Sightings in Christian Music

by Glen V. Wiberg

One of the magic moments of our Scandinavian Holiday last summer—a tour of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden led by Eloise and Leroy Nelson—was a visit to Fröderyd, a small, rural com-munity located in the deep forests of Småland and the birthplace of Lina Sandell. Most magic moments are unplanned, full of surprise, and always more than we could ever imagine. Few of us were prepared for the warm reception given us by our host, Nils Liedholm, or by the women of this Lutheran parish. Places at tables with fresh flowers and lovely china were set for the thirty-five American guests. Our host, Nils, in the best English he could muster, earnestly told us the story of Lina Sandell (1832-1903). Then we were served coffee, freshly-baked rolls, and cookies by our hostess, Gun Lanka.

After coffee, we visited Sandell’s childhood home which was the parsonage of her father, Jonas Sandell, the much-loved pastor of the parish. Each room in the home spoke of piety and simplicity. Behind the parsonage was the 250-year-old ash tree under which she composed many of her hymns and poems. Nils Liedholm indicated that a recent discovery of her hymns brings the total to some 2,500! In our present hymnal we have 11 hymns by Lina Sandell. Perhaps the most frequently sung are "Children of the Heavenly Father," "Day by Day and With Each Passing Moment," "Thy Holy Wings Dear Savior," "Great Hills May Tremble," and "Thou Tender, Gracious Father."

But the magic moment occurred when we crossed the country road to enter the impressive parish church—now restored after a devastating fire some years ago. It was inevitable, before leaving, that we should sing her most-loved hymn: "Children of the Heavenly Father." In the balcony, Marlyce Peterson played the organ and I sat at the piano below as 35 American voices joined in singing the first verse in Swedish and the rest in English. There were few dry eyes as we left the sanctuary that morning.

A light rain was falling. But before leaving for the bus, I needed to search out the final resting place in the church yard of Lina’s father, Jonas Sandell. Lina, at 26 years of age, was accompanying her father on a boat trip across Lake Vättern when, while he was standing by the railing, the boat gave a sudden lurch that threw him overboard into a watery grave. This tragedy brought deep and continuing grief to Lina but it also gave us some of her greatest and most popular hymns. When I found the small, black monolith bearing his name with the momentous death date of 1858, I knelt in thanksgiving to God for what Jonas and his wife Fredrica had given to the world in their daughter, Carolina Wilhelmina.

Beyond the personal and private moments of reflection, our visit must have been newsworthy in the small community of Fröderyd inasmuch as a reporter from the local newspaper, Vetlanda Posten, was sent to cover the event. The reporter interviewed several in the group, especially those whose forbears had come from Småland. Later Eloise sent us a copy of the issue of June 29, 1999. In it were a picture of the group, a rather lengthy description of those interviewed by the reporter, and an account of the singing of the first verse of "Tryggare kan ingen vara." The reporter wrote that we sang in "klingande Svenska" (literally, ringing Swedish). Our hostess, Gun Lanka, said that our visit would go down in her daybook as the highlight of her summer. And for us—a magic moment indeed!

Glen Wiberg, veteran Covenant pastor and writer, lives in New Brighton, Minnesota. He was Chairperson of the Covenant Hymnal Commission.

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