It Takes A Village: Community and Culture

Introduction    |   A Villager, a Swede   |   Village Faith    |   Wartime Politics   |  Let's Go Out to the Movies    |  R & R in the Village   |  Notes   |  Main Index

Village Faith

From the late 1800's through World War II, to be Swedish in Quinsigamond village also meant to be Protestant. According to the authors of ga till Amerika, the recently published work on Swedish heritage in Worcester, the Village Swedes shared the experience of religious "regeneration and conversion" (6). Their brand of Christianity placed an emphasis on creating a strong community:

These families, who had strong faith in God and were Methodists, did not let the spiritual flame die out at the altar. Therefore they held religious gatherings in order to help one another to remain and build up their faith […] As of yet they still didn't have a preacher, but since they themselves belonged to "the royal priesthood," they built up one another's faith (7).

Quinsigamond United Methodist ChurchThe Methodists, the first organized religious group in Swedish Quinsigamond, constructed the First Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church (now the Quinsigamond United Methodist Church) on Stebbins street in 1884. In the 1890's four additional congregations, including the Baptists, Congregationalists, Salvationists, and Lutherans began meeting in the village. The Baptists would erect their house of worship across the street from the Methodist church. The Corps No. 2 of the Salvation Army then began renting a hall on Millbury street as the Lutherans rented the temperance hall on Ekman street. Congregationalists founded the Second Swedish Congregational Church (now Bethlehem Covenant Church) on the corner of Greenwood and Halmstad streets. While not every denomination cared for the presence of their religious competitors in the village -Lutherans' were especially derided for their failure to support the Temperance movement - the nascent religious community of Quinsig would become a cohesive force in the village in susequent years (8). One Quinsigamond resident remembers that when he was a child in the 1940's, there was no longer any perceived difference between denominations among his generation (Gordon Forsberg).

Immediately before and during World War II, well-attended Quinsigamond churches took a central role in defining community life. Edward Hult recalls his war-era experiences at the United Methodist Church: "…they had what they call a bible class for the men and they were, they were 500 strong […] they were stretched out the whole width of the church, and they were over 500 men that would come here every Sunday and have their service." The Methodist church also offered a public speaking class under the direction of the influential young Judge Carl Wahlstrom which was widely attended. Churches provided recreational activities and entertainment as well. "Every church had their own basketball team and we played against one another…" states Forsberg. The Salvation Army sponsored the only Boy Scout troop in town. And while many of the activities were explictely for men, for both men and women, the churches provided some of the few places where residents could gather to dance, listen to music and even eat together in a social setting (Vernon and Eleanor Rudge).

Many current and former residents of Quinsigamond feel that the churches helped the community deal with the horrors of war abroad. Wray Schelin, who attended the Congregational Church, remembers that during the war, "everything was prayers. We still have prayers today over there […] for the young boys that are in service." He later remarks, "Everybody prayed on a weekly basis. All pertain[ed] about the boys in the service, and the girls in the service, you know. Probably 40 percent of the whole service itself predicated around the war…". It was common in church for the pastor or minister to read the names of all that had gone off to serve in the armed forces during Sunday services (Grahn). In one story about life on the homefront, Olaf Rydstrom recalls that his pastor once aided a women in obtaining meat that current rationing practices made scarce. Both in its religious and social capacity, the churches helped shepherd the Quinsigamond community through the war.

Second Swedish Congregational ChurchThe Quinsigamond religious community's response was part of a larger, national dialogue occurring between religious institutions and society. Three weeks after Pearl Harbor, the Roman Catholic leadership in the United States resolved to "do our full part in the national effort to transmute the impressive material and spiritual resources of our country into effective strength not for vengeance but for the common good, not for national aggrandizement but for common security in a world in which individual human rights shall be safeguarded" (9). In June 1942, the Northern Baptist Convention stated its intention to, "do anything for the welfare of our country within the full sanction of our individual consciences to achieve a Christian victory and secure the world for a just and lasting peace, regardless of personal cost or sacrifice" (10). The Congregationalists passed a somewhat more pacifistic resolution than the Baptists during the same year. In the manner that the Quinsigamond churches improved morale on the homefront through social activities and prayer, the national churches would outfit the armed forces with a highly qualified corps of chaplains that would see to the mental and spiritual health of servicemen and women throughout the war (11).