The Swedish-American Pietistic Connection Is Strong and Continuing

by the Nelson Sisters: Sonja, Sandy, Stephanie and Kendall Magnuson

The Swedes rolled out a royal welcome for Södra Vätterbygdens Folkhögskola (SVF) and North Park alumni the weekend of September 21-24. It was the 25th anniversary of the Sweden Exchange Program between North Park University of Chicago and SVF. Alumni of the program were invited to a reunion at SVF in Jönköping, Sweden.

Our first evening, the American group of twenty-some people and several SVF personnel were invited to the home of Per-Olof Öhrn, SVF President, for wine and cheese and get-acquainted conversation. Saturday morning, we visited the outdoor market downtown for shopping and fika (coffee and goodies). Among the produce and flowers were booths selling handmade items such as cutting boards, candelabra, linens, and needlework. Be-cause of the strong dollar, close to double the exchange rate we experienced as students, the items seemed very reasonably priced.

By Saturday afternoon a couple hundred Swedish alumni had arrived, and we had fika together in the dining room. Each American was introduced as was each class since 1976 when the Sweden Exchange Program (known as the College Line at SVF) began. We sat with our respective classes and shared what we've been doing in the intervening years. We seemed to take up easily where we left off many years ago.

Sonja, Sandy, Stephanie, and Kendall

The Saturday evening banquet was the weekend highlight. As we gathered, orchestra students from the Music Line (an outstanding program at SVF these days) were playing in the hallway outside Månsalen, a large assembly hall. We were awestruck. The room had been transformed into a medieval forest with green branches hanging from the ceiling, moss draped on the windowsills, crows perched in the trees, huge trolls grimacing on the stage, and candles sparkling everywhere. Students in the Creative Arts Line had decorated the room using the theme of the illustrations of the late John Bauer, a Jönköping artist.

Long tables were set with linen tablecloths and floating candles. The dinner, tasty and elegantly presented, included a seafood appetizer, pork filet along with potatoes in a lovely dill sauce, and the finale of molded ice cream on meringue with fresh fruit.

The 240 people in attendance were seated with their classes. Throughout the dinner, the waiters, all from the Music Line, would suddenly begin to sing from a variety of vantage points in the room. It was ingeniously executed. Gunnar Hallingberg, Charles Peterson of NPU, Hans Nilsson, Jan Peterson, an American member of the first class, SVF president Per-Olof Öhrn, and Johan Nordangård, SVF Assistant Administrator made remarks.

Gunnar Hallingberg, former President and founder of the exchange program, gave the history of the College Line. He noted that seeds were sown a hundred years ago by the Mission Friends who founded both schools. He spoke of David Nyvall, whose concern for education led to the founding of North Park. He also paid tribute to the North Park founders of the exchange program, mentioning his "dear friends" Elder Lindahl, Zenos and Barbara Hawkinson, Hobart Edgren, Mel Soneson, and Karl Olsson. He also named SVF students who died too early: Carl Wiberg, Mark Anderson, Cindy (Nordling) Petersson, and Maria Hallingren.

When Hans Nilsson, College Line director and the one person present who knew everyone in the room, rose to speak, he was greeted with a rousing standing ovation in tribute to his work directing the exchange program. Hans said he was grateful for the privilege of having a part in so many students' lives on both sides of the ocean. Hans, who has no children of his own, gets a new batch of American teenagers to parent each fall term. He does so with great patience and good humor and he goes to North Park in the spring to do the same for the Swedes in the program. This term the current group of Americans at SVF is the largest in the program's 25-year history.

After the banquet, we followed a torch-lit path to Parkuden to a dance featuring different eras of music and lovely fruit drinks and snacks. We danced and talked until the early morning hours. Dancing has not always been a pietist activity. Years ago President Hallingberg gave permission for the first dance at SVF saying: "You can have a dance but you can't advertise it."

On Sunday we attended Immanuelskyrkan in Jönköping. In a service geared to the reunion, the fine SVF choir sang and SVF students read the Scripture and prayed in both Swedish and English. David Nystrom, the North Park University exchange professor this year, delivered the sermon. He said we are bound together by our shared history in the Covenant Church but it has evolved into much more because Covenanters in the U.S. now come from many ethnic backgrounds. However, they are still bound together by the pietistic spirit brought to America by Swedish immigrants. This sermon helped focus the entire weekend in a wonderful way.

That afternoon, we went by bus to Gränna, the peppermint-candy town. When the bus pulled over, the Swedes brought out coffee and wonderful coffee bread that we enjoyed in a small park—a very Swedish thing to do.

Sunday evening, we were treated to a fancy salmon dinner in a glass-enclosed restaurant on the Lake Vättern harbor. Some of the SVF teachers joined us to dine leisurely and reflect. Then, back to SVF for coffee and dessert and more late-night talking. But why not, since we couldn't adjust to the time change in one weekend anyway?

The hospitality was exceptional. Our meals and beautiful guest-room accommodations cost only $75.00 per person. Every detail was perfectly planned and the example of doing things creatively and beautifully was not lost on us.

Connecting with our classmates and SVF again, we realized how unique and wonderful our experience at SVF was in our lives. We now have the maturity to appreciate its meaning to us. Many said it was the most important year of their lives. As we said reluctant good-byes, we vowed to try to reconnect with our classmates again in future years.

On a walk around campus, some of us ended up in the library where we noticed current issues of Pietisten. Kendall had the opportunity to read about his uncles, "The Brothers Blomgren." Seeing Pietisten prominently displayed reminded us again how our heritage binds us together and gave us the idea for this article so that readers of Pietisten, and the writers who keep our tradition alive through this exceptional journal, will know that the connections between Swedish and American young people are strong and continuing!