Preserving Nordic American Churches is a project of Partners for Sacred Places, the only nonsectarian, nonprofit organization dedicated to sound stewardship and active community use of older sacred places across America.
The project focuses on churches with cultural roots in Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden. Although Nordic heritage communities and sacred places are found throughout North America, this project highlights historic buildings preserved by active congregations and nonprofit organizations in six states: Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan (a geographic region determined by the project funder).
Churches built by Nordic American communities are increasingly at risk due to shrinking populations, leading to fewer resources to care for buildings and the decorative arts they contain. The Nordic American Churches initiative addresses these concerns with two strategies: a searchable online inventory that builds awareness and encourages study of Nordic American heritage churches, and project support for 17 churches to help them preserve their buildings and sustain their presence in the community.
Inventory and Website
The centerpiece of the project website is the searchable database of historic Nordic American churches, which is still a work in progress. The website also includes supplementary information and findings about these churches that are an outgrowth of project programming and background research.
Our database of Nordic American churches is based primarily on Internet research and information provided by various organizations and churches. We consulted church websites and Facebook pages, state historic preservation offices, denominational and ethnic archives, historic preservation professionals, ethnic organizations, and academic experts to identify and document existing pre-1970 Nordic American church buildings. A select group of project advisers also provided valuable input.
The database represents the first survey of the region’s historic Nordic American churches that includes five ethnic groups—rather than focusing on a single ethnicity—and the first to document folk and decorative arts: wood carving, metalwork, painting, stained glass, textiles, brickwork, and masonry. We also sought information on the ways these churches continue ethnic celebrations and food events.
By creating and sharing this inventory, Partners for Sacred Places hopes to demonstrate the variety of Nordic churches found in these Midwest states and to make it easier for scholars, practitioners, and members of the public to find them, visit them, support them, and preserve them.
The inventory can be searched through the “Database” link in this website. We continue to update and to add new records. Do you have a correction or a church to add? Click here to let us know.
Training and Support
In addition to the inventory, 17 churches successfully applied to the project. The selected churches represent ethnic and geographic diversity, as well as buildings that reflect Nordic heritage through their architecture and decorative arts, and/or through the active maintenance of ethnic traditions. Each participating church team attended a training session based on Partners for Sacred Places’ New Dollars/New Partners program. Attendees learned how to tell their story, better care for their building, and—through asset mapping—more effectively engage with the larger community. Each team also was invited to apply for funding to conduct restoration and repair projects to their historic buildings. Participating congregations and organizations could apply for up to $15,000 to restore or repair building exteriors, structural systems, or interior decorative arts. Each grant was matched by the recipient through new fundraising activities.