Philip J. Anderson: “On the Beginnings of North Park University”

From Philip J. Anderson’s “On the Beginnings of North Park University: ‘Risberg’s School’ and Covenant Ministerial Education, 1885-1916”:

Fridoph Risberg (image credit: CAHL 3880)

Fridoph Risberg (image credit: CAHL 3880)

Congregational aid to Swedish Mission Friends represented the coming together of varying degrees of cultural nativism and a growing conviction that these people were indeed Congregationalists, but, according to Scott, “there were no Congregationalists in Sweden to tell them so.” In 1867 The Chicago Association discussed how to reach immigrants and concluded that “the aim should be to nationalize them and gather them into our churches, rather than to establish churches exclusively of foreign elements.” Levi Cobb, superintendent of the AHMS in Minnesota, asserted in 1878: “To us nothing is plainer than this — that God has sent these people to our very doors for us to Christianize. We must do it, or they will make Europeans out of us.” The challenge to “Americanize, Christianize, Congregationalize” was summed up by Curtiss when he asked, “What have we, orthodox offspring of the pilgrim fathers, done to teach these children of Luther a more excellent way?” By the mid-1880s this nativism had developed into a rhetorical tradition justifying aid to Scandinavian free-church immigrants while glossing over inherent doctrinal and ecclesiological differences.

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This, then, sets the context for Risberg’s arrival at CTS in the autumn of 1885, a world of faith and education that must have seemed very foreign to him. While the Congregationalists were quite certain of the qualities that defined an American, such an identifiable species must have seemed highly illusive through the eyes of an immigrant initially. No doubt, CTS provided Risberg with a culture and context that allowed him to be a bridge among Swedish leaders and groups between 1885 and World War I, three decades that comprised the most critical period for issues of identity, self-differentiation, and degrees of ethnic consciousness, made all the more pressing by generational change.

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[Risberg’s] work at CTS was guided by the conviction that eventual assimilation into the American church would best serve the needs of the Swedish Mission Friends. In 1892 he wrote, “My opinion is that Every European who makes this land his home should think from the very beginning that he is to become a good American… It is because the training of Swedish preachers among Americans has a future before it that I willingly labor in this seminary.”

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Composite of Swedish Department students at CTU, Risberg and D. Nyvall in middle (CAHL 5295)

Composite of Swedish Department students at CTU, Risberg and D. Nyvall in middle (CAHL 5295)

Nyvall, however, vigorously disagreed with Risberg’s views of Americanization, saying that “in all things personal Risberg and I were one, but in school matters and in matters of denominational interests we did not agree.” His role in the unfolding stormy discussions of schools and possible mergers led to the conviction that the Covenant needed its own school if the denomination was to have a future and if Swedish-American people were to shape their own cultural and religious lives.

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David Nyvall and Axel Mellander, who in 1892 became dean of the Covenant school, anticipated the Covenant’s rejection of the overture. In January 1890 Mellander wrote in Missions-Vännen that the freedom of the Covenant “cannot be sold either for Congregational favors or American bribes.” A week later, Nyvall added, “we shall not be assimilated because we shall not be Americanized. By making the best of what we now are, we can best educate the nation in America… If we are good Swedes (in an apolitical sense), we are good Americans.”

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On the one hand, the distinctives that divided the Covenant, the Free, the Swedish Congregationalists, and the independents, come into sharp focus. On the other hand, one can also see the development of a pan-ethnic “Mission” identity that embraced all the Scandinavian free churches and fostered cooperation and hopes for merger, driven by religion and held together by ethnicity. The challenge was to steer between the Scylla of assimilation without tradition and the Charybdis of tradition without assimilation.

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection

“Jesus calls the church to a journey toward justice.”

From Catherine Gilliard, “Watching, Not Waiting: A Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent”:

 

gilliard memeJesus teaches his disciples about the pain and suffering that precede a new birth. Jesus urges the disciples to remain awake so they do not miss God’s work in the middle of the chaotic events unfolding around them…. And this is my call to the church today: we too must be watchful. This week we watched peaceful demonstrators march to the seats of government power in city after city, bringing awareness to racial injustices that plague communities across this nation. Jesus is no stranger to the unrest we have seen; in our text Jesus warns his disciples that persecution will come. Jesus himself and his disciples were betrayed, handed over to authorities, beaten, thrown in jail, and eventually sentenced to death. This is also the journey of justice marked for the church today.

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The unrest in city after city is not just about the death of Michael Brown, no matter how badly organizers need a face as a banner for the movement. What is resonating with people throughout this nation is not the unrest in Ferguson alone. What is resonating in city after city are the signs of the simmering tension of systemic racism present across this country, racism that those in positions of influence and power do not want to discuss or confront. What’s resonating with people about Ferguson is how signs of racial and class tensions present in their own communities are not being discussed either.

