West Lisbon Church Yesterday: Our History
The “preparation of the soil” for West Lisbon Church began in the gospel work of Elling Eielson in the 1840’s. By 1850, the then-called Lisbon Congregation began meeting in a house designated for regular worship services. If one steps back to take a wider view of God’s work in Illinois during the 1850’s, you can see some remarkable things happening. “In the early autumn of 1856, [Dwight L.] Moody suddenly left Boston for Chicago” (Kevin Belmont, 45). A young man named Cyrus McCormick entered Chicago in 1847 where he and his brother setup factories in order to manufacture their mechanical reapers (eventually this became International Harvester). In 1869, Cyrus McCormick, a faithful Christian, donated a large sum of money to assist D. L. Moody in the establishment of the Y.M.C.A., and later McCormick’s son would become the first president of Moody Bible Institute.
Much more could be said about how God moved people about in the 1850’s in the Chicago area, but our story takes us into rural Illinois about an hour southwest of Chicago to the little village of Lisbon. By the 1850’s God was stirring a couple of hearts to make the long journey from Norway to Illinois. Many Norwegian emigrants left their homeland and then settled in rural Illinois. A young man by the name of Peter Andreas Rasmussen became burdened for these families as he discovered a growing need for someone to teach them and lead them in Christianity. Consider this excerpt from A History of the Norwegians of Illinois by Algot E. Strand:
The congregation, being without a settled pastor, tendered a call to Rasmussen to become their pastor. After having taken a course in theology of one year at Ft. Wayne, Ind., he was ordained by the Missouri Synod on Palm Sunday, 1854. Rev. Rasmussen served this church for about forty four years, when the present pastor took charge in 1898. Under the pastorate of Rev. Rasmussen the church grew to be one of the strongest and most prosperous churches among the Norwegians in this country, numbering about 1,200 souls. It consists mostly of a farming community, situated in the southern part of Kendall county, and the northern part of Grundy county.
Pastor Rasmussen’s role in God’s story for West Lisbon Church is critical to understanding our history, our present, and our future. He was Norwegian Lutheran for sure, but he wasn’t just that. Before leaving Norway, Rasmussen was part of the Haugean movement. Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771–1824) was a powerful lay preacher in Norway. Clifford Nelson writes in The Lutherans in North America,
Between 1796 and 1804 Hauge preached his message of repentance through Norway, reviving the backsliders and strengthening and encouraging the faithful. From 1804 to 1811 he was imprisoned not only for his criticisms of church and clergy, but for his violation of the anticonventicle act of 1741.
The Anticonventicle Act of 1741 forbid lay preachers from preaching and teaching, which the state viewed as only appropriate for approved clergymen. The Lutheran Calendar celebrates Hauge and in its description of his spiritual life clearly indicates that he experienced the new birth. From Hauge and onto Rasmussen and others whom he influenced, there is a clear evangelical thread that has always been a part of West Lisbon Church’s heritage: repentance, spiritual renewal and awakening, the new birth, and lay ministry. Having been ordained as the first pastor of the Lisbon Congregation in 1854, Pastor Rasmussen went on to serve for 44 years. He planted many churches, founded a seminary, and was a pioneer in the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran movement in America.