Rekindling the Legacy of E.A. Skogsbergh on Lake Minnetonka

I shared this reflection on January 8, 2012, at the commissioning service at Excelsior Covenant Church one week prior to the Grand Opening of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota. -JB

 That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans. (Acts 16:6-10 Message)

Rev. E. August Skogsbergh (1850-1939)

Two potent images in this passage invite deeper reflection as we prepare for the Grand Opening of MainStreet Covenant Church in Mound, Minnesota: (1) the Macedonian call to cross over the waters with the gospel, and (2) the vessel or boat necessary to cross the waters with the good news.

The Macedonia Call

The year was AD 51. The Apostle Paul, seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance in where to go next, had a dream one night. In the dream he saw a man from Macedonia standing on the far shore inviting him to cross over the waters and bring the gospel message to them. He obeyed the Spirit’s call, boarded a ship of some kind with his companions, crossed over the waters, and fruitful ministry resulted.

The Swedish Moody

The year was 1884. A Spirit-filled Swedish immigrant preacher from Sweden, very short in stature and weighing in at an unimpressive 117 pounds, nevertheless had a very big presence and the anointing of God when he stood up to preach. Everywhere he went to preach, crowds would come by the thousands and revival would often break out.  His name was Eric August Skogsbergh, and he was widely known as “The Swedish Moody” as his ministry closely mirrored that of his famous friend and revivalist preacher Dwight L. Moody.

The Swedish Tabernacle, Minneapolis

E.A. Skogsbergh was one of the early pioneer leaders of the Covenant Church, who had now come to Minneapolis to build the large Swedish Tabernacle Church now known as First Covenant Church. Stories abound of the electricity surrounding Skogsbergh’s ministry in Minneapolis in the late 1800s.  Once while he was preaching, the crowds were packed so tightly into the tabernacle, that the balcony began to give way and sunk down a whole 2 inches, so that the doors underneath were jammed shut. Such was the weightiness of this bold preacher’s message that stirred so many souls to New Birth in Christ.

Ministry on Lake Minnetonka

In the 1890s, Skogsbergh heard his own Macedonian call of sorts coming from across another body of water. It was the glory days of Lake Minnetonka, when people from the city would take the train out and board steamboats and fairies to cross the waters to summer cottages, hotels and resorts in this vacation wonderland. Skogsbergh purchased a plot of land on a beautiful wooded point on West Arm Bay near Mound, where he built a summer home that still stands there today. 

Can you find Skogsbergh’s Point? (Hint: West Arm Bay)

Perhaps he originally intended to come out to Lake Minnetonka to get away from the demands of a busy ministry in the city. But those who knew Skogsbergh would attest that this zealous, tireless evangelist was seemingly incapable of resting from ministry and was always on mission looking for another place to plant the flag of the gospel.

So, we shouldn’t be surprised that soon Skogsbergh was hosting Bible Conferences and Sunday worship gatherings in the Mullberry Arbor of his Lake Minnetonka abode widely known for years as “Skogsbergh Point.” On such occasions farmers and city folks brought picnic baskets and ate their dinners, singing hymns together and listening to Skogsbergh open the Scriptures. Eventually a small church grew out of this Mission Friend presence on West Arm Bay known today as Fairview Covenant Church.

Boats & Barges

One powerful image we are given of Skogsbergh’s ministry on Lake Minnetonka involves the barge he had custom made to shuttle crowds of people from the railroad station in Spring Park across the bay to his point. On occasion, crowds would come in such great numbers to Skogsbergh’s Point that the steamboat could not accommodate them all in one trip. Erik Dahlhielm tells the charming story of Skogsbergh’s boats in his biography A Burning Heart (1951):

Rowboats of the most common size were too small to accommodate his big family. Skogsbergh, instead of buying a larger boat, had one built according to his own design. But he was evidently more skillful as a church architect than as a designer of rowboats. The family boat, which one of his daughters describes as “a viking ship with an ugly head, a long neck and a queer-looking tail,” had a tendency of moving in circles no matter how skillfully the oars were handled. It became famous on the bay, and the butt of many jokes. 