And sadly we, the church, have also been far too silent about the tension arising in our nation—and far too silent about the present signs of God’s kingdom breaking through, even as the violence increases. The voices speaking about injustice are rarely people of God who bring the hope of Christ into the dialogue. It’s as if we too truly believe that there is another answer to the sinful activities that sustain injustice other than the power of Christ.

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Jesus calls the church to a journey toward justice. The Holy Spirit calls the church to see what needs to change and then empowers the church to become advocates of that change. God calls the church to embody the power of the cross, crucifying evil and resurrecting God’s plan. God heals us! God delivers us! God uses us to proclaim and witness the Holy Spirit’s power to bring good news to all who are suffering in this world. So be on guard! Be alert! Keep watch, so those watching expectantly will not lose hope. It is through us, the church, that God’s love, forgiveness, and grace are experienced by the world. It is we the church who are called to bear witness to God’s power to dismantle walls of division and separation through our ministry of restoration, redemption, and reconciliation.

Read the full article here.

A Civil Rights Sermon, 1963

From Douglas Cedarleaf’s June 16, 1963, sermon, “Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done”:

 

cedarleaf 2 From the good news according to St. Matthew, chapter 6 verse 10, we read, “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” It would be interesting to know how many voices have been raised all over the world in this particular prayer and in this petition this morning. Across all the barriers of race and class and denomination. Across the seas. Across misunderstandings….

It circles the globe, this heart cry of the human race. What will it be like when God’s kingdom comes? Do you hunger and thirst after it? Do you seek after it? Is your blood stirred by it like it’s stirred by a new home or a new car or a new washing machine?

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If Jesus Christ came in and said, “You really want my kingdom to come? Is this what you’re after? You really want my will to be done in the whole world? In your life? In your job? In your home? Is this what you’re really after?” We would cringe and say, “God, go away! This isn’t what we want. Leave us alone. Leave us alone. We’re comfortable the way we are. We’ve got everything we need. We live in the greatest nation in all the world. The kingdom of America is good enough for us!”

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Let me ask you where God is in this whole business where one tenth of the population of America is crying for justice. Is God hearing this cry? Will God answer this cry? When they cry, “Thy kingdom come, and thy will be done,” will God hear what they have to say? And if he hears it, what will happen to the nine-tenths of us who feel either, on the one hand, that these folks should be restrained, or else…we just let it go. We are just indifferent. We hope this big, bad ogre will go away. And it sounds to me as though the voice of God himself is thundering through the pain of these people, “You had best wake up, wake up, lest at last you shall be submerged in the wrath of the heavenly Father who will not allow one-tenth of the human beings in this nation to be denied their basic rights!”

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I am asking at this moment for you to decide in your own soul whether or not you can mix up God’s will with our keeping a tenth of our population submerged. Do you want to pray with me that God will sharpen the teeth of Bull Connor’s dogs? Do you want to pray with me that more black men will be shot in the back? Do you want to join me in prayer that the fire hoses be made ever greater in their pressure so we can mow down these people and put them back in their place where they belong?

Now if you choose this road, you have a right to do this and defy the law of America. You have a right to do this and defy the law of God, if this is your wish. But no one has ever defied the law of God and found peace.

Read the full sermon here, then come back and discuss.

 


 

For discussion:

  • Cedarleaf challenged his congregation to consider whether they really wanted God’s kingdom to come, given the way it would shake up the status quo. His question remains relevant. What would it look like for the Kingdom of God to be actualized in your job, your home, your community, and your life? What part might you be called to play in that?
  • In what ways do Christians and churches still promote the idea that “The kingdom of America (or the nation of choice) is good enough for us?”

The Covenant’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963–1968

From Ramelia Williams, “The Evangelical Covenant Church’s Response to the Civil Rights Movement, 1963–1968”:

 

RameliaIn the shadow of World War II, the Covenant Church took an official stance against racial discrimination. The Annual Meeting of 1944 adopted a resolution that reads in part: “We believe that all men are of one blood, and that all discrimination, based upon race, creed or nationality, is not in keeping with the Christian profession and life, and further, that it fosters conflict and war” (YB 1944, p. 133)….Between 1946 and 1968, nearly every Annual Meeting issued a resolution affirming the equal dignity of all people and rejecting racial discrimination, with only six exceptions.

