A perfect storm

by Mark Safstrom

When it rains, it pours. This year is a perfect storm of anniversaries and commemorations, of traditions and institutions that have meant something in my life and perhaps many of yours. It is the 200th anniversary of preacher Carl Olof Rosenius’s birth, the 125th of North Park University in Chicago, the 90th of Covenant Point Bible Camp in Upper Michigan, the 40th of the North Park-SVF exchange program between Chicago and Jönköping, Sweden, and the 30th of this fine publication, Pietisten. All these occasions have brought celebrations and moments for reflection, as well as future visions. I’m sure you could add some related milestones to this list, as well.

These kinds of pileups of celebrations just happen from time to time, and whenever they do, it strikes me how interconnected the various circles in our lives can be. One thing leads to another. Stories I heard from college students in my congregation in Seattle led me to North Park. A sense of adventure and historical curiosity led me to SVF. An invitation from several friends led me to the Upper Peninsula to work for one summer, then five. A degree in history at North Park led to two more in languages and literature, as well as over a decade of research on church history. And at some point I fell in with a gang of Latter Day Pietists, and here I am writing the words on this page.

It was pointed out to me at the SVF exchange celebration in Chicago last April that when Pietisten was relaunched in 1986, it was partially due to inspiration that exchange students had gained from their experience in Sweden, reconnecting with the past and with new friends. This publication would be a way to explore and renew the heritage from Swedish Lutheran Pietism, which they felt was being neglected at the time among the leadership of the Covenant Church. It was a time of transition, as the denomination had celebrated a centennial the year before yet was experiencing growing pains as the leadership looked to expand the church beyond its historic demographics. Those involved in restarting Pietisten felt that there was something at stake if the denomination failed to stay in dialog with the spiritual and intellectual heritage from Pietism. This was more than a sentimental ethnic heritage, but rather distinctives worth holding onto, despite contrary pressures from mainstream Evangelicalism. Investing in this minority tradition and establishing this forum as an alternative viewpoint would enrich not only the Covenant Church, but all heirs of Pietism, as many as were interested. This is something that we have done our best to continue. We hope you’ll join us for Pietisten celebrations in Seattle, the Twin Cities and Chicago later this year!

The legacy from Rosenius and his particular stream of Lutheran Pietism remains a source of inspiration for several denominations in Sweden and America, as recounted in this issue by articles from Mark Granquist, David Gustafson and Gracia Grindal. Perhaps you’ll find the reprinted sermon from C.O. Rosenius from 1859 to be as timeless as I do!

Celebrations can also be a way to properly say farewell to something, as reflected in Maria Erling’s report on the Augustana Heritage Association, which is holding its final gathering this summer. The Augustana Lutheran Church formally concluded its independent history when its congregations merged with other Lutherans in 1962 (eventually forming the ELCA). Yet the sons and daughters of Augustana reconnected in the late 1990s, finding it meaningful to remember and evaluate the specific past of that earlier denomination. Covenanters and Augustana Lutherans have a good deal of shared history, not least the influence of Rosenius.

This is both a contested history and one of mutual affection. It was often difficult to negotiate how much freedom Pietists of the Rosenian sort were to be allowed within the formal structure of a Lutheran Synod, and some of these Pietists, dubbed “Mission Friends,” ended up parting ways with the Augustana Lutherans, setting up other Mission Synods, and eventually the Covenant and Evangelical Free denominations. At issue in these discussions was how “confessional” these new churches were going to be. Confessionalism and Pietism are often set at odds, yet they also inform one another on an essential level, as discussed by Shawn Barnett and by Craig Anderson. Tom Tredway also takes up one cultural difference that could occur between Christians in these traditions in their relationship to their Lord — as “Christ” or “Jesus.”

As part of the exchange program celebrations in April, the SVF choir, a truly outstanding vocal ensemble, sang during Sunday morning worship at North Park Covenant Church. As they led the congregation in singing “Thine is the Glory,” I felt gratitude for the series of connections between people that have been made and remade over the years.

Guds frid – God’s peace