THE AUGUSTANA SYNOD AND THE COVENANT CHURCH: CONTACT, CONFLICT, AND CONFLUENCE 1860-2010

The Swedish-American Historical Society convened an extremely interesting symposium on November 5-6, 2010, at North Park University in Chicago to further examine the influence and interplay between the Augustana Lutheran Synod and the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Background

Among the denominations begun by Swedish immigrants in the nineteenth century were the Augustana Synod and the Evangelical Covenant Church. Formed in 1860, the Augustana Synod was the largest Swedish-American organization in the United States until the merger in 1962 that established the Lutheran Church in America (a later merger formed the present Evangelical Lutheran Church in America). The Covenant Church was organized in 1885, subsequent to Lutheran synodical experiments during the 1870s, as Mission Friends sought a non-confessional identity as a "believers' church." Both shared roots in Sweden's religious life and a common history in North America as immigrant denominations, and followed their own trajectories in American life through the generations to the present.

As Augustana marked its 150th anniversary and the Covenant its 125th, it was fitting to observe these celebrations with a symposium that explored the fascinating nexus of relationships between the two churches. It was sponsored by the Swedish-American Historical Society, in cooperation with North Park Theological Seminary, the Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center (Augustana College), and the Augustana Heritage Association. Generous supporting grants were also received from Swedish Council of America, the Augustana Heritage Association, and the Commission on Covenant History.

Each denomination has been extensively studied and documented by several generations of historians, among them prominent scholars in American religious and immigration history, as well as in denominational leadership. The symposium explored in fresh ways the significance and character of denominational historiography. The comparative surveys drew out questions of commonalities and differences before 1885; ecclesiastical identity in American culture; patterns of theological conflict and ecumenical cooperation; generational challenges and opportunities; relationships to Sweden, as well as to the larger American communities in which they continue to develop and fulfill their mission.

First Symposium Speakers

Dr. Thomas Tredway, President Emeritus of Augustana College, provided the opening keynote on Friday evening, November 5th. He helped provide the historical context for the symposium with his presentation entitled "Two Anniversaries and Five Historians."

The first session on Saturday morning examined historical patterns from 1848-1900. Philip Anderson began by comparing the denominational historiography of G. Everett Arden, a historian of Augustana, and Karl A. Olsson, prominent Covenant historian. Mark Safstrom next presented a provocative look at the Swedish pietist and theologian Paul Peter Waldenström, who provided guidance to both the Swedish and American Covenant churches, by exploring his background and asking whether Waldenström was a good Lutheran? Maria Erling completed the first session with a look at the Mission Friends' and Augustana's mission to the Comanches in 1879-1880.

The second morning session dealt with historical patterns from 1900-1960. Dag Blanck presented an intriguing comparison of Augustana and Covenant churches, followed by Mark Granquist's presentation about relations between the two denominations in the 1920s and 1930s. Kurt Peterson concluded the session with a look at post-World War II ecumenism and the two churches.

Concluding Presentations

The first afternoon session dealt with theology, Bible, and mission, with presentations by John Weborg and John Phelan of North Park Theological Seminary, and a concluding talk by David Lindberg of the Lutheran School of Theology. Renowned theologian and prolific author Dr. Martin Marty moderated the second afternoon session on "Memory, Mergers, and Multiethnicity" with the earlier presenters and audience members. Dr. Marty also provided the closing keynote after dinner. The symposium ended with an enthusiastically-sung public hymn celebration in Anderson Chapel, coordinated by Gracia Grindal, Glen Wiberg, and Royce Eckhardt, complete with a marvelous 16-page program filled with historical background and musical scores of these Swedish hymns of pilgrimage and grace.

The papers from this fascinating symposium will be published in an issue of the Swedish-American Historical Quarterly, possibly in the October 2012 issue.

Symposium was Sponsored by:

  • Swedish-American Historical Society
  • Augustana Heritage Association
  • North Park University
  • Swenson Swedish Immigration Research Center at Augustana College

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