A BRIEF HISTORY OF REVIVAL IN
Minnesota became the 32nd state of the Union of the United States on May 11, 1858. However there is evidence to suggest that the first Camp Meeting in the state of Minnesota was held August 8, 1855 near Red Wing, MN. Camp Meetings originated in the Cumberland mountains of Tennessee and Kentucky and moved up into southern Ohio. They reached their zenith of popularity in the 1840’s as part of a series of events which church historians have characterized as “the Second Great Awakening” in the United States. Camp Meetings were large outdoor worship and preaching services. They were held in locations that could accommodate crowds of people who would arrive by horseback, wagon, stage coach, or train. These events would last 10 days to two weeks. Many camp meetings would go 24 hours a day, with different preachers, singers, and song leaders holding meetings in different corners of the camp at different times. Fiery preachers would stand on tree stumps and proclaim the gospel so surrounding people could hear. More elaborate camp grounds had wooden covered stages for the speakers and hewn logs braced in rows for attendees to sit.
In Minnesota, the Camp Meetings began in southeastern Minnesota along the Mississippi River, the Zumbro River and other smaller streams. In the 1850’s camp meetings were held near in the Rochester area, and on the banks of the Zumbro River between Chatfield and Rochester.
In the 1860’s there was much upheaval in Minnesota. The Civil War between the States began in 1861 with the South seceding from the United States. Many from Minnesota were volunteering and joining the Union army to fight.
In Minnesota, a conflict much closer to home erupted in 1862 with the Dakota War beginning when settlers were ambushed by Indians near Litchfield, MN. Wartime camp meetings were held in Spring Valley, Clearwater, Winnebago City, Plainview, Center Grove, King’s Grove south of St. Cloud, Rochester, Mazeppa, Dundas, Pleasant Grove, and Farmington. However, the largest and longest lasting of the Camp Meetings was begun at the Red Rock Campground in Newport, MN on Sunday, July 4, 1869.
Two thousand individuals were present.
Today where Red Rock Road ends at the Mississippi still marks the location of those meetings. Organized and run by the Methodists, these meetings were held annually on that site for sixty-eight years, until 1937. The meetings were then moved to Medicine Lake, and later were moved to Lake Koronis in Paynesville, MN. The last camp meeting was in 1974.
With the Newport location being so close to St. Paul, and right on the Mississippi River, individuals came by wagon, on foot, by train, and by steamboat. During the next 6 years, records show that over 1000 individuals boarded the Nellie Kent steamboat in St. Paul to come downriver to the Newport meetings. The crowds continued to grow in those early years. In 1870 three thousand people were in attendance, and in 1876 nearly 10,000 were in attendance. The attendance high water mark was in the years 1886-1888 when a little over 20,000 individuals were in attendance during the ten day event.
20,000 individuals were in attendance, and Minnesota’s total population in 1880 was somewhat fewer than 800,000 statewide!
As the numbers grew, so did the facilities on the campground site. Multiple preaching locations were set up throughout the camp. (The site of the first pulpit however is still identifiable as a residence in Newport today.) Preaching was done in several languages. Space was set aside for cabins first, and then as Red Rock grew, a hotel was built. In addition sites were set aside for the wagons and for overnight camping as people had traveled hundreds of miles with horses and a wagon. At one point accommodations were provided for up to 3,000 individuals in the hotel and cabins. The others camped or made their way to the site by sternwheeler boats. Most of the preaching was done by Methodist ministers in Minneapolis and St. Paul. It is recorded that some of the most famous hymn-writers of the time passed through Red Rock at some point.
As Red Rock grew, so did interest in Camp Meetings around the state. Besides the locations listed earlier, there were meetings noted at Otsego, Cannon Falls, Oxford, Cheatham Grove south of Utica, Paynesville, Cherry Valley, Fillmore, Northfield, Janesville, Eagle Lake, Long Prairie, Marshall, Glencoe, Mankato, Austin, Cleaveland and Owatonna. Medford had over 1000 in attendance one Sunday, and Minneopa had 4,000 people at their camp meeting one year.
Red Rock Camp Meeting
Darrin Rodgers, a Grand Forks, ND native and director of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center in Springfield, MO is the man who has uncovered much of the revival heritage of the Dakotas and Minnesota. He has written a very helpful paper titled “Rediscovering Our Diverse Roots: Pentecostal Origins in Scandinavian Pietism in Minnesota and the Dakotas”. Copies of that can be found online. He has also authored a book titled Northern Harvest, a book on the history of Pentecostalism in North Dakota.
