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SCANDINAVIAN IMMIGRANT PASTORS

By Beatrice Hole

Large groups of Scandinavians immigrated to the United States during the 1800’s. When they reached their destinations, they were eager to build their homes, followed by the building of churches. The need to worship was a priority as the emigrants were widely influenced by the religious movement in a new land. Some of the emigrants were Pastors and they would hold worship services in private homes until a church could be built. Psalmodikons became very useful to lead in hymn singing during this period.

One of the early immigrant pastors was Eric Norelius, who was born in Hassela, Helsingland, Sweden and settled in Southeastern Minnesota. His main parish was at the Vasa Lutheran Church in the countryside near Red Wing, Minnesota. This church was built in 1869 and is where Pastor Norelius served until his death in 1916. He is buried in the Vasa Cemetery and his Psalmodikon is on display in the church.

Many of the Scandinavian immigrant pastors not only served as worship leaders but made great accomplishments during their lifetime. Pastor Norelius organized the Vasa Children’s Home (Lutheran Social Service), served on the board of the Augustana Swedish Lutheran Synod, and founder of Gustavus Adolphus College in Saint Peter, MN.

Like many other pastors, Pastor Norelius played his Psalmodikon at every worship service. Most Pastors were unimpressed with the primitive singing skills of the immigrants. Without the Psalmodikon to lead in hymn singing, Pastor Norelius quoted, “There was such music that the like of it has never been heard in any beehive.”

In 1865, Pastor Eric Norelius published a small Songbook of music for the Psalmodikon. The Salems Sanger contained 27 hymns with Sifferskrift in four-part harmony. One of the most popular and favorite hymns printed in the book is “A Mighty Fortress is our God”, which is still being played on Psalmodikons for special occasions.

For a short time, Pastor Norelius served as Pastor of the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. Paul, MN. In their Centennial book it is written, “The Julotta of Christmas was especially edifying. The little pulpit was tastefully decorated, and the little room glowed with light. Mr. Johnson served as chorister and a Psalmodikon served as our organ. When we later moved to another location, one man took the pulpit on his back, and another the Psalmodikon under his arm, and the church was moved.”

The simple little Psalmodikon certainly was a popular instrument to play in the early days of church worship, the homes, and schools. In time, the congregation of the newly built churches were able to afford an organ to lead the hymn singing and the Psalmodikon was put aside. It would be some years before other instruments (fiddles) would lose their infamy as “being of the devil” and accepted in church