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Reverend Esbjorn's Miracle

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When the Reverend Lars P. Esbjorn and his party of Swedish immigrants landed in New York in September of 1849, he quickly discovered that he had overlooked something. There was not a single Swedish Lutheran congregation in the entire United States where he could hope to become pastor.

While the others went ahead to their destination, the small village of Andover out on the Illinois prairie, Esbjorn began looking for support. He turned to the Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church headquartered on a ship in New York harbor, but they would give him aid only if he agreed to become a Methodist. No way.

By the time he arrived in Andover the following March, his situation was even more critical. Many of his people had already scattered to other settlements; others had died from cholera. On March 18th, a mere ten people joined the first Swedish Lutheran church in the West.

The American Home Mission Society in nearby Galesburg offered Esbjorn $300 a year, provided he could guarantee that the members of his church were all regenerated, or born again. But it was not nearly enough for a desperately needed church building. The Reverend Esbjorn desperately needed a miracle.

And that spring, one appeared. The popular singer, Jenny Lind, the "Swedish Nightingale," had come to America for a concert tour. When she donated the proceeds of her first concert in New York—$40,000—entirely to charities, her success was assured. Three hundred requests for money poured in every day, along with a long line of petitioners outside her hotel room wherever she went.

In that line at Boston on June 26th, 1850, was Lars P. Esbjorn. Miss Lind received him at 11:45. Being Swedish did not. He remained for an hour, and left with $1,500 for his church, more than enough to build a church at Andover and another in Moline, Illinois, with some left over to begin a church at a Swedish settlement along the Skunk River near Burlington, Iowa.

Reverend Esbjorn's congregation soon outgrew the small brick church in Andover, but it still stands, and on Christmas and other occasions, you can still attend services in the Jenny Lind Chapel—the first Swedish church in the West.

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.