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Samuel Owen - Methodist Missionaries

Samuel Owen and his work with two Methodist missionaries

When Samuel Owen began his work against the extensive drinking of alcohol in Stockholm, he decided to act both remedially and constructively, the latter mainly by bringing here a missionary from the Wesleyan Methodist movement in England and by introducing their ideas. He had experienced what it had done in English cities.

In his autobiography Owen related that in 1796, he had visited a chapel in Birmingham belonging to the Methodist movement. He had been urged to do this by one of his supervisors called Dixon. In this chapel, a pastor Cooper held his farewell sermon, and Samuel Owen was deeply seized by the messages of the pastor.

The Wesleyan Methodist movement arose in England in the 1730s by the priests John and Charles Wesley and a group of their fellow students in Oxford. They wanted to create a vibrant Christianity that was not only a formal text but used the inherent power of the religion. They developed a special method of living which gave the movement its name: Methodism.  It included piety, renunciation and practical work.

After moving to Stockholm, Samuel Owen had not received any spiritual support. Here, there was no English church and no religious persons from his country. Especially after his matrimonial crime and divorce from his first wife, he felt a strong need for a change. During a trip to England in 1825, Owen made a visit to the Mission Secretary of the Wesleyan Methodists in London, Richard Watson, and discussed whether it was possible to get a missionary from this movement to Stockholm.

When Owen came back to Stockholm, he investigated if there were any formal barriers. He found that Swedish law did not allow any missionaries to come here to preach the gospel in their own way and try to save the Swedes. However, it was permitted for a parish of any existing faith to invite a preacher, a rule that was formed in the 1700s to allow Jews to practice their religion.  Owen felt that this special rule should be enough. He therefore wrote to the Wesleyan Missionary Committee and suggested that it should send over a minister to Stockholm. After slightly more than a year, the Missionary Committee fulfilled his wishes and the young pastor Joseph Rayner Stephens, who was born in Edinburgh 1805 and just 21 year old, came to Sweden. Stephens was received by Samuel Owen and got a lodging in his house. There he held his first sermon 19th November 1826.

The interest in Owen’s initiative was great, not only among the English-speaking employees at his workshop. Many other Englishmen in Stockholm had felt the need to listen to a preacher, among them the Ambassador Lord Bloomfield, the British Consul George Foy, and their families at the English Legation. It was now necessary to find a suitable room for sermons. Samuel Owen convinced Baron Carl De Geer to let them use a garden pavilion at his house in central Stockholm. There, a first church service was held on December 3rd 1826.

Joseph Stephens preached at both this and several following church services in English. He learned so quickly the Swedish language that on the Advent Sunday, December 2nd 1827, he held a sermon in Swedish. To meet the requirement that church services would be for their own faith community, Joseph Stephens formed a mini-parish with only seven members. The first of them was Samuel Owen. The other six were his son Samuel Owen Junior, his daughters Frances Peilhart and Mary Anne Owen, the Countess Schwerin, Elizabeth Hamberg and the captain of the steamer Yngwe-Frey, Carl Eric Tharmouth.

Some leaders of the Lutheran Church in Stockholm soon began criticizing Joseph Stephens for his preaching in Swedish, which they meant was not permissible. He therefore ended this during the spring 1829. Joseph Stephens’s commitment here ended in November 1829. He went back home where he worked actively in the fight against the Church of England.

The new pastor George Scott

Samuel Owen and others in Stockholm were keen to get a new pastor and contacted the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. In July 15th 1830, the Society appointed Pastor George Scott to continue their missionary achievements in Stockholm. From their manager Mr. Morley in London, he was informed that he was expected to stay in Stockholm four years.

George Scott was born in Edinburgh June 18th 1804. In November 1827 he begun to write detailed diaries, which are now kept in the Uppsala University Library collections in Sweden. The reason for these diaries was probably that his first wife Elisabeth, born Masson, was ill and died on New Year’s Eve.

On July 18th 1830, George Scott went from Limehouse to Stockholm on a schooner named Emanuel, managed by a Captain Nilsson. The voyage was dramatic, with both hard winds and no wind at all, but on August 5th, the schooner anchored in the harbor of Stockholm. Here, at 8 o’clock the 26 year old George Scott should climb into a small boat, but an accident happened that could have taken his life. Climbing into the boat, he leaned against the rail of the schooner. As a result, the boat moved out and George Scott fell into the water. Fortunately, he had got one leg into the boat and could be pulled up. Certainly, George Scott thanked God for the salvation and felt that he had got extra energy for his coming work in Stockholm. He pointed out that the name Emanuel means “God with us”.

Like his predecessor, George Scott got a lodging in Samuel Owen’s house and was engaged to work as a tutor for Owen’s children. Like Joseph Stephens, he had good contact with the English Ambassador Lord Bloomfield and other Englishmen in Stockholm.

