The Preserving Nordic American Churches 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, our funder limited the geography of this project to highlight historic buildings preserved by active congregations and nonprofit organizations in six states: Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
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 database 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.
Database & Website
Our database of Nordic American churches is based primarily on Internet research and information provided by various churches and organizations. We consulted church websites and Facebook pages, state historic preservation office records, 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 Nordic American churches that includes all five ethnic groups—rather than focusing on a single ethnicity—and the first to document both architecture and decorative arts and crafts: 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.
Technical Assistance 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.