Moline Memories - MHS 66 Friends

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Augustana Heritage Association

First Lutheran Church, Moline, founded by L. P. Esbjorn,
who also helped start the Andover congregation and Augustana College.

Rock Island got the college and the synod headquarters, but Moline got most of the Swedish-Americans.

The Augustana Heritage Association has worthwhile historical information on their website.

This came up when my wife mentioned Fritiof Q. Fryxell, who was Augustana's famous geologist. We often saw him at Augustana, never thinking at the time that he was another celebrity from Moline, another graduate of Moline High School.

All the names overlap. Melo-Cream was across from First Lutheran in Moline. When my wife told Conrad Bergendoff that we met our first day at Augie, he replied, "Then it was fore-ordained."

First Lutheran Church, Moline, Illinois | When you read the histories of Augustana Synod and its congregations, names like Esbjörn, Hasselquist, Norelius, Carlsson, appear often. While the Augustana Synod and its educational institutions revere them as pastors and educators, they spent much of their time and energy on "home missions." Of the 19 ordained pastors present at the June 7, 1860, organization of Augustana Synod, most were born in Sweden, and a few in Norway. However, only six were ordained in "the old country." The rest (yes, even Norelius) were ordained by the Synod of Northern Illinois.

Church of Sweden Pastor Lars Paul Esbjörn was multi-tasking before we knew what that was. Consider how he brought his wife and six children, along with a number of other immigrants on a voyage to New York City, leaving Sweden June 29, 1849. It took them two months, eight days. They settled in Andover, where the first Augustana congregation was born. It wasn't long before Esbjörn followed some of the immigrants to Moline, and on December 1, 1850, in a rented room, organized First Lutheran Church, Moline, Illinois.

First Lutheran Church Pastor L. K. Anderson put it this way: "They wanted work. They wanted homes. They wanted education. They wanted to worship God. And so, on December 1, 1850, Dr. Lars Paul Esbjörn met with a small group and organized First Lutheran Church."

Call it a two-point parish, if you will, Esbjörn divided his time between Andover and Moline. But that was not enough for Esbjörn. The people needed the Word of God and the Sacraments, to be sure, but they also needed education.

When First Lutheran Church celebrated her centennial in 1960, the booklet featured letters of greeting from six Augustana luminaries. Most instructive is the letter from Augustana College President Conrad J. Bergendoff:

Augustana and First Lutheran of Moline have a common founder. For L. P. Esbjörn who laid the foundations of First Moline while he was pastor in Andover was also the guiding spirit in the beginnings of Augustana College and Theological Seminary. It was Esbjörn who organized both the Moline congregation in 1850 and the Chicago institution in 1860. He preached the Word and administered the sacraments in the one, in the other he taught theology, but also languages, mathematics, history and geography. In 1875 the College and Seminary moved to Rock Island, thus bringing into close proximity the institution and the congregation&emdash;the common origins&emdash;emphasize a kinship between Church and School, between faith and learning, which has been a precious heritage of the Augustana Church.

John Fryxell related to his son Fritiof Fryxell many of his early experiences in Moline when he arrived by train at nightfall on October 11, 1878. Spending his first night in a room above a saloon, John looked for a church on the following Sunday:

"the first Sunday I was in Moline I went to the Swedish Lutheran Church (now First Lutheran). It was just being built; the basement was finished, but the upstairs was still unplastered. However, the upstairs was opened for services that Sunday for the first time, all previous services having been held in the basement. We sat on planks set out for the occasion. Professor Olof Olsson preached as Rev. A. G. Setterdahl, the regular pastor, was absent for the day."