A Church Family Member Remembers
by Ann-Helen Anderson
September 15, 1941 was a beautiful, warm day in Chicago. On that day the Edgebrook Evangelical Mission Covenant Church was dedicated to God’s service in its new home. New home? Where was it before? The congregation transplanted itself from Humboldt Park in Chicago, an area where its ministry to the community was waning. After years of prayer and hard work, the Humboldt Park parent congregation broke ground in the then-sparsely populated Edgebrook community and proceeded to build a church (now our Chapel), trusting God to grow the church and bless the neighborhood. Pastor Titus N. Pohl (1936-1944) presided over the ground breaking and chapel dedicatory services.
A stirring account of the details of acquiring the land, building the chapel, and dedicating it to God’s glory and service to the community was written for our 50th anniversary celebration by Elmer Sundberg, elder statesman of Edgebrook Covenant Church. Thanks to Elmer for his wonderful words, which help me write an updated history of our church.
The Chapel served well during the tentative years of the Second World War. Anyone who has studied population growth trends knows that in the United States, the “baby boom” began after the conclusion of that war. Edgebrook also boomed, when many young families built homes in the attractive, country-like setting (some streets still lack curbs and some alleys still aren’t paved—this was not oversight, but intentional) that was served by the Peterson Avenue bus and the Milwaukee Road commuter train. As might be expected we soon outgrew the Chapel; the Sanctuary with Sunday school rooms, Fellowship Hall and offices was dedicated in 1951. Pastor Raymond Johnson (1948-1954) with his wife Vivian and daughters Gretchen and Karin served in the new church building; he had been preceded by Pastor Clarence Forsberg (1945-1948) and a few interim pastors, among them our beloved Rev. Wesley Nelson.
In the fifties the church and the community grew and grew and grew! The interim pastor who served after Pastor Johnson was Rev. Rodney Holmberg. Pastor Holmberg recruited a young North Park Seminary couple, Willard and Margaret Grant, to serve as youth counselors. The Grants launched their children’s ministry, Creative Evangelism Inc., in the summer of 1955. For five nights the Chapel was transformed into an Indian village (children entered through a large pink teepee constructed over the double doors to the Chapel). Wearing Indian headbands with feathers (one feather was placed in the headband for each night attendance), the children sang, listened to stories, watched marionettes on a stage act out a story, and heard the Gospel. At the end of each night, before leaving (and turning in their headbands), the young “braves” were given the opportunity to accept Jesus into their hearts. I was one of those children—I kept my Indian headband for many years, and more years than that Jesus has lived in my heart. Our church was headquarters for the Grants until the 1970’s when they moved Creative Evangelism, Inc. to Clifton, Kansas. Their ministry, spanning over four decades and many themes, has reached thousands of children for the Lord. Willard and Margaret Grant live in Turlock, California, still active in children’s evangelism in retirement.
A young Minnesotan, Clifford W. Bjorklund, came in 1955 and served until 1967. Cliff and June Bjorklund, Sally and Scott, were the first occupants of our parsonage on Nokomis Avenue. Our congregation continued to grow (over 300 members!) and serve the community with Sunday morning and evening services, Wednesday night children’s ministry (Trailblazers, led for years by Naomi and Fridolf Carl Pearson), junior hi-league, prayer meeting, and choir practice, and Sunday evening senior hi-league. The church choir, directed by Dr. Wayne Balch, head of music at North Park College, was large, filling the choir loft. The sanctuary was often filled to overflowing, necessitating chairs in the narthex (the windows at back of sanctuary do open!). Many volunteers from the congregation taught our children in Sunday school and led junior and senior hi-league. Young North Park seminarians were often recruited as youth leaders. A notable hi-league counselor and pastoral intern in the 1960’s was Dr. G. Timothy Johnson, now of ABC broadcasting fame. Tim and Nancy were married in our sanctuary!
Pastor Bjorklund, an able administrator, did not escape the notice of Covenant headquarters. He was elected Secretary of the Covenant in 1967 and served until his death in 1986. Our congregation, needing a pastor, was served well in the interim by a friend and neighbor, Dr. Joseph C. Danielson, who had just retired as Director of Home Missions for the Covenant. Pastor Joe led us as we searched for a new pastor and was so dear, we asked him to be honorary Pastor Emeritus of Edgebrook Covenant Church.
We called Rev. Robert E. Liljegren and he answered, becoming pastor in July 1968 and serving until spring 1980. Bob and Mary Lou, Joy, Joanne and Steven, made many friends in our community. In the 1970’s, the population growth of suburbs north of Chicago claimed many of our members. Pastor Bob once remarked that in his service at Edgebrook, our congregation had almost turned over, with many families joining the new Northbrook Covenant Church. A wonderful event occurred in 1975, when we joyfully welcomed the entire congregation from First Covenant Church. Many factors compelled them to close the church at Albion and Artesian Avenues in Chicago, and they looked for a church they could call home. Many of these “merged” brothers and sisters are with the Lord, after serving First and then Edgebrook—and some (Doris Ahlstedt, Ruth Anderson, Vaughn Anderson, Marjorie M. Carlson, Paul and Nancy Edison, Louise Freeman, Ray and Ruth Johnson, Ralph and Peggy Kingsley, and Helen Turnquist) are still with us!