Then there was the barge, also the product of Skogsbergh’s brain….The barge, too, became famous. It was a picturesque sight when it was filled with people dressed in summer clothes, scarfs blowing in the wind and parasols open to protect delicate skins against he ravages of the sun. On calm days the barge was more popular than the steamboat. It was different, however, when a strong wind whipped the water into angry waves. Then all preferred the steamboat, and those who had to make the trip across the bay in the barge reached the Point in anything but a presentable condition” (122).

Such was the famous Skogsbergh barge so active on the Bay in those glorious days.

As we can see, the vessel carrying the masses across the water was not much to look at, and the ride was often uncomfortable. But the barge served it’s purpose bringing the crowds safely across, and on the opposite shore they heard about Jesus. They heard about the gift of New Birth that God offers to all willing to receive. Yes, friends, the Light of Christ shone brightly on the shores of Lake Minnetonka in those days. How I wish I could go back in time, take a trip on that clumsy barge and join crowds of folks sitting on blankets to hear E. A. Skogsbergh’s Spirit-filled preaching echoing across the Bay and bouncing off the shoreline of the city of Mound!

A Legacy Rekindled?

Now let’s fast forward a century. The year was 2005. A young seminary student from Mound began to hear his own Macedonian call back to his hometown to start a new ministry to bring the light of Christ to Westonka area youth. Drawing inspiration from the Apostle Paul’s Macedonian call, he obeyed the Holy Spirit and spearheaded a youth movement called Revolution that drew crowds of teenagers to hear about Jesus.

For the past decade at least, a spiritual darkness seemed to have settled over the Mound community, and this young pastor was deeply grieved as he watched local churches struggle. The crowds that once flocked to Mound on Sunday in the days of Skogsbergh were now, a century later, leaving Mound in droves on Sundays to attend churches in other communities.

Can the legacy of E. A. Skogsbergh be rekindled in Mound?  Can the light of Christ be once again shine across the bay like a lighthouse drawing wayward seafarers to safe harbor on Salvation Point?

Building A Barge in Mound

In the summer of 2010, this young pastor and his wife began building a barge-of-sorts. They began raising the funds and drawing up plans to build a vessel that might, by God’s grace, once again bring eager crowds back to the shores of Mound to hear the good news of Jesus. Like Noah when he began building his ark, some called them crazy, some didn’t see the need for it, others doubted their craftsmanship and ability to complete such an undertaking. “How will they raise the funds to pay for it?  Where will they get all the materials?”

God’s Barge-in-the-making

Like Skogsbergh’s boats, it’s design no doubt has its flaws, it may look a bit awkward from a distance, rides a bit low and takes on water when the waves come. You see, like Skogsbergh, the builders are amateurs and learning as they go. The barge is constructed of a hodgepodge of gathered materials — people! — of all shapes and sizes and ages and strength, coming from various locations around the Lake Minnetonka area.

Many of the builders and materials have come from across the lake in Excelsior. Some of the materials are strong, time-tested and sturdy. Others are more weak and fragile, requiring more time and tender care. But all the materials are perfectly capable of being put to good use on this barge.  The more materials available to reinforce the structure, the stronger the vessel will be.

This fall (2011) we pushed her out onto the waters a few times to test her out at our monthly preview services. And by God’s grace, she floats! In fact, she shuttled a combined total of 500 some people into the presence of God to worship and hear the Bible preached. Most would agree she’s perfectly capable of carrying much larger crowds in the days to come.

Now, the only thing left to do is to give this vessel a good name.  I say we call her MainStreet Covenant Church!

“You, too, are being built together in him, along with the others, into a place for God’s Spirit to dwell” (Ephesians 2:22).

MainStreet Covenant Church celebrated it’s official launch into weekly worship in Mound on January 15, 2012, with 180 people attending!  

3 Comments Add yours

  1. Jon Dack says:

    What a wonderful post! You write as a true “son of Mound”. What a blessing the people of Mound have been given to have the Lord return you and Keri to ministry in your home community. God has clearly set a passion in your heart to bring revival to these people and I join in pray with you for God’s spirit to do a mighty work.

  2. James Easton Skogsbergh says:

    What wonderful news it is to hear of the planting of a new church. I am a great grandson of Erik August Skogsbergh and have just recently had the opportunity to visit his First Covenant Church in Seattle, when I returned for a 50 year high school reunion. My wife, Marsha, and I hope to visit Minnesota this summer and look forward to attending one of your services. We wish you well and ask the Lord’s blessing for you.

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