By: Greg Jonsson
This great San Juaquin valley, So aptly called the “Garden of the Sun”, has a rich and varied history. People of every nationality and religion have come, put down roots and striven to make this valley the agricultural wonderland it has become.
Our own little corner of this great valley, Kingsburg, was de-scribed by author Pauline Mathes, as “A Bit of Sweden in the Desert”. Beginning in the middle years of the decade of the 1880’s, Swedes began to pour into the area, encour-aged by real estate promot-ers such as F. D. Rosendahl.One such pro-moter was the Rev. J. F. Gilberg who was instrumen-tal in settling the Riverside Colony, an area north east of the town.Developing a colony seems to have been a common way of subdivid-ing large tracts of land into manageable family farms. Rev. Gilberg was also a pas-tor in the Swedish Mission Church, a denomination born out of the Swedish Lutheran State Church in a spirit of repentance and re-vival. This group was early on known as “Readers” , a people known for their love of studying the Bible as well as their great desire for not merely an association with their Creator but a personal relationship with Him. This is still the great desire of our congregation.
A great many farms in the “colony” were purchased by “Swedish Mission Friends” as they were called. Rev. Gilberg may be credited with this initial promotion, but word of mouth is always the best advertisement. Thus began the great influx of the Swedish people from the old country and also from many eastern and midwestern states. The farms rapidly filled with Swedish Ameri-can families.
By 1888 church meetings were being held in the homes of many local families and in 1890 it was decided that a formal church be formed. Thus Colony Covenant Church came to be.
The early years of the con-gregation were times of un-certainty and change. Meet-ings were held in homes and rental buildings in Kingsburg. Families came and went as they struggled to develop these new farms. Even the name of the church changed several times. In 1894 how-ever Rev Andrew Haller was called to pastor the young congregation and he continued the work begun by Rev. Gliberg with great zeal. Under his leadership a name was chosen under which to incorporate ” The Swedish Evangelical Mission Church of Kingsburg and Riverside” ( Den Svenska Evangeliska Missionsfösamlingen av Kingsburg och Riverside) This was quite a mouthful and we became commonly known as the Swedish Mis-sion Church. In 1944 the name was Americanized and shortened and became the Evangelical Colony Covenant Church.
Another great milestone for the church was the construction of the church building which was completed in April of 1895. While there have been many additions and improvements in the past 126 years we are still blessed to meet together each week in the same 1895 sanctuary our forefathers worshipped in.
This congregation like all others down through the years has sent sons to war, lost loved ones to pestilence and has struggled with the great changes in our community and society. Now we find ourselves in yet another era of great uncertainty and fear in our society, yet we don’t despair! Our hope is in our Creator, Savior, Redeemer, not His creation. While admittedly small as a congregation we serve a great and mighty God and we look forward to continuing to be used by God as a mirror of His light, love and hope in our community.