"Our ideal is to be a church in which Christ is honoured through a fellowship of liberty and unity of love. Within a framework of basic Christianity, doctoral variations are not to divide the church. The right of every believer to his own position is to be respected."
on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Scandinavian Mission Church in Calgary founded 1911

Common History

Although Commons Church was founded in 2014 we have the privilege of rooting ourselves in two significant histories. First the history of the Evangelical Covenant Church; from its genesis in Sweden, to birth in America, and subsequent growth into the multi-ethnic denomination we participate in today. And second, the history of the Scandinavian Mission Church in Calgary AB; founded from roots in the Swedish Mission Friends in 1911, moving to the Kensington community in 1952, and merging into the launch of Commons Church in 2014.

This section of the site will trace both of these stories as part of our shared history. 

Evangelical Covenant Church

Click any of the historical images above to see a description of their significance

Swedish Lutheranism and Pietism

Though headquartered in the United States, the Covenant Church traces it roots back to Sweden. While the state Lutheran church dominated much of the religious and social landscape in 19th century Sweden, the English evangelist George Scott, found significant traction for his Wesleyan preaching there. Eventually forced to leave Sweden after comments critical of the state church, the revival work continued under the leadership of Swedish pioneers like C.O. Rosenius. While Rosenius was not a trained minister he had been influenced by the Moravian tradition in a way similar to Wesley. These early "mission friends" that rallied around Scott and Rosenius, were heavily influenced by the previous pietist revival that had been suppressed by the Swedish state in the 18th century. This recaptured pietist focus on a personal encounter with the spirit of God flourished under Rosenius' leadership who was eventually succeeded by P.P. Waldenström. Though Waldenström was initially committed to working within the state church, he created two significant controversies that lead to the formalization of the Mission Covenant Church in 1878.

First in 1872 Waldenstrom writes a sermon arguing that because God is love and since God cannot change, the atonement cannot be an event that moves God from wrathful to loving. It can only be an event wherein God changes something in us. This seems to conflict with the Augsburg confession (1530) on which the Swedish state church was founded.

Later in 1876 he serves the eucharist at a gathering despite the fact that the State Church did not allow anyone to administer or receive communion outside an official state church. Although an ordained minister Waldenström maintained the pietist perspective arguing that any gathering of believers was in fact a church regardless of location or sanction.

These controversies contribute to the Mission Covenant Church being formed independent of the theology of the Augsburg confession on which the state Lutheran church was based. 

Covenant in America

These events had ripple effects as the pietist spirit was carried to America through Swedish immigrants who had moved across the ocean. As early Swedish immigrants attempted to establish churches and coordinate their efforts in their new home, existing Swedish synods, now influenced by Waldenström, began looking at new ways to organize with more freedom.

As C.V. Bowman would later describe the justification for the new american denomination:

“The Mission Friends have a principle that is still more unique and takes a very prominent place in their program. They hold that the local church shall consist of only believing members but at the same time have room for all true believers, no matter what their viewpoints are on controversial doctrines. It is this principle which really distinguishes Mission Friends from other Christian denominations, and which justifies their existence as a particular church.” 
–About the Principles of the Mission Friends (1910) 

The tension was now in how to organize such a church. Some preferred a minimal structure that preserved the freedom of the local congregation but also provided for the support and accountability of a denomination, others were adamantly opposed to any structure, seeing it as a return to the restrictions of the state churches in Europe. 

Eventually a number of the early Mission Friends did form a new denomination in 1885 called the “Swedish Mission Covenant Church” and those opposed to the formation went on to play significant roles in the founding of the free church movement in America. 

affirming a Generous Posture 

During the early 20th century the founding concepts of the denomination were quickly put to the test. The fundamentalist controversy that overtook much of American religion hit the Covenant as well. New advances in geology, biology and biblical criticism had left many Christians feeling adrift and the solution for many seemed a hard, almost militant defence of what became known as the fundamentals.

