Lina Sandell at North Park

by J. Irving Erickson

On a trip to Sweden in 1975 I visited Fröderyd, a little town in the province of Småland. This was the birthplace and early home of Karolina Sandell-Berg. The little cottage in which she lived is now a museum. Beside it is an ancient ash tree. She was said to be sitting on one of its boughs while she wrote “Tryggare kan ingen vara” (Children of the Heavenly Father). Beneath the wide-spread branches of the tree is a bronze statue in honor of the popular hymn writer. This beautiful work is the creation of Axel Wallenberg, a pupil of Carl Milles, and then curator of Millesgården. At the dedication in 1953, 10,000 people gathered in the parsonage yard. Each year on Transfiguration Sunday, the people of the parish attend a festive service in remembrance of Lina and her father, who was the beloved pastor. Her songs are still an important part of the hymnody of Sweden. The recent hymnal of the State Church (Den Svenska Psalm Boken) includes 14 texts by Sandell, and the songbook of the Free Churches (Psalmer och Sånger) includes 29.

But not only in Sweden does she live on—“Children of the Heavenly Father” appears in most of the collections published in the U.S. in the last ten years. The Covenant Hymnal (1973) has 113 of her texts and The Song Goes On (1990) includes two recent translations. It seems that the Covenant Church has become the custodian of this rich heritage. Through a very fortunate coincidence we were given the opportunity to enhance that heritage. That story began several months earlier than my visit in 1975.

When Nils W. Olsson, then Executive Director of the Swedish Council of America, was in Sweden in the summer of 1974, he chanced to meet Axel Wallenberg, the above-mentioned sculptor. Dr. Olsson was invited to Wallenberg’s home which also served as a studio. In one corner of the room was a plaster cast which he said he intended to destroy to make room for some new works. This was the mold that was used to cast the statue at Fröderyd. Wallenberg then said that if Dr. Olsson thought there was still some use for it, he would donate it. Upon his return to the states, Olsson put the proposal to me and, after consulting with several others, it was agreed that we should attempt to have a statue cast and brought to the North Park campus. About half of the cost was assumed by the A. Harold Andersons. The remainder was raised by the gifts of many Covenanters, a great number of them being pastors.

Through the direction of Dr. Olsson, the statue was cast in Sweden, brought to the North Park campus, and dedicated April 23, 1976. The dedicatory service was in two parts. The first was held in the College Chapel with Chaplain J. Robert Hjelm presiding. Participating in the service were Sharon Rich (Organist), Leon Bujak (Acting Consul General), Dr. Olsson, President Lloyd Ahlem, the College Chamber Singers, and this writer. The second part of the ceremony took place at the site [on back-campus where the statue sits] with the reading of the Litany of Dedication and the Dedicatory Prayer. The service concluded with the singing of “Children of the Heavenly Father.”

Karolina Wilhemina Sandell was born October 3, 1832 in Fröderyd, Småland. Her father, Jonas, was the parish pastor. He was an earl leader in the revival movement in Southern Sweden and a reader of Pietisten. The daughter received much of her religious outlook from her father who also tutored her in a systematic plan of study. Her brother-in-law also served as her tutor, and under these two teachers she received an excellent liberal arts education as well as training in the Scriptures.

At an early age, Lina was stricken with an illness that left her partially paralyzed and confined to bed. One Sunday morning when the rest of the family was in church, she read the Gospel text for the day. It was the story of Jesus raising the daughter of Jairus. She reasoned that if Christ could heal the girl in the Biblical account, he could heal her as well. She prayed fervently and suddenly was filled with a great joy. She got out of bed and was able to walk. The experience gave her a profound sense of love and gratitude to God which no later troubles or sorrows could shake. She began to record her feelings and, at the age of 16, published a little book of poems and meditations. As she grew older, she began to write more. One of her earliest hymns was “Tryggare kan ingen vara.”

When Lina was 26, the loss of her father in an accidental drowning brought deep and extended grief. But it was immediately following this tragedy that she wrote some of her finest hymns. Among them were: “Great Hills May Tremble,” “Thou Tender. Gracious Father,” and “Jesus, in Stillness, Longing I Wait.” For awhile she lived in the household of her brother-in-law. Her social horizons were expanded, and she came to know and associate with several persons of eminence and great faith; among them was the king’s sister, Princess Eugenia.

After the death of her mother, Lina accepted a position on the editorial staff of Evangeliska Fosterlandsstiftelsen (Evan-gelical National Foundation). Here she became acquainted with Carl Rosenius and often was a guest in the Rosenius home. He proved to be a great help in her spiritual pilgrimage.

In 1867 she married C.O. Berg, a wealthy business man. Although the union brought happiness, it caused problems as well. On October 4, 1868, she gave birth to a son who was either still-born or died in birth. Later Berg was involved in an unfortunate project which depleted his resources and resulted in an unjust two-month imprisonment. Through it all, Lina was a source of comfort and encouragement to her husband. In spite of a frail body, she lived to be 71 years of age. At her funeral the choir sang “Tryggare . . .” and the congregation joined in spontaneously.

Lina was involved in the publication of several periodicals and calendars. She edited Korsblomman for 37 years. This was an annual illustrated volume of stories, poems, biographies, and devotional readings. But her greatest contribution was in her hymns. One of her first tasks at the Foundation was to assist in the compilation of the group’s first hymnal, Sionstoner (Strains of Zion). No less than 126 of the 550 texts were her originals or translations. Her collected works came out in three parts between 1882 and 1892. They included 650 poems and hymns. While her songs do not rise to the lofty expression of some of the noble hymns of Sweden, they have a strong spiritual appeal and find a warm response in the hearts of the people.