Skip to main content

Carl August Björk Records

Identifier: 1/2/1


  • 1867-1922


Conditions Governing Access

There are no access restrictions on the materials and the collection is open to all members of the public. However, the researcher assumes full responsibility for conforming with the laws of libel, privacy, and copyright that may be involved in the use of this collection.


1.7 Linear Feet (4 containers)

Biographical / Historical

Carl August Björk, first president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, was born on July 30, 1837 in Södra Ralingsås, Lommaryd Parish, Jönköpings län. His parents were Sven and Anna Christina Svensson, a relatively poor farm couple, and he was the youngest of five children. When he was eleven years old he was apprenticed to a nearby cobbler. He soon rose to the status of master and employed four apprentices of his own. Seeking more economic security, he joined the Jönköping Infantry Regiment in 1856 as a reserve soldier. For the next eight years he served the army for several weeks a year, continuing otherwise to work at his trade.

The turning point in Björk's life came in 1862, when he was converted to Christianity during a Rosenian revival in his district. He soon lost interest in his military career, and in 1864 he resigned from his regiment and emigrated to Swede Bend, Iowa, experiencing some adventures along the way. While resuming his work as a cobbler, he quickly became a spiritual leader in the area, gathering friends and neighbors for conventicles similar to those held by the Rosenians in Sweden. Encouraged by his fellow believers, he became a lay preacher in 1867 and helped in the following year to found a congregation of Swedish Mission Friends in the area, the first of its kind in America. He also began to raise a family, having married Johanna Christina Boman in 1866.

Björk became increasingly involved in mission work among the Swedes, which subsequently expanded rapidly as many thousands more of them settled in the Midwest. In 1869 he served as a delegate to a mission meeting sponsored by the North Side Mission Association of Chicago. The following year he resigned as pastor of the Swede Bend congregation to become an itinerant preacher with the newly organized Iowa Missionary Association. He also received a ministerial license from the newly organized Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Association of Chicago and was ordained by the Rev. J. M. Sanngren of the Lutheran Northern Illinois Synod (organizational boundaries apparently being ill-defined at the time). For the next several years he travelled throughout Iowa, helping to found new congregations, while his family remained in Swede Bend. In 1873 he joined Sanngren and a number of other leaders to establish the Swedish Lutheran Mission Synod, one of the organizational precursors to the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Björk's rise to prominence as a mission leader accelerated in the late 1870s. In 1877 he accepted a temporary call from the North Side Mission Church of Chicago, which soon became permanent. The following year he replaced Sanngren, who died in September of tuberculosis, as president of the Mission Synod. At the same time he experienced dramatic changes in his family life. His wife Johanna died in 1876, leaving him with four children: Ida, Selma, Albert, and Victor. Two years later he married a member of his North Side congregation, Augusta Peterson, with whom he subsequently had four more children: August, Teresia (died at age 12), David, and Carl.

As president of the Mission Synod, Björk sought to strengthen its organizational and theological integrity against a variety of forces. Almost immediately upon assuming his office, he rejected an offer of union with another Swedish mission organization, the Ansgar Synod, insisting that a merger could take place only on the Mission Synod's terms. He also struggled against a rising hostility among the Swedish Mission Friends to all forms of denominational organization, inspired chiefly by an increasingly popular form of pre-millenarian theology. The culmination of his efforts was the organization of the Evangelical Covenant Church (initially the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant Church of America), by which the Mission Synod mostly absorbed the remnants of the Ansgar Synod, overcame the opposition of the Evangelical Free Church (where many of the anti-denominational Mission Friends had congregated), and established itself as a more centralized organization. Björk served as chairman of the organizational meeting in February, 1885 and was subsequently elected president of the new denomination.

Björk's Covenant presidency lasted 25 years, becoming a full-time position in 1895 (previously he had remained as pastor of the North Side Mission Church). His administrative style focused primarily on his chairmanship of the annual meetings and advocacy of the denomination's central institutions, leaving the detail of organizational management to his executive secretaries (particularly David Nyvall). Under his leadership the denomination initially grew rapidly, expanding from 46 original member congregations to 145 in 1900. Many of its chief institutions were also founded at this time, including mission programs in Alaska and China, North Park College and Theological Seminary, and the Bowmanville Home of Mercy.

The last ten years of his presidency, however, were more troubled. Denominational growth declined as Swedish immigration fell and domestic mission fields became increasingly scarce. A number of institutional conflicts also afflicted the denomination, chief of which was the litigation over ownership of the Number Nine Above gold mine in Alaska, initiated with Björk's support by the denomination at the 1903 Annual Meeting. This litigation cost the denomination dearly in expenses, lost contributions, and--perhaps most importantly--internal strife. Therefore when Björk resigned the presidency in 1910 (a controversial event in itself), the Covenant faced an insecure future despite the relatively strong institutional foundation it had established.

After his resignation, Björk spent his last years at North Park, making occasional preaching journeys as his health permitted. He died at his home on October 16, 1916. His memorial service was held at the North Side Mission Church, after which he was buried in Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago. On July 25, 1937, the100th anniversary of his birth was celebrated at North Park College, and a monument to him was dedicated four days later at the Covenant Church in Swede Bend, Iowa.

Written by Chuck Strom

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelical Covenant Church and North Park University Archives Repository

North Park University
Brandel Library - Lower Level
3225 W Foster Ave Box 38
Chicago IL 60625 USA