Remembering Our Heritage in Family and Faith Community
Eternal God, your love is stronger than death, and your passion more fierce than the grave.
We rejoice in the lives of those whom you have drawn into your eternal embrace.
Keep us in joyful communion with them until we join the saints of every people and nation
gathered before your throne in your ceaseless praise,
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
I had the privilege of gathering with one of our Trinity families yesterday for a Memorial Service for their loved one who had died a year ago during our 2020 pandemic closure. We prayed the traditional prayers of commendation and invoked ancient words of scripture. At the heart of the time we had set apart was the shared remembrance of the family and friends of the one who had died. I had the privilege of hearing a small part of the story of a gifted man who loved well and was well loved. It was good to be together in family and in faith, and I was reminded of the vitality of shared story in our lives together.
So, here’s a bit of my story:
125 years ago today, on April 19, 1896, Ida Charlotte Bloomquist was born in Carver, Minnesota, about 30 miles southwest of Minneapolis. I knew her as Grandma Larson, my mother’s mother. Her family had been a part of Sweden’s “America fever” in the latter part of the nineteenth century, which included the immigration of both of her parents. Alfred Andersson left his Swedish homeland in 1887 to join his girlfriend Augusta Johansdotter Nord, whose family had immigrated to Carver. In their new land where surnames were more common, and where many Swedes were named Anderson, Alfred chose the name Bloomquist. Alfred and Augusta were married at Salem Lutheran Church in Carver, Minnesota, and they became parents of nine children. Ida was the sixth child born to the Bloomquist family.
Ida Bloomquist moved to Rockford, Illinois in the early 1920’s to be near her older sister Esther. In Rockford she met carpenter and Swedish emigrant Nils John Larson and they were married on January 20, 1923. In September of 1930 they welcomed their second daughter, my mother Marcene Juliet, into the family.
I had the privilege of knowing and loving Grandma Larson for about four decades, including most of three months when I lived with her after landing a summer job in Rockford during my college years. She was a woman of deep commitment to her family and her faith, and she was a significant influence in shaping my personal grounding in family and in the faith community. Grandma Larson was present for all our significant family events and holidays, she was a wonderful cook and baker, her hospitality was extravagant, despite her rather modest means, and her deep commitment to the community of faith at Zion Lutheran Church was exemplary. She was present when I married Rebecca and she welcomed to life’s journey the births of our three sons, her great-grandsons, posing multiple times for four generation photographs. Grandma Larson lived to the amazing age of 100 years and eight months.
And here’s a bit of our shared story as the people of Trinity Lutheran Church:
About a month after Ida Bloomquist was born in Minnesota, a new faith community began to form in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Grand Rapids had become another destination in the Scandinavian and German “America fever” immigration. The small group which became Trinity Lutheran Church met for worship for the first time on May 17 of that year, about a month after Grandma Larson was born in Minnesota – 2021 is our 125th anniversary of that gathering and of our founding as a congregation. The following excerpt, from Trinity’s 100th anniversary historical writing by Christopher Carron, will also be shared in the May issue of The Messenger newsletter, the first in a series of historical vignettes that will be shared in the months ahead as we celebrate our heritage.
After citing the emergence of German and Swedish speaking Lutheran congregations in Grand Rapids of the 1800’s, Carron described the opportunity for another Lutheran congregation:
. . . there were also English speaking German-Americans who moved West from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Smaller numbers of Norwegians and Danes came to West Michigan, who had only varying degrees of fluency in Swedish. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were even German and Swedish Lutherans who were second generation Grand Rapidians, and no doubt spoke English as their primary language. Many of these people joined other denominations, where services and instruction were conducted in English. But it was also from these groups that a new English-speaking Lutheran congregation would soon grow.
The General Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the U.S.A. got the ball rolling. Though the General Synod was the first and largest English-speaking federation of Lutherans in America, it had no congregations in the Grand Rapids area. In April of 1896 two General Synod pastors, the Rev. W. L. Tedrow of Ann Arbor, and the Rev. C. J. Kiefer of Three Rivers, were sent to canvas the city, to determine if there was sufficient interest in forming an English-speaking church.
The results which they reported to the Synod’s Board of Home Missions were apparently quite positive. After years of frustrating starts and stops, things were suddenly moving very quickly. By May 17 the newly organized group of English-speaking Lutherans was ready to hold its first services in the parlors of the old Y.M.C.A. building downtown, with a sermon delivered by the Rev. S. B. Barnitz, D.D., of Des Moines, Iowa. On June 17, Rev. Kiefer was called to serve as a missionary pastor for the fledgling congregation.
Over the next two years, Trinity congregation saved money and drew plans for its first building. Until their own sanctuary was dedicated in 1898, they conducted worship and instruction in the lecture hall of the Reformed Jewish Temple Emanuel, then located downtown . . .
On December 9, 1896, Trinity English Evangelical Lutheran Church was officially organized with sixty-one charter members . . .
We will share additional historical vignettes in the months ahead as we celebrate the 125th anniversary of this congregation.
Story is important on life’s journey. I find myself imagining this day the birth of a daughter to a couple of Swedish emigrants in small town Carver, Minnesota. I find myself drawn as well to that small group of English-speaking Lutherans who gathered a month later to organize a faith community that continues to gather in Grand Rapids and serve in Christ’s name. 125 years later, the people of Temple Emanuel are in our prayers every Sunday as a “Standing Together” partner ministry, the same Jewish community with whom our forebears shared space as they began a new ministry together. It is humbling to be a part of such a story, to know a bit about that story and to be taking our part in the ongoing story of family and faith in our time.
Blessings good people of Trinity. May you be safe, may you be well, and may you be held in love.
It remains a privilege to serve as one of your pastors.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Robert Linstrom