Celebrating 165 years—and the best is yet to come

Scott Ridout, President
NewsCelebrating 165 years—and the best is yet to come

In 1844, a group of women from the Baptist churches in New York City petitioned their leaders to start a ministry to reach sailors who visited the New York ports. They established First Baptist Mariners Church and chartered a ship called Zion and its 13 crew members to sail the Atlantic with the gospel. Fredrik Nilsson, a Swedish sea captain, had adopted Baptist views and began his evangelistic efforts toward the people of Sweden. During this time, the Swedish state church had strong penalties toward Swedes who held to Baptist views, including fines and imprisonment. In Nilsson’s case, because he was so evangelistic, he was banned from the country and resided in Copenhagen, but made frequent trips to evangelize his people and other priests. Religious persecution and economic opportunity led many Swedes to flee to North America.

In 1852, Gustaf Palmquist emigrated from Sweden to the United States. A lay school teacher, Nilsson’s teaching had moved Palmquist toward Baptist views, and he was invited to come and establish a Baptist congregation in the new world. Palmquist was baptized June 27, 1852, in Galesburg, Illinois, ordained a month later and then opened his first church on August 13, 1852. There, he and three others whom he baptized that day organized a Swedish Baptist church in Rock Island, Illinois.

Fredrik Nilsson arrived in America the next year with 21 immigrants. Some of these united with the Rock Island church, while others organized a church at Houston, Minnesota. Nilsson, joined by Anders Wiberg, a Swedish priest also converted to Baptist views by Nilsson, traveled widely, founding and strengthening churches among Swedes dispersed across the Midwest. By the time Palmquist returned to Sweden six years later, the trio had started nine churches totaling 247 people.

In 1879, when the Swedish churches had grown to 65 in number, they formed a General Conference of Swedish Baptists. By the 1940s the members of these churches had assimilated into American society and gradually lost their separate ethnic identity. As a result, they dropped the word “Swedish” from their name and became the Baptist General Conference. In 2008, this group, which has continued to expand its reach, chose to rename itself as Converge.

Today, Converge consists of over 1300 churches spread across almost every state and missionaries in 35+ countries around the world. This group has displayed commitment to the same values for 165 years. Rooted in a personal walk with Christ, committed to biblical living, driven with evangelistic fervor, led by courageous leadership through the power of the Holy Spirit and convinced we are better together, Converge exists to help people meet, know and follow Jesus through starting and strengthening churches together worldwide. What began with a Swedish heritage has transformed into a great multicultural movement.

As we move forward, may we continue to be convinced of the power of the gospel to change lives. May God use us to transform our communities through starting new churches, our congregations through strengthening disciples and our world through sending out our best leaders.

May all thanks be to God for the work he has done in and through the churches of Converge for the past 165 years. Happy Anniversary, Converge! By God’s grace the best is yet to come.

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Whether you’re a lay leader, nurse, businessman, student, pastor or missionary, you have a part to play in Converge’s vision. God has designed us to live for something bigger than ourselves. We are better together, and the best is yet to come. Get connected to the next 10 years.

    Point - Summer 2017

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