During the 1920's, some immigrant Scandinavians, mostly Swedes, came to the United States of America and eventually settled in the greater Hartford area of Connecticut. All were not necessarily Christians when they first came. They were all good, immigrant stock, hard working, honest men and women of strong character. Each, with his own personal story, received Christ as their Savior. In time, they were naturally drawn together to a church of their common Scandinavian heritage – the Swedish Baptist Church, by denomination.
The local church in Hartford was Bethel Baptist Church on Broad Street. They came there, one by one and family by family, during the mid to late 1920's. They were good people and, most importantly, they proved to be people of a firm faith and deep hunger for more of God.
Although Bethel Baptist Church was a good, sound evangelical church where the Gospel was faithfully preached, there were some hungry hearts who were open for more of God. Alerted by the Holy Spirit to "the Promise of the Father," they faithfully looked to Him for direction. God's Word provided the instruction they needed. The book of Acts, first chapter, records Jesus, Himself, saying, "…Wait for the promise of the Father…for John truly baptized with water; but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days hence." When the promise came to pass on them that first received on the day of Pentecost, Scripture records, "And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:4)
Walfred Lundstrom was a man of prayer, a quiet man who brought good spiritual wisdom and leadership to the group. He was one of the leaders from the very beginning. He reports, in a brief history of the Hartford Gospel Tabernacle commemorating its 50th Anniversary, that its beginnings were consistent with the birth of the first century church.
On the day of Pentecost, God inaugurated His Church at the first outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We look back with great joy that, in a like manner, the Hartford Gospel Tabernacle, too, was founded in the supernatural outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This supernatural manifestation on the day of Pentecost is the distinctive "Baptism in the Holy Spirit", an experience separate from "Salvation" and "Water Baptism". This gift of the Holy Spirit, known today as the Pentecostal Experience, is the "Promise" that was given "unto you and to your children and to all that are afar off; even as many as the Lord our God shall call." It is the "Promise" that our founders pursued, and that our charter members signed on to.
Lundstrom commented that from the Day of Pentecost the outpouring of the Holy Spirit has continued intermittently in church history through the centuries. He said, "Once again in the early 1900's there was a general revival of the Pentecostal Experience upon many believers in many parts of the world," in which this group participated.
This group of Scandinavian believers held that this promise that was given "unto you" was for them today, also. They simply believed, "the promise is unto you, and to your children and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call." (Acts 2:39) The group waited on God in prayer for the Promise of the Father." God, who is faithful to His promises, again poured out His Spirit upon these believers, too. They, also, were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke "with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." Once again, centuries later, God's promise was being fulfilled in this group of hungry believers in Hartford, Connecticut.
From what early members of the church have reported, it appears that this group of believers was made up of several small house groups whose purpose for meeting was prayer. They did not have one place large enough for all to meet together regularly.
When the message of the Holy Spirit's baptism moved into the hearts of these members of Bethel Baptist Church, they received it gladly. However, many others did not. The difficulty lay in that fact that Bethel Baptist Church was not denominationally receptive to the Pentecostal Experience. It was not Baptist doctrine.
This is why the road began to divide between those who had received the Acts 2:4 experience of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, evidenced by speaking in tongues, and those who remained adherent to their denomination's teaching. Bethel church was very patient with this new group of dissenting members. The church sincerely labored to keep these members within their flock. Inevitably, the old-time Baptists held firm in their beliefs and the newly Sprit-filled members could not deny their experience and would not compromise themselves.
Actually, the division had begun several months earlier when, in 1930 or early 1931, Rev. Axsel Wall, a Swedish evangelist, was called to be the interim pastor at Bethel Baptist Church. Wall, himself, was not a member of the Swedish Baptist Church. He was credentialed with the Swedish Covenant Church and therefore could not become the pastor at Bethel.
Ruth (Nylin) Demetrus recollects that Pastor Wall was acquainted with Louie Petrus, Pastor of The Church of Philadelphia in Stockholm, Sweden. At that time it was the largest Pentecostal church in the world (approx. 7,000). Pastor Wall had heard the message of Pentecost. Apparently in his regular pastoral ministry at Bethel the message came through bit by bit, perhaps unwittingly to him. There were those hungry and thirsty individuals who wanted more of God. They took it all in and pondered these things in their hearts. Some began to meet in private homes to pray. Ruth (Nylin) Demetrus recalls that her mother, Gerda, had been to Rev. Petrus' Pentecostal church in Stockholm, Sweden. Roy Nylin recalls that Gerda Nylin saw the message of being Spirit-filled in the Word of God and encouraged others to seek it.
