Petersen, Ole Peter

Founder Of Norwegian Methodism And Co-Founder Of Norwegian-American Methodism

Methodism in Norway owes its introduction to a single founder, Ole Peter Petersen. As a young Norwegian sailor, Petersen had his first contact with the Methodists in Boston in 1843. The next three years brought much serious reflection and a strong feeling of spiritual need. In 1846 he responded to an altar call by Olof Gustaf Hedström, Swedish pastor of the Bethel Ship Mission in New York Harbor. On a sea voyage thereafter, in March of 1846, his soul found peace. Petersen returned to Norway to marry.

In 1850, Petersen returned with his new bride to America. Through the influence of Hedström, he was made a Local Preacher in 1851. Shortly thereafter Bishop E. S. Janes sent him as a missionary to the Norwegians in upper Iowa. He preached the first Methodist sermon in the US in Norwegian at Washington Prairie, Iowa.

Meanwhile, Norwegians were appealing to Hedström and to the Missionary Society for Petersen or someone equally well qualified to come to Norway and preach to them. Bishop Waugh recalled Petersen from Iowa and assigned him as a missionary to Norway. He ordained Petersen both deacon and elder on July 31, 1853. In December he arrived in Fredrikstad, Norway. Petersen gather Methodist converts there, leading them through the process of separating from the state-sponsored Lutheran church.

Petersen spent the rest of his career leading Norwegian Methodism on both sides of the Atlantic. As one point, Petersen became associated with Hedström as assistant pastor of the Bethel Ship Mission. A Norwegian-Danish mission was organized and afterward a Methodist Society was formed under the name “Bethelskib Norske Methodist-menighet,” the Bethelship Norwegian Methodist Church.

Adapted by David W. Scott from Wade Crawford Barclay, History of Methodist Missions, Vol. 3: Widening Horizons, 1845-95. (New York: The Board of Missions of The Methodist Church, 1957), 279, 933-938.

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