Pastor Hultgren's Flock

Who were the people of the first congregation?

The early Swedish immigrants who founded First Lutheran Church were generally very poor and uneducated beyond reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The were physically strong, devout, hard working, and also independent in their thinking. Pastor Swensson warned Pastor Hultgren that he would find the people in Jamestown to be "hard headed".

For the most part these people were law-abiding and compliant, but on occasion expressed their individual natures. Pastor Hultgren was well educated with the equivalent of five years of college and seminary training. As time went by, many of the newer immigrants had manufacturing skills and advanced education in teaching and various professions.

Pastor Hultgren was considered to be kind and caring, but also on occasion could become angry with the congregation when they strayed from the straight and narrow.

The church deacons were very strict and forbid trivial behavior such as dancing. If a member of the congregation transgressed, the pastor would make an announcement from the pulpit. When the transgressor had corrected his behavior it was also announced.

At one time, the church council passed a resolution prohibiting loitering about the church following the service. They appointed men as policemen (with badges!) to enforce the measure.

The organist was advised against playing light "dance" music at the end of the service. However, on one occasion, he played a musical piece named, "Flee As a Bird to the Mountains" very slowly and turned to the boy pumping the organ and asked, "How do you like that, Kalle?"

In 1879 a number of members, who did not like the Lutheran liturgy and formal order, left the congregation to establish a Swedish Mission Church. These people were called "readers" and felt that if some aspect of their worship could not be found in the Bible, it did not belong in their church.

There were also organizations outside of the church, such as signing societies, literary groups, and secret clubs. At first, Pastor Hultgren opposed theses groups because he felt they detracted from the church's influence. This changed, however, when he realized that they also provided sick benefits.

In 1882, a group of members filed a complaint against Pastor Hultgren to the synod claiming that he showed his anger and made unkind remarks about the church council. Subsequently, the pastor submitted his resignation, but the congregation would not accept it.

On the other hand, they were long suffering and generous to their meager resources. They volunteered to physically build the church and served in many capacities.

Because of their isolation in a country speaking a strange language (English), they insisted on using Swedish in services until the early 1900s. In order to help the children born here, they taught Swedish in Sunday school.

In the early 1880's there was a famine in Sweden lasting nearly three years. During this time, many more Swedes came to Jamestown and the church membership increased from 799 to 1056. Pastor Hultgren would meet the newly arrived immigrants at the railroad station and often helped them with food and lodging. Sometimes he would loan them money from his own resources.

About this time, Pastor Hultgren, with poor financial judgment, agreed to co-sign a mortgage agreement for a parishioner who defaulted in making payments and lost the house. As a consequence, Pastor Hultgren lost his house on Prospect Street and was forced to declared personal bankruptcy.

The event, and other issues, caused much dissatisfaction in the congregation. Whereupon 100 members, 9 deacons, and 1 trustee left and established Immanuel Lutheran Church just three blocks away.

In 1893, because of crowding, it was decided to build a new church and fund raising began in earnest. when the basement of the new church finally completed, worship services were moved to the new location.

However, because of a national financial panic, all construction came to a halt. Many men were out of work or their hours were drastically reduced. Some families would earn a few pennies by caning chair seats at home for the few furniture factories still operating. Many feared that their church and all their efforts would be lost. They struggled and were able to meet the payments on the loan and construction resumed four years later.

Pastor Hultgren's health began to fail by 1894, but he was able to make a final trip to Sweden. The following year he resigned with a pension of $700.00 and Pastor Julius Lincoln was called. Because of the new pastor's young age, one elder member remarked, "God must be angry with us because he sent a boy to do a man's job."

Pastor Hultgren died May 22, 1901 at the age of 69 years. This was only a week before the first service was to be held in the new sanctuary on June 2, 1901.

The Swedes in Jamestown, like other new ethnic groups, were considered inferior by the earlier established residents and were often the subject of "Green Swede" jokes. One can imagine the pride that they felt in their new cathedral-like church.