MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Before attending a packed Sunday morning service, Norway’s Queen Sonja praised Congregation Mindekirken for holding worship in Norwegian for all 100 years of the church’s existence in Minneapolis.
“It’s amazing to realize that, a hundred years later, the Mindekirken is still fulfilling that purpose” of building community and preserving culture and language, she told the nearly 500 people in attendance. They stood for more than an hour in this modest neighborhood in brisk autumn weather in the 40s – single digits in the Celsius, just like in Oslo – to participate in the service.
Queen Sonja received a special greeting from Elina Gro Knatterud, 4, who presented the queen with a bouquet of red roses almost as big as herself. Queen Sonja lowered herself to eye level with the amazed girl and told her, in English, that she had an identical red traditional bunad dress at home, before entering the large stone church.
The congregation was founded in 1922, at the end of a decades-long migration of hundreds of thousands of Norwegians to Minnesota that made the Twin Cities the “unofficial capital” of the Norwegian diaspora, said Amy Boxrud, director of the Norwegian diaspora. American Historical Association.
Lutheran churches were central to the lives of these immigrants, although some remained with the Church of Norway and others founded different Lutheran synods.
Den Norske Lutherske Mindekirke – the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church – pledged to continue worshiping in Norwegian, even as many other European churches switched to English as attacks on foreign language speakers spread across the United States in the World War I era.
“The group said, ‘We will speak American English every day, but we need the language of our hearts when we praise God,'” said the Rev. Gunnar Kristiansen, current pastor of the flock of about 200 families.
Within a few years, Mindekirken was the only one of about five dozen churches in Minnesota still worshiping in Norwegian, he added.
That made a big difference for Kirsti Grodahl, who was 11 when she immigrated to Minneapolis in 1962 from the fjord-side village of Frei in Norway with her parents and siblings. She started going to church in Mindekirken a week later, sometimes on foot.
“It was so comfortable,” she said. There she made her first friend, who had arrived two years earlier, and she also raised her two children to speak Norwegian.
Grodahl still regularly attends Sunday services in Mindekirken, and especially enjoys the coffee hour that follows two services, one in English and one in Norwegian.
“Dad baked a lot of bløtkake for this church,” she recalled, referring to the traditional soft cake her father perfected as a baker in Norway. “It’s a place where you always feel like it’s your home.”
Standing in line Sunday morning with her two daughters and dozens of other worshipers before the service began, Karen Liv Mjlølhus Cardwell said her father began worshiping here in 1929, when he immigrated to Minnesota.
“It’s like coming home to the family,” said Mjlølhus Cardwell.
And that this continuity of culture and worship is celebrated today by Queen Sonja and the presiding bishop of the Church of Norway, Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, brought tears to the eyes of the president of the Mindekirken council, Jeannette Henrikssen, whose parents emigrated in the late 1960s.
“It’s very touching that we still serve in Norwegian,” she said. “It’s a testament to the determination and sheer stubbornness of those Norwegians, and the love and connection they wanted to maintain.”
Associated Press religion reporting is supported through AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content.