It was midsommar in Sweden when the phone rang at 4 a.m. in our Stockholm hotel room.
Because we were just 500 miles from the Arctic Circle on the first day of summer in this land of the “midnight sun,” it was bright as day outside our window when our son Nathan called. “Hi, Dad … I thought you’d want to know Pastor Paul Youngdahl from Mount Olivet Lutheran Church died today.”
I didn’t fall back to sleep after that message but got up early to bring the message to our Gustavus Adolphus College president, who was leading the college board and spouses on this trip, affirming and strengthening our college relationships and cultivating our Swedish “rootedness.”
Since our hotel was on the same city square as the Cathedral Church of Stockholm (Storkyrkan) and our first day was dedicated to our church-relatedness, another pastor and I led a brief memorial service for Pastor Youngdahl in a side chapel in the cathedral first thing that morning.
Ake Bonnier, dean of the cathedral then and now Church of Sweden Bishop of Skara, served on the College Board, hosted us, and now helped us make all this happen on a very special day.
The next day was spent at the Nobel Foundation, also located on that city square, because of our commitments to each other for over half a century, first established when a large delegation of Nobel laureates participated in the dedication of our now renovated and enlarged Nobel Hall of Science.
Annually, the Gustavus Nobel Conference reaches thousands in person on campus and online around the world.
The following day focused on educational partnerships with Uppsala University. Founded in 1477, it is the first Nordic University.
By now, the summer solstice and the longest day of the year had actually arrived, and our travel group headed three hours north for midsommar festivities in Dalarna County, where Dalla horses are made, and Mora, where the Vasaloppet originated – the one after which our own ski race is patterned in Mora, Minn.
The trip through the woodlands and across the countryside was reminiscent of heading north to the Brainerd lakes area back home. When we stopped at the town of Falun, we learned that all the barns and many of the houses painted red remain in great condition for decades because a red pigment found in the bottom of the Falun copper mine is used to make a very long-lasting, highly preservative coating. To this day, red remains the preferred barn color in America and on our farm, too.
Upon arrival in our small resort community on Lake Siljan, we joined the small group of residents decorating and raising the one maypole in the village that drew us all together. Church boats arrived with musicians, including an accordion player, and the dancing around the maypole began.
With flower wreaths in the women’s and girls’ hair, we joined the traditional dance around the maypole, following the locals in their traditional Swedish folk costumes.
Exhausted from all the decorating and hoisting and dancing, it was time to move on to the feasting on new potatoes, smoked salmon, crispy rye bread with cheese and, of course, the necessary and traditional pickled herring! Lots of red ripe strawberries, some on top of shortcake and smothered in whipped cream, brought color and sweetness to any Swede’s favorite midsommar activity … eating!
Church boats remain the preferred means of transportation to and from church, but also school and community gatherings around Lake Siljan. Church boat races are highly competitive, especially after church, of course. Hoisting or “tossing” their oars is called the Church Boat Salute.
When we gather Sunday for worship at Spring Garden Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church, followed by the Midsummer Festival in the churchyard south of Cannon Falls, you can be sure that the festivities will not be dissimilar from the ones I experienced on midsommar in Sweden, except no one will arrive by church boat … but quite a few will by tractor!
Editor’s note: EPLN contributor Pastor Rod Anderson serves on the EPLN Board of Directors. Anderson is the former senior pastor of St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Eden Prairie. If you would like to contribute a faith-based column to EPLN, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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