Pietisten West Coast Tour

by Phil Johnson

For ten days (April 26 to May 6) Sandy and I visited the Seattle, Washington area as Pietisten editors. We were guests of Carl and Marcia Blomgren on Vashon Island, of Associate Editor, Nels Elde and Ann, and Jackie and Art Mampel in Seattle, Gordon and Chris Johnson in Snoqualmie, and my sister, Adele Stone, in Longview, Washington. I talked to the Adult Sunday School Class at historic First Covenant Church in Seattle (text available at Pietisten.org) and Sunday afternoon Sandy, Nels Elde, Karl Nelson, and I represented Pietisten at the West Coast Annual Meeting (more than 30 attended) hosted by Gordon and Chris Johnson.

The appreciation expressed for Pietisten out West was encouraging. Our experience in Washington confirmed our pietist convictions that friendship and fellowship are more important and more basic than creeds, opinions, and beliefs. I think we inherit the attitude that we are free, independent, and blessed people from our Mission Friends’ heritage. The Mission Friends intentionally established churches during the second half of the 19th century in which no creed was required. They wanted to provide maximum freedom of belief and practice. Later these mainly Swedish mission friend congregations institutionalized this spirit and practice denominationally—in Sweden in 1878 and in the American Evangelical Mission Covenant Church in 1885.

I sometimes forget that not all the Swedes who shared this spirit—either in America or Sweden—became Covenant. There were many Augustana, Baptists, and Free Church people, to mention some of the larger groups, who shared this spirit. As I understand it, though, none of these other denominations were explicitly free of obligations regarding doctrine and creedal affirmation as Covenanters were and are.

Nels Elde, Karl and Becky Nelson, Sandy and Phil Johnson prior to a Pietisten cruise in Puget Sound and through the locks to Lake Union.

This freedom came through clearly out West. We felt it with our personal friends and we felt it in First Covenant Church, Seattle, which is a great place. The church was built in 1910. The outside gives little clue to how special it is inside. I speak of both building and spirit. The interior tabernacle design is striking. It is the legacy of Erik August Skogsburgh. The music, prayers, and sermon were inspiring; the service gave our spirits a big boost. “First Cov” is alive. It has a terrific collection of people including some especially wonderful young people. Persons with whom we spoke agreed that Pastors Mark Nilson and Dave Jobe are the right people at the right time.

The West Coast Pietisten Annual Meeting gathered at 4:30 PM Sunday. The afternoon and evening in Sno-qualmie were bright, fresh, and green. We looked out at mountains and across large vistas in all directions as we mingled with one another, sharing refreshments.

Art and Jackie Mampel

This was the second official Pietisten conventicle this year—the Minnesota Annual meeting at Art and Barb Bowman’s in January was the first. Together these meetings constitute our required Annual Meeting as a non-profit corporation. See page four for the combined report.

The last leg of our journey took us to Longview, Washington to my sister, Adele and our friend, Pietisten supporter Ed Nelson.

Adele was born in Africa. Our parents, Lloyd and Esther Johnson from the Covenant Church in Dawson, Minnesota, were missionaries from 1925 to 1932 to what was then the Belgian Congo. The Congo Mission (as many know) was founded by Dr. Titus Johnson. The adventures of our parents and their colleagues during this early time (as white people measure) in Africa have been brought to our attention recently through reading correspondence among the missionaries of the period. These people knew how to write. Their penmanship is excellent and they wrote well in both English and Swedish. Sometimes they threw in a little French for the fun of it. They didn’t write in Lingala, but they spoke it.

Adele Stone

These letters, some of which Tommy Carlson is translating from Swedish, raise interesting questions. What were the attitudes of the missionaries toward the natives to whom they were preaching and with whom they formed community and civil life? The missionaries fit into an already existing European social structure. Belgium ruled the native people and the country of Congo. In this setting, the missionaries relied on the Africans as employees and servants.

What was the aim of the missionaries—our parents and others? Was it to civilize the Africans culturally and economically? To the extent they aided that process, it was likely the result of cultural presumptions rather than articulate intentions. From what I know of our parents, Lloyd and Esther, and of others, these missionaries had one aim—to tell of the love of God in Jesus Christ and to bring the natives to a “saving knowledge of him.”

It’s an improbable story when you think about it. Farmers’ sons and daughters from Minnesota and Nebraska and other places in their early 1920s sailing to Belgium, from there to Africa, and finally up the Congo River to establish missions for winning the natives to Christ. How did it turn out and how is it turning out now? Whatever else, the people who participated in this adventure certainly deserve the label of “mission friends.” I am eager to read more of these letters and to talk with people who know more than I do about the African mission.

Retired Air Force Chaplain, L. Edward Nelson, a vintage mission friend, treated us to dinner when we arrived in Longview. Ed’s son Tim and wife Linda and Linda’s parents, retired missionaries to Japan Mel and June Metcalf, Adele, Sandy, and I surrounded the table. We had a fine time. The hospitality of the West is unsurpassed. They are very friendly folks out there.