Saturday, November 14, 2009

Perhaps this is not so crazy 130 years later

I was digging through some old papers my parents had sent me, and found an article that mentions my great-great grandfather, Rev. Torsten Moen (whose first name is my middle name, though nobody seems sure how it was really spelled). The article talks about a man named John Henry Peterson, from St. Cloud, MN one of the few (white) residents of that area in the 1870s which was inhabited largely by the Chippewa. Here's a bit of the article:

"Peterson tried to gather the scattered pioneers for worship and Sunday school in their homes. Peterson and a few other Scandinavians met in the home of Andrew Johnson on March 17, 1879 to organize a congregation. They named themselves the Sandvikens Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation and Pastor Torsten Moen, a Norwegian missionary from Osakis, accepted a call to serve as their pastor. Moen, the head of 18 congregations, said he could only promise five or six visits a year. The congregation gathered in homes until 1888 when it constructed a small log church. In 1888, the congregation totaled 21 persons."

A few people organized themselves to be a church, and figured five or six visits a year from a pastor might help them do that better. They met in homes until they got kind of big for that, and found a way to all gather together. And so my great-grandfather rode from town to town checking in on these little communities (18 of them!) to see how these little groups of Jesus' disciples were getting on and helping them with whatever they needed--but clearly the mission and ministry didn't only happen when ol' T. Moen was in town. A network of house churches, followers of Jesus gathered together to be the church in the midst of an often hostile environment, sharing their lives and their gifts, and not worrying about all the many, many things that keep churches today from doing what we are called to do. Doesn't sound like such a bad model for 2009, now does it?

Oh, and 130 years later that little group of Swedes from a log cabin are still gathering as the followers of Jesus known as Gethsemane Lutheran Church.


  1. Oh, and my wife says I can't grow a beard like great-great granddad. Too bad. That's a badass beard.

  2. I'd be a little careful about overly romanticizing the past ... eventually those house-church, pastor-sharing folks abandoned houses for a church building, and eventually called their own pastor. And soon, fair-skinned Scandinavians out-numbered the Chippewa and, no longer needing to circle the wagons, blended in to the rest of the community.

    Might there be something to learn from these pioneer communities, or any other era of the church's life that we might designate as "better" or more "pure" or more "missional" than today? Of course. But we cannot return to their forms of church entirely. Our blogs and iPods prevent us from doing so.

  3. I agree with your wife. :)

    But this is a cool story and blog post!

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  6. Thanks for the post about Grandpa Torsten. My own great-grandparents on my father's mother's side were Lars and Olava Moen who came from Norway and homesteaded near Hendricks, MN. They were all devout Hauge Lutherans, and were early members of Singsaas Lutheran Church (est. 1874). Sadly, this congregation recently voted to withdraw their membership from the ELCA.