Nils Frykman – The Joyous Christian Singer

by Börje Skagerö and translated by John A. Erickson

Originally published in the newspaper Fryksdalsbygden. Fryksdalsbygden is a local paper in the Sunne kommun of Värmland, having a circulation of about 3300 copies. This article appeared on 29 March 2011, and was sent to Ted and Marilyn Erickson by her cousin in Värmland.

On March 30, 2011, it was exactly 100 years since the well-known songwriter Nils Frykman left our world. He has written over 300 songs, of which a goodly number are found in our hymnal and even now are sung in our various churches. They are immortal songs where the theme is joy in the Christian faith.

Who is this Nils Frykman? He comes from the province of Värmland in Sweden. On the eastern shore of the lake ÖvreFryken, a few kilometers north of Sunne, lies the village of Backa. There in Sörgårn (south homestead) Nils was born on October 20, 1842. The parents, Nils and Kerstin Larsson had nine children and Nils was the seventh in order. Early in life he was to help with the work at home in the farmyard. At the same time he carried on his own studies independently in the home.

When he was 24 years of age he sought entry into the teacher’s training college in Karlstad and was allowed to immediately start in the second class. At this time he took the name Frykman after the valley of his hometown – Fryksdalen.

Against his father’s will

In June 1868 he completed the period as “folk school” teacher and received an appointment in Grums outside of Karlstad, and later served an appointment in Norrköping for five years.

But he longed to return to his hometown, and when an appointment became available in Östanbjörke he sought it, beating out nine other applicants. He moved with his family of three children into a small garret above the school hall. His wife’s name was Betty and was the daughter of district judge, Anders Johanson. The mother was among the free-churchly people who were called “readers” in the town and the daughter followed in her mother’s footsteps. It was during the spiritual services that Nils and Betty first met. There developed love, engagement, and soon marriage. The father did not approve of the thought that a rich district judge’s daughter should marry a poor town schoolteacher, who furthermore was a “reader”. The wedding proceeded nonetheless, but the father saw to it the Betty did not receive very much of the inheritance.

The school hall in Östanbjörke was ten meters long and eight meters wide. There Frykman was to teach up to 100 children at once. Wages for a teacher were not large. Frykman received 600 crowns per year in cash, 80 crowns wood money, 85 crowns cow fodder settlement, and 75 crowns in dwelling place settlement. In 1882 Frykman purchased a small stuga adjacent to the school in Östanbjörke. A piece of land was part of the property and was able to provide pasture for a pair of cows. The family grew through the years, with ten children, eight sons and two daughters being given to Nils and Betty together.

The Revival Movement

In the latter part of the 1800s, the revival movement attracted many in the communities of Värmland. Nils Frykman caught the Christian message and soon became a leader figure for the newly founded mission society in the community. But that did not receive approval from the parish’s school council. They demanded that teachers be faithful in respecting the Church of Sweden’s teaching. However, Frykman was very welcome from the side of the schoolchildren and their parents. They placed value on his honest morals and god-fearing life.

However, in the summer of 1880 animosity developed between the school council and Nils Frykman. If he was to continue in his teaching position, he was required by the New Year to declare in writing that he had left his free-churchly religion. People in the community had compiled a list of names. 245 names were listed in support of Frykman. He felt himself peaceful and secure, in spite of opposition from the clergy and school authorities. It was under this difficult time, that the familiar song was born: “I Sing With Joy and Gladness” (Title of English translation, tr. E. Gustav Johnson). But strife between school authorities, clergy and Frykman continued. Nils was uncompromising. He saw that he was justified in his Christian faith and with his free-churchly opinions and had the right to be a teacher while adhering to this faith. He nevertheless did not want to fight, but in the summer of 1883 left his teaching appointment.

