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A Swedish Baptist

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

I suspect that not too many people have become Baptists through reading the works of Martin Luther, but then Gustaf Palmquist was no ordinary person.

Reverend Palmquist came to America in 1851 as the leader of a group of Swedish pietists fleeing persecution in Sweden. However, when he arrived on the Illinois prairie several weeks after his group, members of the congregation had already scattered to other Swedish settlements, leaving the Reverend without a job.

Someone suggested that he move to Galesburg and minister to the growing number of Swedes there, and that's what he did.

Meanwhile, Reverend Palmquist faced a more personal problem. He had grown up in a pietistic family in Sweden, whose mother, they said, "had prayed all her children into the kingdom of God." Gustaf had only come halfway. At the age of ten, he became convicted of sin and the necessity to be born again—to have a conversion experience. But the experience he had not yet had.

Then one day while reading a sermon by Martin Luther, he discovered an answer. "It is quite possible," Luther had written, "that a fish may be caught in the net without knowing it." Palmquist recognized his own situation. "I am included in the net of divine grace without feeling it," he said.

In Galesburg, in the summer of 1852, he was about to feel it. He became involved in a revival at the Galesburg Baptist Church, was baptized by immersion, and became a Baptist.

Palmquist renounced his Lutheran State Church heritage. "As long as you remain a Lutheran, you have the state church as your mother and the devil as your father, and are therefore eternally damned," he wrote.

It was a message other Swedes living in darkness needed to hear. He moved to Rock Island. Here, forty-seven days after his conversion, the Reverend Gustaf Palmquist baptized three Swedes in the Mississippi River—the nucleus of the first Swedish Baptist church in the world. After his congregation was safely in a church of its own in Moline, Reverend Palmquist returned to Sweden to establish Swedish Baptist congregations there—and to thank the Lutherans for putting him on the right track.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.