History of the Augustana Lutheran Church

In 1845, five families from Sweden settled in Jefferson County in Eastern Iowa and founded a community they first called “Stockholm” and later “New Sweden”. In 1848, they persuaded a layman, M.F. Hokanson, to become their pastor. Thus, the birth of a new church in a new land. This was followed by the gathering of Scandinavian immigrants and the formation of congregations, served by pastors primarily trained in Sweden, in a number of midwestern communities.
New Sweden Chapel

Augustana Founders

The organizing meeting of the Augustana Synod was held at Jefferson Prairie, Clinton, Wisconsin, June 5-8, 1860. Twenty-seven pastors and thirteen laymen represented 49 congregations with 4,967 communicants. The Rev. T.N. Hasselquist was elected president and the chosen name “Augustana”, suggested by Rev. Eric Norelius, who was to become the third president, indicated the confessional stand of the new Synod.

In the month that preceded the organization of the Augustana Synod, Abraham Lincoln had been nominated for the presidency of the United States and before the end of the first year of Augustana’s existence as a church body, Lincoln had been elected President and the Confederate States of America had been launched. This new church body (later to be known as the Augustana Lutheran Church) came into being in a divided country on the threshold of a Civil War.

The Augustana Lutheran Church that came into being in 1860 ended as a corporate body in 1962 when it joined with three other church bodies by the act of consolidation to form the Lutheran Church in America.

During its 102 year history, Augustana evolved into a national church body that was mission and service oriented as it (1) enhanced the ministry of the congregations by providing services to them, (2) extended the mission of the church by sending missionaries to various areas of the country and overseas, (3) expanded the horizons of the congregational members by relating to other church bodies, (4) evidenced the social concern of the church by establishing social service agencies/institutions and (5) ensured the education of its members and leaders by establishing academies, colleges and a seminary.
The Rev. Reuben T. Swanson, one of the founders and the first president of the Augustana Heritage Association.

The Rev. Reuben T. Swanson, one of the founders and the first president of the Augustana Heritage Association.

From its small beginning, Augustana grew to include 423,673 communicants in 1,269 congregations (organized into thirteen conferences) served by 1,393 ordained ministers.

At the time of the consolidation that formed the Lutheran Church in America in 1962, Augustana evidenced:

Its commitment to be a church and serve its congregations with an administrative structure that included an Executive Council with numerous committees, bureaus, commissions, boards and auxiliaries.
its commitment to outreach by supporting 193 missionaries serving overseas and 6 serving as home missionaries, and had 15 of its ordained ministers serving as military chaplains, 15 serving Veterans Administration Hospitals and 5 serving Federal Prisons.
its commitment to ecumenical relationships by holding membership in the National Lutheran Council, the Canadian Lutheran Council, the Lutheran World Federation, the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches and the American Bible Society.
its commitment to social concerns and education by relating to 23 Homes for the Aged, 13 Hospital and Related Facilities, 7 Hospices Seamen’s and Rest Homes, 10 Children’s Homes, 6 Educational Institutions and 1 Publishing House.

In discussions relative to Lutheran cooperation and unity, Augustana played a significant part. In 1956, the annual convention voted to affirm a joint invitation by it and the United Lutheran Church in America to all Lutheran church bodies in North America to “consider such organic union as will give real evidence of our unity in the faith”. This action led to the historic day of June 28, 1962, when at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan, the convention delegates together with delegates from the United Lutheran Church in America, the American Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Suomi Synod (Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church) formed the Lutheran Church in America, ending the corporate existence of the 102 year-old Augustana Lutheran Church.

History of the Augustana Heritage Association

Given the heritage left by the Augustana Lutheran Church and the appreciation of it by many of those who were members or whose forebears were, it was not surprising that an organization should come into being that would facilitate gatherings for giving thanks and reminiscing, and that would plan and implement projects that would serve to perpetuate the heritage of Augustana.

Beginning in the early 1990s, regional gatherings, “Festivals of Faith,” were held in various places where the members and friends of Augustana could worship, remember, and fellowship together. These were the forerunners of a “Sesquicentennial Heritage Gathering” in Chautauqua, New York, in September of 1998. It was followed by Gatherings at Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois in June of 2000; at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas in June of 2002; at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota in June of 2004; at the Chautauqua Institution in Chautauqua, New York in September of 2006; and at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas in June of 2008. Additional Gatherings are planned for June of 2010 at Augustana College in Rock Island and for June of 2012 at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter.

The Augustana Heritage Association came into being formally in 2000 at the Gathering in Rock Island. It has as its purpose to ‘define, promote and perpetuate the heritage and legacy of the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church” and to assist in identifying and remembering the values and commitments of that church body.

The AHA is fulfilling its purpose and mission by distributing a semi-annual newsletter, planning gatherings, publishing books, and affirming the ministries of the educational institutions and social service agencies that were founded by and/or were related to the Augustana Lutheran Church and that continue to serve today. A new history of the Augustana Lutheran Church, The Augustana Story: Shaping Lutheran Identity in North America, by Maria Erling and Mark Granquist, has recently by published under the auspices of the Augustana Heritage Association and is available from Augsburg Fortress Press. It is the first book since the early 1960s to chronicle the history of the Augustana Lutheran Church.

The Augustana Heritage Association exists so that members and friends of the Augustana Evangelical Lutheran Church and their descendants can join together in lifting up the legacy and in sharing its values and commitments with the Church of today.