Started Preaching

Instead he devoted himself fulltime to the preaching occupation, principally in Värmland’s Ansgar Association’s service, which was a union of mission societies in Värmland. Frykman traveled enthusiastically by horseback and on foot. Many came to his gatherings in homes and mission houses. His routine was to use the organ to captivate the meeting’s visitors. Frykman sang much, most often his own songs, often accompanied by the guitar. How his song-poetry started, Frykman himself relates: “At a meeting there was a brother who sang a song that enraptured me. But there was something in one verse that I didn’t approve of. Maybe it could be corrected? I tried and it went well. All of the sudden I had become a poet, without having had a thought in that direction,” relates Frykman. “It was a new power that gripped me and propelled me into a new world. From that moment I used all my leisure hours to write verse, and even evenings were set aside. “Songs about the night” my song could well have been called, since at least half the number of them have been composed at night”, Frykman explained. And he continues: “One night I composed a song with five verses. No light was readily at hand, so I wrote in complete darkness. Later I fell asleep. In the morning I saw that I had written over another song. That took the singer’s holding back.”

Emigration to the USA

When the composing spirit came over Nils, he was as though in another world. He neither saw nor heard, relates one of Frykman’s children. Mother had to call for him a number of times when mealtime was ready, but he did not hear. He walked back and forth over the floor and hummed a song that he was in the process of creating. How many songs Frykman has written, no one knows. Those that remain in existence number over 300. The first song that was published in the paper Sanningsvittnet (The Truth’s Witness) was the song “Vår store Gud gör stora under” (English Title: Our Mighty God Works Mighty Wonders, tr. A. L. Skoog, Andrew T. Frykman). That was written in 1877. At that time also came the songs “O, Sällhet stor som Herren ger” (English Title: How Great The Joy, tr. Aaron Markuson, Glen V. Wiberg), “Min Gud, när jag betänker” (English Title: My God When I Consider, tr. Signe L. Bennett, Glen V.Wiberg), and “Nu är jag nöjd och glader” (English Title: I Sing With Joy and Gladness, tr. E. Gustav Johnson).

At the end of the 1800s century emigration took a large number of Swedes to America, of who many were from Värmland. They carried the spirit of the revival to the new land. In 1885 the Swedish English Mission Covenant was established by the emigrants to America. They had among other churches a large congregation in Chicago that decided to call the singer and preacher Nils Frykman to be superintendent (pastor). That suited Nils well, as he was tired and weak after all his traveling around in Värmland. In April 1888 he arrived with his family in Chicago and was heartily received. But it was not easy for a Swedish-speaking preacher to be a speaker in the world city of Chicago. In a letter home to some friends in Värmland he wrote that he longed to return to the beautiful nature in his home community. Later he received a call to a rural community congregation in Salem where most of the Swedes came from Fryksdalen (Salem Mission Covenant Church, located in rural Pennock, MN). Here Frykman felt at home. Health improved, joy in his work increased and Nils had time to write more songs. In total he was pastor in this congregation for 18 years.

Still Singing

In the fall of 1907 Frykman reached age 65 and retired. But he continued to work intensively with songs even then as songbook distributor and was often out on preaching tours. In 1908 he gave out the Mission Covenant’s new songbook, Sions Basun, where he had written many songs. But his health faltered. One evening, winter of 1911, when he was at a service in Minneapolis, he became very sick. He was brought to the hospital and started to fail away. Frykman’s family gathered around the sickbed and he told them that he was ready to move home to heaven. Later that evening he passed away after he had whispered: It goes so easily! It was on March 30, 1911. Nils Frykman had completed his life’s work at age 69.

The message of his passing wakened deep sadness in wide circles both in America and the homeland. At the funeral, about 2,000 persons took part. There the large crowd sang the song that Frykman had said was the best of his songs, “Min framtidsdag är ljus och lång” (English Title: I Have a Future All Sublime, tr. A. L.Skoog, Gustaf Frykman). It ends like this: “Dear Lord, I pray that I may be more wholly yielded unto thee, while on the way I yet remain, before my heav’nly home I gain.”

In spite of it being over 100 years since Nils Frykman wrote many of his songs, they are still just as timely, sung and loved in many churches. They bring with them a breath of gladness, warmth and confidence, which many Christians over the whole world have experienced through the ensuing century, and surely Frykman’s songs will continue to be sung and appreciated hundreds of years in the future.

See all articles by Börje Skagerö

John A. Erickson is a retired engineer now living in Golden Valley, Minn.

See all articles by John A. Erickson