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Reimagine your Community Reimagine your Sacred Place

The Preserve Nordic Heritage Churches Project is a new initiative that seeks to lift the profile of Nordic cultural heritage in six Upper Midwest states. 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. 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 American Churches initiative 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.


Folklorist Dr. Laurie Sommers, along with Research Associate Timothy Prizer, consulted with state historic preservation offices, denominational and ethnic archives, historic preservation professionals, ethnic organizations, and academic experts to identify and document pre-1970 Nordic church buildings that are of historic and architectural interest, retain decorative arts and craft traditions, and continue ethnic celebrations and food events.  In addition, a select group of project advisors has provided valuable input. To date, we have identified more than 2,000 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. The inventory ultimately will result in a publicly-accessible and user-friendly website.

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. Participating congregations and organizations can apply for up to $15,000 to restore or repair the building exterior, structural systems, or interior decorative arts. Each grant will be matched by the recipient.

Why does this project matter? 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.

Participating congregations include:

Augustana Lutheran, Sioux City

Luther Memorial Church, Grand View University, Des Moines, IA

Jacobsville Chapel, Trout Lake Township, MI

Bethany Lutheran, Covington, MI

Zion Lutheran, Manistique, MI

Trinity Lutheran, Brevort, MI

Nora Unitarian Universalist, Hanska, MN


Old Trondhjem Lutheran, Lonsdale, MN

Bethlehem Lutheran, Askov, MN

Swedish Zion Lutheran, Souris, ND

Vidalin Icelandic Lutheran, Akra, ND


Our Savior’s Lutheran, Viborg, SD

Dalesburg Lutheran, Vermillion, SD

Hardies Creek Lutheran, Ettrick, WI


Springdale Lutheran Church, Mount Horeb, WI.

Advisory Committee

  • Julie Allen, President, Arts and Letters, Scandinavian Studies, Brigham Young University, and Danish American Heritage Society
  • Kristin Anderson, Professor of Art History and Archivist, Augsburg College
  • Philip Anderson, Swedish American Historical Society and professor emeritus of Church History, North Park University
  • Marilyn Chiat, independent art and architectural historian
  • Paul Daniels, Archivist/Curator, Luther Seminary, St. Paul
  • thomas DuBois, Scandinavian Studies, Folklore, and Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • claire Eckley, President, Icelandic National League of North America
  • doug gasek, Executive Director, Preservation Alliance of Minnesota
  • troyd geist, foklorist, north dakota council for the arts
  • janet Gilmore, Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures and Department of Planning and Landscape Architecture, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • dennis Gimmestad, vice president, norwegian american historical association
  • james Kurtti, Director, Finnish American Heritage Center, Finlandia University
  • robert Mack, Principal, MacDonald and Mack Architects, Minneapolis
  • Rod Oppegard, independent scholar, Dazey, ND
  • hilary Virtanen, Finnish and Nordic Studies, Finlandia University
  • Marianne Wargelin, President of Finnfest Board of Directors and Honorary Consul of Finland, Minneapolis