Northpark University in Chicago (1894) had been recently founded in order to facilitate the education of ministers in the Covenant and took a progressive view incorporating a liberal arts educational into the curriculum. Even as pressure mounted to affirm a particular hardline posture on the fundamentals, the university and the denomination held true to the founding principles of the Covenant affirming a commitment to the centrality of scripture but also to the freedom of believers to disagree on the specifics of Christian faith, stepping back from more divisive language like the "verbal inspiration" of scripture. 

A Post Swedish Church

In 1936 the name of the denomination was changed to the Evangelical Mission Covenant Church reflecting a Swedish immigrant population that was moving into a second generation where the distinctive Swedish elements had begun to give way to a more American identity. An emphasis on church planting expanded the foundation of the denomination and a strong commitment to the American civil rights movement led to a purposefully multi-ethnic denomination that is today able to celebrate the immigrant part of our history even as the Swedish heritage has become less central. 

Today the Covenant church celebrates all of these different streams that have led to our current identity and expresses that generous posture in our affirmations:

•    We affirm the centrality of the word of God.
•    We affirm the necessity of the new birth.
•    We affirm a commitment to the whole mission of the church.
•    We affirm the church as a fellowship of believers.
•    We affirm a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit.
•    We affirm the reality of freedom in Christ.

History in Calgary

Scandinavian Mission Church

Click any of the historical images above to see a description of their significance

The Canada Covenant, having been formed in 1904, quickly began to take note of the significant number of Swedish immigrants moving into the Calgary area. By 1909 the Canada Covenant had brought in Rev. Johnstone from Pennsylvania to explore the possibility of whether a Covenant Church could be started in the area. While it was decided that a church plant might be too ambitious a Sunday School was established in the Bridgeland neighbourhood. However, because Johnstone was only brought to Canada for a three month exploratory project the Sunday School lapsed soon after he departed. 

In 1911 the presidents of the Canadian Covenant G.E. Bjorklund and the American Covenant H.J. Hjarpe decided to move forward with the founding of a Calgary church. Thirteen charter members, many of whom with roots extending back to the Mission Friends movement in Sweden, formed the Scandinavian Mission Church in Calgary.

Hj. Westmann: Chair
Walfrid Hornstrom: Treasurer [photo above]
John Skarin
Herman Hornstrom
Robert Hornstrom
Charlie Johnson
John Johnson
Albert Isaacson
Emil Bloomquist
Renholt Lindberg
Anders Lindberg 

Later that year C.A. Jacobson [photo above] of Minneapolis was called as the first pastor of the new community.

The church began meeting in rental facilities but by 1912 a lot was secured on the corner of 5th Ave and 5 St SW for the price of $10,000. Of course, the sum seems fantastically small today for property in downtown Calgary but this was actually during a pre war boom period in Calgary’s history and the cost was considerable for the young community. With finances stretched so tightly the initial building was built entirely by the community under the direction of a community member, a Mr. Lindstrom. 

the corner of 5th Ave and 5th St Calgary AB

the corner of 5th Ave and 5th St Calgary AB

“1912 was a most interesting time in the church. We were all so busy, it looked so promising for the future. Beginning with January 1913 the difficult times began.”
–Mrs Jacobson [wife of the founding Pastor Rev. Jacobson]

The beginning of the war presaged a considerable movement of Swedes from Calgary to the United States and when Jacobson was eventually called to be the Superintendent of the Canadian Conference in 1915 the church was left without a resident pastor. Apart from some short term pastorates, all less than a year, the Church remained without a full time minister from 1915 until 1926. That year E. Gillstrom, who had previously been a missionary in China, accepted a call to Calgary. He remained as pastor until 1931. During this period the church was officially incorporated under the name “Scandinavian Mission Church” (1928) reflecting it’s still predominantly Swedish makeup. However in 1932, the first English services were begun in the church on Sunday nights as a way to reach out to the larger community and perhaps some of the second generation children. By 1937 the congregation had adopted English as the default language and in 1942 the name of the church was changed to “Mission Covenant Church”.