Rev. and Mrs. Axsel Wall
Then Wall invited an evangelist, Rev. Axel Ost, to come for special meetings. Ruth (Nylin) Demetrus, just a teenager at the time, remembers that the meetings were wonderful, full of the Holy Spirit and that many were blessed. Some suggested that they call Rev. Ost to pastor Bethel Baptist Church. It had been mentioned to him that night, and a few weeks later he showed up at Bethel in a big car with his wife and all his children. A church business meeting was in session that night and so Rev. Ost did not go in. When some men heard that he was outside they went out to speak with him. As the evening proceeded the Baptist brethren were firm. Clearly, they would not have Rev. Ost to be their pastor. The events of that evening became the impetus that led those seeking more of God to know that they could not continue their pursuit of the Promise of the Father for the gift of the Holy Spirit at Bethel Baptist Church. The time had come to organize according to what God had given them from His Word and by the Holy Spirit.
This young group of Spirit-filled believers was thrust into the challenge. They needed formally to act into a group separate from Bethel. They were hearty men and women, strong in faith and godly character. They had come this far by faith, empowered by the Holy Spirit and they would not turn back.
About forty believers met at Eric and Nannie Hallden's home on July 2, 1931, formally to organize a prayer group. However, they went on to do more than that. They elected officers: Eric Hallden, chairman and treasurer; Eldon Rubb, secretary; Sven Allen, financial secretary; and others: Albert Lundstrom, Walfred Lundstrom, Oscar Larson, Carl Anderson and Franklin Swanson, ushers. Also, Ester Murdock and Laura Anderson were selected as pianists.
These were people driven by a hunger for more of God. They were is pursuit of the fulfillment of the "Promise of the Father" in their day. That was their only ambition. At no time did they ever have a renegade spirit with the intent to bring division or to leave Bethel Baptist Church. Still, the impasse became impossible. The group wanted to be able to pray and worship in the Holy Spirit as they were led. The Baptists were not open to these things of the Spirit. They did not even believe that these things were, in fact, of the Holy Spirit. Forced by the tightening situation, the group decided to have their own prayer meetings, and were pressed to organize and to elect their own leaders. Bethel Baptist, concerned over the new development, tried unsuccessfully to bring this group of members back into the church. Convictions ran deep on both sides without any resolution to what had become a totally incompatible relationship.
THE LIST OF CHARTER MEMBERS
(in the same order as they signed)
1. J. Eric Hallden 16. Carl E. Ekstrom 31. Anna R. Sward
2. Nannie Hallden 17. C. E. Ekstrom 32. Albert Lundstrom
3. Martha Hallden 18. A. Luis Murdock 33. Esther Lundstrom
4. Sven Allen 19. Esther Murdock 34. Oscar Johnson
5. Elin Allen 20. V. Erickson 35. Ellen Johnson
6. Walfred Lundstrom 21. A. C. Culver 36. Anders Christensen
7. Carl Anderson 22. Franklin Swanson 37. Else Christensen
8. Malvina Anderson 23. Anna Glans 38. Eric H. Ericson
9. Paul E. Nylin 24. Anna Estelle Greer 39. Anna W. Ericson
10. Sabina Peterson 25. Elsa O. Lindgren 40. Ernest Ericson
11. Gerda Nylin 26. John David Lilliedahl 41. Anna Ericson
12. Oscar Larson 27. Carin Lundberg 42. Maria Carlson
13. Tekla Nylin 28. Emma Harberg 43. Astrid Hewey
14. Eldon Rubb 29. Alfred Hanson
15. Tekla Rubb 30. Helen Hanson
The course was forged. The group set out onto its journey with no regrets, fully confident that God, Who had begun a good work in them, would finish it. Now they needed to act quickly because the group still had no place to meet together. They were meeting in small groups in various individual homes, but no one home could house them all. They continued to grow and God provided. The Olivet Baptist Church granted them permission to hold services at their premises temporarily.