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Annual Meeting resolutions did not emerge ex nihilo, but were brought by a commission that sought to resource local congregations and guide them in action. In 1944 the Covenant Church established the Committee on Civic Relations to mold a Christian mindset toward various matters of civility. The name was changed in 1948 to Christian Citizenship Commission (and in 1968 to the Commission on Christian Action). The Christian Citizenship Commission would study and offer its opinion on suffrage, civil rights, international wars, political affairs, social ethics, and other important civic issues.

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The practical action of the commission primarily took place through congregational commissions established at their request and under their direction. At its inception, the commission recommended the establishment of a “committee on civic relations” in every Covenant church, sending letters to each congregation with this request in November 1947. As the 1948 report stated, “Commission members quickly realized that no program of information or action could be implemented unless there were local committees” (YB 1948, p. 92), reporting that sixty churches had formed such a committee. The basic task of these local committees was twofold: (1) to educate their congregation about moral issues facing nation and community, and (2) to guide them in an appropriate response….The 1961 Annual Meeting approved the commission’s proposal that race be adopted as the “issue of the year,” launching a year of “denomination-wide study of Christianity and racial relations.” (YB 1962, p. 163)

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As recognized by the Covenant Commission on Christian Citizenship, resolutions would be effective only as “interpreted and carried out by the local committees” (YB 1962, p. 163). For this reason I surveyed two congregations located in cities that, historically, have served a prominent role in the denomination: Community Covenant Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and North Park Covenant Church in Chicago, Illinois.

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Read the full article here, including accounts of particular Covenant congregations and publications.


For consideration and discussion:

  • The author expresses that her initial discouragement at the minimal involvement of Covenant congregations in the civil rights movement gave way to greater appreciation through her research. Has Williams’s research impacted your own thoughts on this matter?
  • A running theme through this piece is the ECC’s expressed desire to “bring our practices into line with our beliefs” (Covenant Yearbook 1950, p. 202), and the denomination’s attempts to empower local congregations to that end. How might Covenant polity have impacted – and continue to impact – those attempts, for better or for worse?
  • How does Williams’s historical study relate to the nation, denomination, and local church today? What can it teach us?

Exile & Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement

From Bo H. Lim, “Exile and Migration: Toward a Biblical Theology of Immigration and Displacement”:

 

bo lim

The Evangelical Covenant Church is an immigrant church, founded by Swedish immigrants in 1885. At its centennial celebration in 1985, Krister Stendahl exhorted the denomination to maintain its immigrant identity as it moved into its second century. Twenty five years later, marking its 125th anniversary celebration, the denomination yet again affirmed its character as an immigration church as central to its identity. The Covenant’s 2014 resolution on immigration opens with a summary of this identity, providing the foundation for the ethical discussion/exhortation that follows. The aim of this paper is to provide a better understanding of the biblical phenomenon of exile as it relates to immigrant communities so that church leaders might better appropriate this biblical motif for ministry.

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There was no singular exilic experience. To assume that all Israelites were weeping by the rivers of Babylon under duress from foreign captors is simply inaccurate. Neither should one assume that every Israelite was able to climb the Babylonian social ladder and influence the royal court in the manner of Daniel and his friends. What these approaches reveal is that migration, while impacting groups, affects people differently at an individual and family level. In addition, generations within families may have experienced the exile in markedly different ways. For the poor peasant, exile may have meant no geographical relocation but experiencing colonization by the Babylonian economic empire. For a Judean youth from a class of social elites, exile may have meant living in a Jewish enclave in Babylon and exercising a relatively free existence.

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Just as reading prophetic literature requires attention to the exegetical nuances of myriad migratory experiences of ancient Israel, Christian ministry demands that the church address the diverse experience of migrants and minority populations. It is no less irresponsible for me to say that the experiences of all immigrants to the U.S. are the same – even those experiences within a single ethnic group – than to assume that the exilic experiences addressed in Jeremiah, Isaiah, Psalm 137, Daniel, and Esther are all the same….Faithfulness requires knowing the particularities of each biblical text as well as the particularities of each individual experiencing migration. To flatten the experiences and texts of migration into one uniform category is not merely an act of intellectual dishonesty; it is an unwillingness to listen to the distinct message of particular texts and a disregard for the unique ways people are impacted by migration.

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Given that as of 2015, 244 million international migrants live abroad and these numbers continue to climb, the church must develop resources to minister to these populations.

 

Read the full article here.


For consideration and discussion:

  • What narratives inform your thoughts about exile and migration? Biblical? Political? Historical? Experiential?
  • What narratives do you believe inform the thoughts of the people in your circles?
  • How do those narratives impact attitudes and actions?
  • Lim mentioned several people who have spoken into issues surrounding exile and migration, including John Ahn, Steed Davidson, and Frank Ames. Who are some of your favorite writers, thinkers, practitioners and theologians who are speaking into this topic, and what do they have to say?