Nordic Churches Project

Between 1820 and 1920, more than 2.1 million Nordic immigrants came to the American Midwest from Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, and Norway. Their settlements made a significant impact on the cultural landscape of the region. However, churches built by these Nordic American communities are increasingly at risk due to shrinking populations, leading to fewer resources to care for buildings and the decorative arts within.

The Nordic Churches Project addresses these concerns with two strategies: a searchable online inventory that builds awareness and encourages study of Nordic American heritage churches, and project support for a small group of active congregations and nonprofit organizations to help them preserve their buildings and sustain their presence in the community.

By highlighting cultural heritage, Partners hopes to demonstrate that historic Nordic American churches are deeply embedded in many communities, and that their buildings, community engagement, ethnic traditions, and food events are significant civic assets to the larger neighborhood, town, and region. Raising the profile of Nordic American cultural heritage also illustrates how sacred places are often the strongest and best expressions of national and ethnic history and artistry in any given region. Although not every interested church can be included in this program, Partners anticipates that the models and cases that emerge from this project will have a broad reach, so that each and every congregation in the region can benefit from the important information and models generated by this work.

Survey

To date, the project team has identified more than 1,500 eligible structures throughout the Dakotas, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (a geographic area determined by the project funder). This is the first broad-ranging survey of the region’s Nordic heritage churches. Through it, Partners hopes to demonstrate the wide array of sacred places that exist in these six Upper Midwest states and to make it easier for scholars, practitioners and members of the public to find them, visit them, support them, and preserve them.

Results from this survey are now available on our website, www.nordicamericanchurches.org.

Training and Support

In addition to the inventory, a small group of 17 churches have been selected to receive grant support for restoration and repair projects, and to participate in the New Dollars/New Partners program. The selected churches represent ethnic and geographic diversity, as well as buildings that reflect Nordic heritage through their architecture and decorative arts, and/or through the active maintenance of ethnic traditions. In the first phase of the project, these churches carried out repair and restoration projects with local craftspeople and utilized matching grant funds available as part of the project.

The second phase of the project builds on the first with continued support, designed to help churches sustain their presence in their communities by leveraging folk art and traditions, for the 17 churches in the cohort. This phase also includes a second round of grants to commission new work from Nordic American folk artists.

Participating congregations include:

Augustana Lutheran Church, Sioux City, IA

Jacobsville Chapel, Trout Lake Township, MI

Luther Memorial Church, Des Moines, IA

Bethany Lutheran Church, Covington, MI

Zion Lutheran Church, Manistique, MI

Trinity Lutheran Church, Brevort, MI

Nora Unitarian Universalist Church, Hanska, MI

Valley Grove Churches, Nerstrand, MN

Old Trondhjem Lutheran Church, Lonsdale, MN

Swedish Zion Lutheran Church, Souris, ND

Vidalin Icelandic Lutheran Church, Akra, ND

Hallson Icelandic Church, Cavalier, ND

Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, Viborg, SD

Dalesburg Lutheran Church, Vermillion, SD

Hardies Creek Lutheran Church, Ettrick, WI

Springdale Lutheran Church, Mt. Horeb, WI

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Askov, MN

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