Move to Kensington 

Click any of the historical images above to see a description of their significance

With the community growing again a decision was made to start a Sunday school in the Kensington area on the north side of the river. It was to be called “Kensington Covenant Sunday School”. Four connected residential plots were purchased from the city for $2000 in 1952. Though the Kensington neighbourhood is now a core urban neighbourhood in the city, in the 1950s the north side of the river was largely farm and suburban real estate. Herman Hornstrom, one of the charter members of the church, was elected chair of the building committee and assisted in the initial architectural designs. By 1955 the new church was opened and the old building was put up for sale, with the community moving fully to the Kensington neighbourhood. In 1956 the 5th St building was sold for $40,000. Things were booming, and the city of Calgary was expanding rapidly in the post war period. The new church was well positioned in a fast growing neighbourhood. Only three years after the new church was opened an Extension Committee was formed in 1958 to explore the possibility of adding on to the building. During this period the name of the church was changed again in 1959 to “Evangelical Covenant Church of Calgary” to reflect the equivalent change in the name of the larger denomination. by 1960 the Kensington building was completely paid off and a renewed commitment to an extension was made. The “Christian Education wing” which included the gymnasium and new children’s classrooms was finished in 1962. The Kensington church grew rapidly becoming the largest church in the Canadian conference. Two attempts to plant Covenant churches from out the Kensington community were made however, both attempts folded in the 1980s. The Kensington church endured a split in the late 80s and continued to decline throughout the 90s and early 2000s when the church adopted the public name “Kensington Road Church” in an attempt to better connect with the surrounding neighbourhood. 

Original Kensington building 1955 alongside architectural drawing for proposed expansion 1962

Original Kensington building 1955 alongside architectural drawing for proposed expansion 1962

Commons Church

In 2014 a young community that was being planted out of Westside King’s Church in the SW of Calgary began discussions about joining the Covenant denomination. During these conversations introductions were made to the Kensington Road Church. After initially exploring the option of renting space from the church it was decided that perhaps a deeper partnership should be explored. A committee was formed by Kensington Road Church to explore the possibility of merging with this new church plant. In May of 2014 the 21 members Kensington Road Church voted unanimously to join with the new church plant and Commons Church was launched later that September. 

On the first week of the newly launched church over 300 people attended the first service. The next week a second Sunday service was added. By the first anniversary Commons had moved to three services and by the second Easter since launching the church had added a fourth Sunday service. Commons has begun actively working toward the launch of a second location here in the urban core of the city, perhaps in the nearby Bridgeland community, which would be a pleasant nod to the history of the original Swedish Sunday school started 1909. 

The Kensington Building today alongside a shot from the opening Sunday of Commons Church Sept 7, 2014

The Kensington Building today alongside a shot from the opening Sunday of Commons Church Sept 7, 2014


Partial Bibliography:

Joseph C. Danielson. “Varied Views from Covenant Home Mission,” Our Covenant 30 (1955): 53-70
Glenbow Museum. “Archives Photographs.” No Pages. Accessed Jul 5, 2016. Online: http://ww2.glenbow.org/search/archivesPhotosSearch.aspx
Peter Enns. The Sin of Certainty: Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our "Correct" Beliefs. New York: Harper Collins, 2016.
Donald C. Frisk. Covenant Affirmations: This We Believe. Chicago: Covenant Publications, 1981.
Keith C. Fullerton. One Hundred Years: The Evangelical Covenant Church in Canada. Winnipeg: The Evangelical Covenant Church in Canada, 2004. 
David Nyvall. “The Inspiration of the Bible,” The Covenant Quarterly May 1986. 5-28
Karl A. Olson. By One Spirit. Chicago: Covenant Press, 1962.
Soong Chan Rah. "An Inclusive Vision of the Church," Sojourners April 2009. Online: https://sojo.net/magazine/april-2009/inclusive-vision-church
P.P. Waldenstrom. “Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity,” in Covenant Roots: Sources and Affirmations 2nd Ed. ed. Glenn P. Anderson. Chicago: Covenant Publications. 1999.
Local historical documents including: Bulletin from the 50th Anniversary (1961), Bulletin from the Dedication of the Educational Unit (1962), Certificate of Incorporation under Alberta Religious Societies Act (2004), Special Congregational Meeting Minutes (May 2014), Annual General Meeting Minutes (2014).
Header Photo taken from "The Story of Our Youth" a report included in the bulletin produced for the 50th Anniversary