Rev. Ost had remained with the group for a time in ministry. There is no record that he was ever voted in as their official pastor, but it does appear that he did continue to provide pastoral services to them during his stay.
In the Fall of 1931 the newly formed church, only a few months old, moved into a rented store front on Capitol Avenue, Hartford. They celebrated their first Communion Service there on September 26, 1931, Rev. Axel Ost officiating.
At about this same time in 1931 Hartford Gospel Tabernacle purchased property at the corner of West Beacon Street and Warren Terrace in West Hartford. Construction began immediately under the direction of Alfred Hanson and L. Boya. The group had come a very long way in less than a year. God is faithful to those who hear Him.
Remember, these were the years of the Great Depression here in The United States. Many Americans were out of work and money was scarce. Financially, these were the toughest years in the history of our country. Still, the new church moved on undaunted by the incredibly hard times of the Depression. It was said that this was "the Church that Prayer Built." When funds or materials were lacking, the congregation prayed. Their prayers were so well answered that the building not only was completed, but the entire property was debt-free.
Prayer, yes, but coupled with sacrifice. Elsa Lindgren recollects that many people made their coats, shoes and other clothing go an extra winter or two so that they could give. They prayed and sacrificed until it hurt and then they gave again.
During these depression years, the price of the land was $4,500. and the building cost $5,500. Americans were all struggling financially, trying to make it through each day just to meet basic needs. The contractor, Alfred Hanson (charter member), worked for $1.00 per hour. Brother Hanson's son, Bud, said, "The story is that Brother Anders Christensen, head of the building committee, asked my father how much he expected to be paid. My father told him he had three children and would need at least $1.00 an hour. Christensen told him that he had men working on his farm for 25 cents an hour. My father told him, 'Well, you get one of them farmhands to build the church.'" Needless to say, Alfred Hansen built the church for $1.00 an hour – total labor and building materials $5,500.
God honored the prayers and vision of His servants. The lower auditorium of the church was completed in April of 1932. With grateful hearts, the auditorium was dedicated by these people with special services held April 7-10, 1932. The speakers were Rev. Ost, Rev. Linblod, Rev. Wall and Rev. Fraser.
Six months later, October 11, 1933, a parsonage was purchased just up the street at 16 Lockwood Terrace, West Hartford. Construction continued on the main sanctuary and was completed in December, 1935, debt-free.
God continued to bless the group not only materially but spiritually as well. Shortly after they moved into the new auditorium, Lilly Anderson experienced salvation. She followed the Lord's command to be baptized in water August 15, 1932. It was their first Baptismal Service. The same afternoon God baptized her in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. The harvest of souls, the works of the Holy Spirit and His continued blessing remained through the succeeding years. The church prospered in the Lord.
In the beginning years the Sunday morning worship services were in Swedish, according to the advertisements placed in the Hartford papers. It appears that it was only for a short time. The younger generation and others who came in were English speaking. Soon all the services were conducted in English.
Rev. Gustav Goranson served as an interim pastor from May 1, 1933 until June 1943, just about one year. He may have been the first to occupy the newly purchased parsonage. Nevertheless, he is not regarded as the first Pastor but is listed among the temporary ministers. Several people, some pastors and some laymen, provided the Gospel Tabernacle with valuable short-term ministry. They were all important people in those early days of development. Pastors Rev. A. B. Ost, Rev. A. Lydell and Rev. J. M. Florell all preceded Rev. Goranson. Each in turn provided the growing church with pastoral services until they could afford a full-time pastor. Two elders, Eric Hallden and Niels Sorensen, both laymen, also supplied ministry to the group when necessary.
God had worked wonders with this young group of believers. The church was organized and incorporated under The Hartford Gospel Tabernacle name. They were formally established with a building and a parsonage in less than three years and debt free. Truly, God's hand of blessing was upon them! Since they were pressed to
Rev. and Mrs. John Johnson
Rev. John Johnson was the first full time pastor, installed in September 1934. He received a salary of $125.00 per month and lived in the parsonage. He served until December 1936 when he and his family left to return to the mission field in India.
Rev. Roy Smuland
Rev. David Leigh
The church continued to be blessed with a succession of good pastors whose ministries were fruitful. Many new people were added. The church consolidated into a strong body of believers during the mid-thirties and into the forties under Pastor Smuland and then Pastor Leigh. Jesus said, "I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it!" (Matthew 16:18)
Rev. Roy Smuland came in January 1937. He and his wife and two sons were at the church until January 13, 1941. Pastor Smuland led the church into joining the Assemblies of God. He is remembered as a man full of the Holy Spirit.
