Weaving the fabric of Minnesota
"The faith of immigrants from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Kenya, Tanzania, and elsewhere has shaped and continues to shape the character of Minnesota," writes nominator Kenath Harris. "Some of our state's most famous institutions--schools, colleges, universities, and hospitals--are a result of people acting out of their Lutheran faith. Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota has even shaped the culture of the state by helping to bring refugees from around the world."
The story of Lutheran Social Service, now Minnesota's largest statewide social service organization, begins with the work of Eric Norelius, a Swedish Lutheran minister who established congregations in Minnesota and Illinois. He was also one of the founders of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. In 1865, Norelius made a life-changing visit to St. Paul, which he later described in his autobiography: "I was notified that a family from Dalarna, Mikola Erik Erikson and his wife, had recently come from Sweden and both had died and left four children in a destitute and defenseless position. Asked if I had any advice regarding these children, it was as if a voice said to me: take them home with you. And I took them home to Red Wing, where I lived then.
"The following Sunday, I took the children with me to church service . . . and it was obvious that they needed care, clothes, and food. The congregation was immediately ready to take a collection for this purpose. The next step was to find a caretaker for the children and a place to live. The latter was found in the space under the church in Vasa, and the former found in Mrs. Brita Nilson, a devout and religious woman who came from Stockholm, Wisconsin."
Out of the Vasa congregation's generosity grew the Vasa Lutheran Home for Children and eventually Lutheran Social Service. Owned by the six state synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the organization's mission is to express the love of Christ through its services.
Over the years, Lutheran Social Service has adapted its programs to meet the changing needs of its constituents. After World War II, its members began sponsoring displaced persons from Eastern Europe. In the 1950s, Lutheran Social Service orphanages were converted into homes for mentally challenged children and at-risk teens. In the early 1970s, Lutheran Social Service responded to the needs of political refugees from Africa and Asia by sponsoring their resettlement in Minnesota. In the 1980s, AIDS ministries were formed. Today, after 140 years of service, Lutheran Social Service employs more than 2,100 people in 300 communities throughout Minnesota.
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