Many of the Scandinavian immigrants who came to Minnesota and the Dakotas in the late 19th century were escaping religious persecution in their homeland. The state churches in Sweden and Norway had become partners with the civil governments of those times. Holding worship services outside the confines of the local state church was against the law. Yet home churches were thriving in Sweden. Prayer, worship, and preaching in homes were keeping the Christian faith very much alive. If you were discovered hosting or attending such meetings, you could be severely fined (up to more than a year’s wages!), have property taken from you, or deported out of the country. Instead of facing these consequences, many Swedes simply emigrated to the New World, with many finding good, cheap farmland in the Upper Midwest. It is estimated that over 1/3 of Sweden’s entire population emigrated between 1850-1900.
In Norway, many individuals had come alive in their Christian faith through the fiery preaching of Hans Nielsen Hauge, a revivalist. These on-fire believers faced persecution and excommunication from Norway’s state church. Like in Sweden, many from Norway emigrated to the New World and found new lives with their families in the Upper Midwest. Unlike Swedish immigrants, however, many from Norway had been taught by Hauge about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Hauge claims to have received his spiritual baptism in a farm field back in 1796. He traveled around Norway, mostly by foot, conducting “illegal” outdoor services. He railed against the deadness that had overtaken the Lutheran state churches, and for his efforts was imprisoned numerous times.
From this upheaval, persecution and sincere search for God, many individuals settled in the state of Minnesota. They were alive spiritually and hungry for the things of God. After arriving in Minnesota and the Dakotas, they were free to seek God as they pleased, and they did. They were like dry tinder, only in need of a spark to begin a time of revival in America’s heartland. That spark from God seemed to come in the person of Carl M. “Daddy” Hanson.
SCANDINAVIAN PIETISM IN MINNESOTA
AND THE DAKOTAS
THE MINISTRY OF C.M. HANSON
Carl Hanson was the son of Norwegian immigrants, born in Minnesota in 1865. He was converted to Christ as a student in the college preparatory program at Augsburg Seminary. After experiencing a remarkable healing from blood poisoning in 1895, he set out as an evangelist around Minnesota and the Dakotas. He recorded that he witnessed a small girl speak in tongues in one of his meetings in 1896. This was the first time this had happened in any of his meetings, and after prayer and searching the Scriptures, he decided this was what was described in the book of Acts.
The Swedish immigrants in the region had formed what were known as Swedish Free Mission churches across West Central and North West Minnesota. Carl Hanson was a frequent preacher and evangelist in these small churches and during his visits there many manifestations of the Holy Spirit. There were reports of speaking in tongues, of prophecies released, and significant healings. Some of the meetings were in homes; some were in churches.
The Norwegian immigrants seemed to also have these manifestations come forth in their gatherings, due to their exposure to Hans Nielsen Hauge’s ministry in Norway. And one of the significant realities was that there was an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota years prior to the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles.
Shortly after the Azusa Street revival began in 1905, the Azusa Street periodical, Apostolic Faith, printed a 1906 letter making the claim that tongues and other manifestations of the Holy Spirit had already occurred in Minnesota. A gentleman named A.O. Morken; a Norwegian from Audobon, MN (near Detroit Lakes) noted that what he called “Pentecost in Audobon” had predated Azusa by two years. In a letter he wrote:
“A copy of the Apostolic Faith has been sent to us, and we were much blest when we read and saw that God baptized his children with the Holy Ghost exactly the same way as He has done here. It is two years ago since God began to baptize His children in this place and some are talking with tongues, some have the gift of prophecy, etc.” (See Rodgers, Rediscovering Our Diverse Roots p. 3)
Morken proceeded to note the outpouring was not confined to Audobon, MN: “but we hear that at the main places are the same blessings.” Descendants of Morken date the revival as beginning in 1902 or 1903.
In trying to determine where those “main places” were, we are discovering that groups experiencing the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and practicing the gifts lived in West Central and Northwest Minnesota. The cities identified in West Central Minnesota were Alexandria, Audobon, Detroit Lakes, Evansville, Fergus Falls, Lake Eunice, Moorhead and Tordenskjold. The cities identified in Northwest Minnesota experiencing this phenomenon were Argyle, Fosston, Hallock, Holt, Karlstad, Lake Bronson, Stephen, Thief River Falls, and Warren. There were cities in eastern North Dakota (Grafton and Hillsboro) that were identified as well as one in South Dakota (Greenfield.)
Darrin Rodgers says the history of this network of “Pentecostal” immigrant churches is sketchy, and it is likely other groups existed.
Lake Eunice Swedish Mission Church
EARLY OUTPOURING OF THE SPIRIT IN MINNESOTA
A PROTRACTED REVIVAL IN MOORHEAD, MN
The Swedish Free Mission church in Moorhead, MN was one of the churches which seemed to have a long period of revival. There are questions as to when the revival or revivals began in the church. Some say 1892 while others state it was closer to 1900. We are not sure whether the writers are speaking about the revivals beginning or the manifestations of a Holy Spirit outpouring beginning. The reports from that time seem to indicate that many people accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, received bodily healing, and also began to speak in tongues. The pastor at the time, John Thompson, knew little about the gifts of the Spirit until he began to experience them himself. In the 1930’s, his son wrote “God graciously poured out His Spirit with signs following.