Rev. David Leigh became the pastor in January of 1941 and served until January 1944. During the three years he was with the church there was a blessed time of spiritual as well as numerical growth.
MINISTERS AND MISSIONARIES
FROM HARTFORD GOSPEL TABERNACLE
FAITH CENTER & FAITH ASSEMBLY OF GOD
1. Gustav Bergstrom 12. Edward Neuhaus
2. Ruth (Nylin) Demetrus 13. Catherine (Hansen) Neuhaus
3. Roy Nylin 14. Gary Lundstrom
4. Doris (Nylin) Lewis 15. Elsa Mae (Larson) Siriano
5. Hazel Stigem 16. Lillian (Larson) Nirvic
6. Dorothy (Reigner) Karns 17. Michelino Ricci
7. Sidney Reigner 18. Douglas B. Wiley
8. Robert Lundstrom 19. Suzanne Sylvester
9. Harold Hanson 20.Grace Chelman (Clark)
10. June (Clark) Hanson 21. David Siriano, Jr.
11. Paul Kinney 22. Darla (Siriano) Edlin
During this period, the Hartford Gospel Tabernacle was developing just as Jesus said. It had become a solid church with many precious godly Pentecostal families. Out of these families came young men and women with the call of God on their lives to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature." Those sons and daughters became the people of God who marched out from The Tabernacle in a continuous line into all the world to bring in the lost from the fields of sin. In fact, there were so many that one would hesitate to list them and miss some.
In the Fall of every year the church held a Missionary Convention. What an incredible event! It was the highlight of the year. The church was trimmed with flags from every country. Missionaries dressed in the clothes worn by the people from the country where they ministered. They told exciting stories of lives changed by the power of the gospel that stirred hearts, showing the marvelous works of the Holy Spirit, doing what no man could do. These consecrated people challenged the congregation with the reality that the lost must be brought to the cross before they are eternally lost. God's Word was preached in the power and demonstration of the Holy Spirit. The congregation's own lives were being forever changed as they felt the burdened hearts of the missionaries. The need to go, the need to give, the need to pray were all indelibly etched into the inner man. The church did indeed pray. At Tuesday and Saturday night prayer meetings they cried out to God, one after the other, remembering each Missionary by name before the throne of God. They gave, too, regularly supporting missions. The annual budget committed to missions amounted to more than what might have been expected. They prayed, they gave and their sons and daughters did, indeed, go. Today we can look back over a long tradition of putting many, many ministers and missionaries into the harvest fields.
Rev. and Mrs. Gustav Bergstrom
Gustav Bergstrom, one of the first missionaries who went out from the newly formed church to Brazil died recently. He is credited with having brought thousands and thousands of souls to Christ! He is known to have established hundreds and hundreds of churches. He was still winning souls right up until he died in his late eighties. The Foreign Missions Department of the Assemblies of God has recognized Gustav Bergstrom as one of the greatest missionaries in modern time. He was, indeed, a true saint of God!
What great things God hath done and yet will do! "Let the church hear what the Spirit is saying." God is faithful to all that He has promised!
The church that prayed together was also a church that could play together. Every year in the late spring the annual Church Picnic brought everyone to Elizabeth Park for a wonderful day of sun and fellowship. In later years the picnics were held at People's Forest in New Hartford. Now the Annual Picnic is held in July at Wickham Park. Everyone has their own personal stories of special memories about the picnics. The games, the food, the fun and wonderful fellowship made an impact that brought people closer in fun-loving ways. They honored God in everything and God honored them with many blessings.
Rev. Robert J. Ashcroft pastored from September 1944 to August 1948. So much good happened in his time as pastor. Rev. Ashcroft had a great heart for the Youth. A musician himself, he was proficient in a number of instruments and taught all who wanted to play an instrument. Soon there was a church youth band. Pastor Ashcroft took each of the young people into his heart. They were individually affected for the rest of their lives. Many were inspired to attend Bible School. Most became ministers. The church continued to grow in the Lord and in numbers.
Rev. Dr. J. Robert Ashcroft
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