On September 27th 1830, George Scott restarted the Methodist parish by giving out five new membership cards. In this parish were three members from Stephen’s time, but the parish was never big and had maximum 19 members. Still, Scott counted himself as a real parson and committed weddings of several pairs, among them in May 1831 Samuel Owen Junior and Elizabeth Adams who was a daughter of one of Samuel Owen’s factory managers. He also baptized children, although he had no formal right to this type of acts.

Like his predecessor, George Scott learned the Swedish language in a short time, and in November 2nd 1831, he started preaching in Swedish.  He gathered Swedish audiences for sermons, Bible explanations and prayer meetings.

In March 1831, George Scott started writing letters to Miss Janet (Jessie) Kelley, and soon he proposed to her. She later came over to Stockholm to meet him here.

Scott had already in England started work against drunkenness, and in Stockholm he and Samuel Owen made several actions, similar to the American Temperance-Societies.

The garden pavilion where the Methodists held their first sermons soon became too small.  George Scott began planning to build a real church, and in the spring of 1837 he traveled to England and collected 1 550 pounds for the construction costs which were projected to be in total 2 000 pounds.

Samuel Owen and George Scott found a suitable place for a church building at the corner of the streets Grytgjutaregränden and Östra Beridarebansgatan near Hötorget, the Haymarket of Stockholm. They wrote to the main building authorities and asked to get permission to buy this piece of land and build a chapel.

The building authorities asked the leaders of the Lutheran Church in Stockholm about their opinion. They answered that were worried about the extended actions of George Scott and did not want any meetings competing with those of the Swedish Lutheran Church. Hence, they required that sermons should only be held for English citizens, maybe also for Swedes born in England, and only in the English Language. In addition, not more than one sermon should be held every Sunday.

Still, the building authorities concluded that the law of January 1781 accepted that foreign parishes could build their own churches here. Hence, in November 1838 the English congregation got the right to buy this piece of land and build a chapel, without any more requirements that the Swedish building laws should be followed.

On January 22nd 1839, the building authorities of Stockholm accepted the selling of this piece of land for 6 000 riksdaler banco, the currency in Sweden at this time, and as a buyer was noted The English Conference for the Wesleyan Methodists.

Already in the beginning of 1838, George Scott had asked the well-known architect Axel Nyström to make a plan for the new chapel and an adjacent house. Scott was not satisfied with Nyström’s plan and contacted the architect Robert Blackwood who came from Scotland.

Owen and Scott sent Blackwood’s plans to the building authorities on February 14th 1839, but these authorities suggested some changes with more decorations and smaller windows.

Samuel Owen and George Scott answered and criticized these suggestions. They pointed out that the church should be based upon the ideas of the Wesleyan Methodism. An example was the Wesleyan Methodist Church at the City Road in London, built by John Wesley in 1778. The decorations suggested looked very much like the decorations on the Newgate Prison in London, and they wanted larger windows in the top floor so that the Church Room would be brighter.

The final plan was made by the chief building authority Fredrik Blom and was close to Robert Blackwood’s first sketch. Robert Blackwood was then engaged by Scott and Owen to lead the construction work, and he moved to Stockholm in 1840. The last sermon in the old place was held in August 16th 1840, and on October 24th 1840 the new Wesleyan Methodist English church was used for the first time.

The church’s main room had seats for 1 100 persons. It had galleries, supported by eleven iron columns, probably from Samuel Owen’s foundry. There was a lectern in the front but no altar and no pulpit. The upstairs rooms could be leased for various purposes.

In the new church, sermons were held in both English and Swedish.  The activities increased so much than George Scott asked the Wesleyan Methodists to send an English assistant, but they considered it better for Scott to have a Swedish preacher.  A friend of George Scott was Carl Olof Rosenius, who had started studies of theology in Uppsala 1838 but cancelled them, partly of economical reasons. He had met George Scott in August 1839 for help with religious doubts.

George Scott asked Rosenius if he would take the role of assistant and got a positive response. As a result, Carl Olof Rosenius preached in the English church for the first time on the Sunday after Christmas 1840 and thus began a long standing activity as a preacher in this church.

To raise money for the church and its activities, George Scott made a couple of journeys abroad. One of them was to England and America in 1841. There, he held a speech on the abuse drinking in Stockholm but also on what had been done to improve the situation.  In the audience were two Swedes who described his speech in a malicious way in letters to Sweden. As a result, several newspapers started to slander Pastor Scott and spread malicious rumors about him. Later, his opponents started a major campaign against Scott’s activities. On the streets of the city, they sold a ridiculous posture of him, comparing him with the Jesuits.

