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Sweden festivities note 150-year anniversary

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GAVLE, Sweden — During festivities held here July 25-26, Church members marked the 150th anniversary of the first baptism in Sweden. Peter Forsgren, the first Scandinavian convert, joined the Church July 26, 1850.

Brother Forsgren was baptized by his brother, John E. Forsgren, a Swedish seaman who joined the Church in Boston, Mass., and then moved to Nauvoo, Ill., to be with the Saints.

After migrating to the Salt Lake Valley with the pioneers, he answered a mission call to Sweden, going first to his hometown of Gavle (pronounced "YEV-luh"), where he healed his brother, Peter, by the power of the priesthood and baptized him a member of the Church.

After baptizing a few more converts, Elder Forsgren was arrested and banished from the country for preaching.

From this beginning, the Church in Sweden has grown to the point that there are now a temple and four stakes in the country.

Despite inclement weather, the sesquicentennial was observed with a series of events that garnered full-page coverage in two local newspapers and a television report, according to public affairs missionaries Alf and Betty Bostrom.

Nine Forsgren family descendants arrived from the United States for the celebration, which included a musical concert on July 25, featuring professional and non-professional artists delivering a variety of spiritual, country, classical and popular music. Among them were two of the three Herrey Brothers who, in the 1980s, were considered the "Osmonds of Sweden." They were the top singing trio in Sweden and Europe during that time period.

Also featured in the concert were the local Ove Rosen family with their 10 children, who played a variety of stringed instruments, including the youngest, 5, who played a junior-sized cello.

Bengt and Ann Sofie Emanuelsson, Jacobsberg Ward in Stockholm, were the masters of ceremonies. They told about the Articles of Faith and why they were written by Joseph Smith. Each of the thirteen articles was read between the performances. The evening ended with the Gavle Branch Primary children singing "I Am a Child of God" and a missionary chorus singing "Called to Serve."

The concert was scheduled to be performed in one of the most popular parks in Gavle, but the weather drove it indoors to the Gavle Branch meetinghouse. "If the storm had not been so furious and the show had been given in the park as planned, there possibly would have been thousands in attendance," the Bostroms wrote.

On the morning of July 26, a group of 25 missionaries, together with members young and old, went around the city inviting all to come join the John Forsgren walk from the harbor to the old Forsgren homestead to the county courthouse and back to the harbor.

Depicting Elder Forsgren, Bishop Hakan Palm of the Gubangen Ward led the group and narrated the story of the first baptism. "Hundreds were in attendance, carrying umbrellas in a downpour of rain and enjoying every minute of it," the Bostroms commented.

At the Forsgren home, Peter Sjokvist and Beatrice Soderlund portrayed Peter and Kristina Forsgren in a short play depicting the healing of Peter and the conversions to the Church. Elder Bostrom gave a short talk on the Plan of Salvation and how this message is the same today as at the time of Elder Forsgren.

At the courthouse, a missionary group of 25 again sang "Called to Serve," and about 20 Primary children sang "I Am a Child of God." Stockholm Sweden Stake President Gosta Korlof spoke on the growth and organization of the Church. Also, Ingrid Nilsson of the Stockholm Sweden South Stake, dressed in a Swedish folk costume, spoke on the subject of why families are important and the Proclamation on the Family published by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve.

At the harbor, closing services included a final talk and review given by Bishop Palm.

The next day, July 27, was a highlight of good will, as all the Forsgren descendants, Gavle Branch President Tapani Heikki, Elder and Sister Bostrom, Bishop and Sister Palm, and Church magazine writer Birgitta Karlfeldt were hosted at a luncheon by city and county leaders.

At the luncheon, the possibility was discussed of erecting a monument in memory of the first baptism in Scandinavia by Elder Forsgren. It was suggested that it be placed on the city-owned lot that already has historical significance stemming from the 1700s and adjoins the Forsgren home. The proposal was met with enthusiasm by city representatives. Elder and Sister Bostrom will be following up with the city and the Forsgren family to further pursue the possibility.

In addition to local media coverage, approximately 35 articles were printed around the country highlighting the observance, and a 40-minute national radio report was broadcast pertaining to the sesquicentennial of the Church in Sweden.