The ministry of music at Edgebrook is memorable. Many able organists and choir directors have served our congregation, among them Axel Hagstrom (the author’s grandfather!), Ivar Josephson, Ronald and Velma Lagerstrom, Wayne Balch, Ralph Patterson, Florence Clauson, and Randy Nelson. To honor the United States in its bicentennial year 1976, Florence Clauson played, and the choir sang, only music of American composers the entire year. Randy Nelson, our current minister of music, has logged nineteen years of service at Edgebrook. His colleague Michael Doucette, sexton, has passed the thirteen year mark in service.
The eighties saw three short-lived pastorates: Karl and Connie Johnson, Karla and Carleton (1980-1983); Craig and Dotty Anderson, Heather and Dawn (1984-1988); and Philip and Evonne Stenberg (1989-1993). Klyne Snodgrass served as interim preacher after Pastor Johnson, and Karen Palmatier was interim after Pastor Anderson—a first at Edgebrook, having a woman in the senior pastor role, albeit interim. North Park Seminary graduate Steve Hickey and retired Covenant pastor Edmund Train served as interim pastors following Pastor Stenberg. Many members and friends of Edgebrook carry memories of and maintain friendships with these dear pastors.
By 1991, our congregation’s fiftieth anniversary, Edgebrook Covenant Church had joined with Edgebrook Evangelical Free Church in presenting Vacation Bible School for the entire community. This ministry, led since 1990 by Mary Doucette and Chris Anderson of Edgebrook Free, has grown and touches many young lives in our neighborhood. Last month, Mary and Chris and volunteers who call Covenant and Free churches home (and some who call Lutheran, Catholic, Episcopal, and Community churches home) conducted VBS number twelve in the joint venture. One mother remarked to Mary, “this is what makes the children happy; my daughter says she loves to praise the Lord.” We do, too!
The mid-nineties saw the arrival of Gregory and Charlotte Mesimore, Nathaniel and Charlie to serve our church. Pastor Mesimore (or “Pastor Greg”—aren’t we casual these days?) oversees his flock with tender loving care and innovative ideas: Café Eutychus, the Chapel transformed into a welcoming coffee house/entertainment venue; participation in the “50 Day Spiritual Adventure;” annual Christmas Open House at the parsonage, always a crowd pleaser; and a church mission statement “Committed to Christ, Callling to Community.”
We have said good-bye to many dear friends. The Covenant Village of Northbrook contingent of Edgebrook has gone from eighteen in 1994 to six this year. Moves by young, up-and-coming church leaders, necessitated by job changes, have resulted in long, long commutes—or reluctant transfers from our church. We continue to benefit from the proximity of North Park University and Theological Seminary as students worship with us (we count over sixty clergy alumni in sixty years—and there’s no let up!). Women have come into their own in church leadership at Edgebrook—the author is the third female church chairperson since 1994. We’re in the twenty-first century, complete with our own fax machine, e-mail addresses and church web site. We continue to cope with twentieth-century problems of no parking lot and basement flooding (some things never change!).
What is ahead for Edgebrook Evangelical Covenant Church? An all-church mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico at the end of this year, if the Lord allows. More opportunities for worship, service, and outreach. As the church executive board concluded at the end of a “prayer walk” through the neighborhood and the church building just one week ago:
God lives in our hearts, and He also lives at Spokane and Leoti Avenues in Chicago.
September 16, 2001
60th Anniversary Planning Committee
The members of the 60th Anniversary Planning Committee represent each decade in Edgebrook, not particularly by design, but by interesting coincidence. We are:
Ann-Helen Anderson, born to Jack and Lydia (Hagstrom) Anderson, a third-generation member of the congregation.
Virginia Ware, who started attending Edgebrook Sunday school when her parents bought a house on Nokomis Avenue across the alley from church.
Mary Agnello Doucette, oldest of six daughters of Peter and Barbara Agnello, married at Edgebrook in 1962, and Michael Doucette, grafted into the Agnello clan by marriage to Mary at Edgebrook in 1984.
Ruth Johnson, one of our First Covenant merged members, serving with us since 1975.
Keith Bakken, who began attending Edgebrook with his fiancée Laurie Elowson as North Park students, sent by Edgebrook as a young married couple on short-term nursing assignment to Zaire, later serving short-term with children Desiree, Julia and Tommy in Cameroon, West Africa. Nancy Senatore, who with husband Tony and children Natalie and Michael, found a home at Edgebrook.
Pastor Greg Mesimore, who led Edgebrook into the 21st Century.