On Palm Sunday 1842 a great riot took place outside the church. In a report, George Scott told that a lot of violent persons had been cheering and stomping and disturbed the meeting so much that the preacher had to disrupt the sermon. Hence, he decided to cancel all sermons in Swedish until after Easter, to avoid disturbances.

The newspaper Aftonbladet, which earlier had defended his work, now supported the critics on April 21st 1842. George Scott answered by writing a letter to the paper where he pointed out that he never asked permission to preach in Swedish, because he was not aware of any law prescribing which languages he should use in his sermons.

Scott had intended to hold the next church service in Swedish on April 24 1842, but the governor Count Lewenhaupt issued a ban on all further sermons in Swedish in this church.

To be preaching only for the few English-speaking in Stockholm in a church with seating for 1 100 persons would be meaningless. In addition, bullying continued. The church was closed, and Scott went back to England.

In England, George Scott resumed his work in the Wesleyan Methodist Church, but he also held lectures in six passages on the religion in Sweden, from the heathen days to the present days. They are now kept in the Uppsala University Library.

The decision by the governor was appealed, but the government of King Carl XIV Johan decided in January 1843 that the ban would apply. One of their motives was that there was no real Methodist parish in Stockholm, another one that George Scott could not show any permit to preach in Swedish. Still, there was no law or regulation requiring such permits.

In the summer of 1843, a rumor was spread that The English Conference for the Wesleyan Methodists was considering selling their church in Stockholm. To prevent this, a protest action was started. A letter with many signatures was sent to the Conference in August 1843 and pleaded that the planned sale would be postponed.  The writers of the letter hoped that the time would soon come when the church could be used again and Pastor Scott or some other similar teacher could come back to Stockholm.

There was no sale, but it took nine years until the church was reopened for the general public. Meanwhile, the wholesale dealer Keyser guarded the church so that in was not damaged. The ban on preaching in Swedish in this church remained, but P. M. Elmblad started 1851 with Bible explanations, which was not regarded illegal.

The next step to reopen the church was taken by Carl Olof Rosenius. He contacted the Conference for the Wesleyan Methodists, and they answered that the church could be bought for 24 000 riksdaler banko. In January 1854,  Rosenius, Count Torsten Rudenschiöld and the Doctor of Theology Peter Fjellstedt sent out invitations to subscribe shares in an association which would take over the church, but in September 1854 they had only collected 3 150 riksdaler. The Wesleyans in England lowered the desired amount to 16 000 riksdaler, and eight persons promised to stand for the remainder.

A purchase agreement was already reached in August 1854 between the Wesleyan Methodists in England and the new Society for purchase of the English Church. The statute stated that the church  should only be used for ”explanation and consideration of the Holy Words of God or other worships, and messages, lectures and considerations in full accordance with the confessions of the Swedish Lutheran Church”.

As a result, the church was no longer a free church and got the name the Bethlehem Church. A pulpit was set up. A common preacher in the church was Carl Olof Rosenius. Among the many persons who visited the church was the author August Strindberg. He wrote in his book Tjänstekvinnans son, here translated: ”Rosenius looked like peace and beamed with heavenly joy. He admitted that although he was an old sinner, Jesus had purified him and now he was happy. He looked happy. Was it possible that there was a happy man.”

The Bethlehem Church continued to be driven by a special association which in 1930 took the name The Direction for the Bethlehem Church Foundation.

Plans for a complete remodeling of the lower part of Norrmalm became a new threat to the church. The city’s leading planners and politicians had no respect for the church and other cultural buildings in this area and that they ought to be preserved. In 1952 the Direction for the Bethlehem Church Foundation wrote to the housing committee of Stockholm and asked that the church should be protected as a cultural reserve. Still, the Bethlehem church was taken over to be demolished, and October 11th 1953 the last sermon was held here.

Then, the author Alf Henriksson wrote in the journal Dagens Nyheter, here translated:

”When Samuel Owen had built the steam-boat ready, he began considering the soul of the passengers.

And he got from his home country a good missionary, a capable Methodist, George Scott by name, who gathered money among the believers in England to build the Bethlehem church in Stockholm.

And then, to foreign brethrens he said that the Swedes were drinking, that the religious Swedes were drinking. The public anger rose like a mighty wave coming from all small restaurants in Klara, and the upper-class drunkards started shouting:  Jesuit! A foreign threat to the Lutheran Church!

One spring Sunday, the Swedes went out using harsh words against the foreign man in the Bethlehem church. They threw stones through the windows against his pulpit and drew him away until he fled to his country and never came back.

And there, he may have thought that instead to Sweden, he should have gone to inner Basutoland as a preacher of the Holy Words.

Extract from the book “Samuel Owen – The Engineering and Steam Engine Pioneer”,

written by Arne Sundstrom in 2009:  these pages translated into English by Arne Sundstrom

Stockholm, Sweden

August 2010

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