” (335.) The unionism indulged in also accounts for the trouble which the Swedes experienced with the emissaries of Zinzendorf: L. T. Nyberg, Abr. Reinke, and P. D. Bryzelius (who severed his connection with the Moravians in 1760, became a member of the Pennsylvania Synod, and in 1767 was ordained by the Bishop of London). Unionism paved the way, and naturally led to the final undoing of the Lutheran Swedes in Delaware. It was but in keeping with the unionism advised from Sweden, practised in Delaware, and indulged in to the limit by himself, when Provost Wrangel gave the final coup de grace to the first Lutheran Church in America. Dr. Wrangel, the bosom-friend of H. M. Muhlenberg, openly and extensively fraternized not only with the Episcopalians, but also with the Reformed, the Presbyterians (in Princeton), and the Methodists, notably the revivalist Whitefield. And, evidently foreseeing the early and unavoidable debacle of Swedish Lutheranism in Delaware, von Wrangel, at his departure for Sweden, suffered the Episcopalians to use him as a tool to deliver the poor, weakened, and oppressed congregations, whose leader he had been, into the hands of the Anglicans. (392.) On his way home Wrangel carried with him an important letter of introduction from the Episcopalian Richard Peters to the Bishop of London, the ecclesiastical superior of the Anglican ministers and congregations in the American Colonies. The letter, dated August 30, 1768, reads, in part: “Now Dr. Wrangel intends to utilize properly the general aversion [in Delaware] to the Presbyterians in order to unite the great mass of Lutherans and Swedes with with the Church of England, which, as you know, is but small numerically and in humble circumstances in this province; through union with the German Lutherans, however, we both would become respectable. According to Dr. Smith’s and my opinion this could be effected through our Academy. In it we could establish a theological professorship; then German and English young men could be educated, and as their training would embrace both languages, they could preach German as well as English at places where both nations are mixed. That would unite us all and make us one people in life and love. It is a happy thought. I would desire your Excellency to speak with Dr. Wrangel, and encourage him as much as possible. In this matter I have written to the two archbishops, asking them to consider it carefully together with your Excellency. I am sure that now the opportunity is good to bring this desirable affair to a happy conclusion.” (394.) In a document dated June 25, 1789, the Swedish government served official notice on the congregations in America that in future they could no longer expect help from Sweden, alleging that, whereas “the purpose, the Swedish tongue,” had come to an end, it was but just that in future also the disbursements in Sweden should be discontinued. (401.) The result was that one congregation after another united with the Episcopalians. By 1846 the Lutheran name had disappeared from the last charter. Thus the entire Swedish mission territory, all of whose congregations exist to the present day, was lost to the Lutheran Church. The chief causes of this loss were: unionism, hierarchical paternalism, interference from Sweden, the failure to provide for schools and for the training of suitable pastors, and the lack of Swedish and, later, of English Lutheran literature. The report of the Pennsylvania Ministerium of 1762 remarks: “For several generations the Swedish schools unfortunately have been neglected in the Swedish congregations; Dr. Wrangel, however, has organized an English school in one of his parishes where Luther’s Catechism is read in an English translation.” From the very beginning the foundations of the Lutheran structure along the Delaware were both laid insecurely and undermined by its builders.