Many received the glorious Baptism in the Holy Ghost, speaking in other tongues as the Spirit of God gave utterance. At that time we had not heard of any other places having received a like experience, but later we heard of people in California and Winnipeg, Canada, having received a like precious outpouring of the Holy Spirit….. Praise God the spirit of revival was manifest in every service.”
REVIVAL IN THE WOODS OF NORTHERN MINNESOTA
One of the significant pieces of Minnesota history is barely recorded. It is the work of traveling, itinerant lumberjack preachers, ministering in the lumber camps of northern Minnesota. Because these men were lumberjacks themselves, and never sat down to record what was happening in their ministries, we are left to deduce what was happening from the scant records that do exist.
One of the records that does exist is a book titled The Last of the Giants written by Harry Rimmer. Now out of print, it tells the stories of a Canadian lumberjack, Frank Higgins, who came to Minnesota and worked in the woods between Bemidji and Duluth. A strong believer in Jesus, he began to preach and lead men to the Lord while working with some of the most foul and uncouth men on the face of the earth. Though many trained ministers tried to work with the lumberjacks, most did not have the mental or physical toughness to withstand the conditions in the camps. The lumberjacks had no interest in high sounding sermons or societal niceties and often the visiting clergy were teased and mocked ceaselessly. Frank Higgins was a rough-hewn man with a calling to bring in souls for Jesus Christ. He was as comfortable in a bar fight as he was preaching.
His wife and family made their home in Delano, MN but Frank traveled in the lumberjack camps 8 months out of the year. His ministry in the lumber camps lasted for 20 years. He had a relationship with the First Presbyterian Church of Duluth, and the presbytery there had committed some funds toward him as a missionary to the lumberjacks. His interest in helping “pilot men’s souls into the sky” gave him the title of Sky Pilot which he carried through his life.
Although Frank Higgins died at a young age, he had mentored many other “Sky Pilots”. One was a man named John Sornberger who was an ex-pugilist. Being an ex-boxer was an advantage for John to be heard and accepted as a preacher among the rough and tumble men of the lumber camps. John was appointed by the Presbytery of Duluth to succeed Frank Higgins as missionary to the lumberjacks of Minnesota.
The other young man mentored by Frank Higgins was Al Channer. Al ministered many years in the Duluth area as well as in Michigan.
A second source of information is a small booklet titled Revival’s Flames: A Personal Account of the Northern Minnesota Revivals 1921 & 1934 by Edward L. and Anna I Logelin. This little booklet tells the firsthand accounts of special meetings held by a man named A.M. Stenstrom, a converted lumberjack who would walk between lumber camps, preaching and playing a Swedish harp to accompany his singing. Stenstrom was a painter, whose paintings of scenes from the lumber camps is recognized by artists throughout Minnesota. Many of the events related in the booklet occurred around the cities of Goodridge, Grygla, and Clearbrook, Minnesota. Again these are only small, written “snapshots” of God’s activity in the woods of northern Minnesota.
MORE OF THE STORY IS COMING!
We have only looked at a small portion of God’s activity in the state of Minnesota. There is so much more of the story to be told including God’s activity across Minneapolis and St. Paul in the state’s formative years.
Cindy Jacobs, of the ministry Generals of Intercession, came to the Twin Cities in January 2002 and called Minnesota “the revival state.” There may have been snickers and looks of confusion in the room when she said that. But as we look at Minnesota’s revival history, we begin to understand the vast greatness of what she is calling forth in the Spirit for a time such as now!
There are many caricatures about life in Minnesota. Garrison Keillor and his “Prairie Home Companion” radio show have given us this picture of a land populated by red cheeked Scandinavian’s whose children are “above average” and life revolves around the mythical “Lake Wobegon” where Lutheran potluck suppers, Ole and Lena Jokes, and bluegrass music are the staple of everyday life. Everyone knows about our accents, with its thick “O”s and our love of the phrase “Ya, Sure, You Betcha!”
When one thinks of past moves of God across our nation, Minnesota does not immediately come to mind as a spiritual hotspot. One prophetic lady used to characterize us as “God’s frozen chosen”, both because of our very cold weather temperatures, but also because of the lack of outward exuberance in the many Scandinavian and Germanic believers who inhabit Minnesota.
But caricatures do not always correspond with reality. If you know the true history of Minnesota, you cannot characterize this region as being in God’s ‘backwaters.’
The reality is that God has been shaping the life of Minnesota from its origins.