First Covenant Church of Fort Dodge, Iowa began ministering to the local community in the late 19th century, under the name Swedish Mission church. As many Swedes had come to America seeking a better life and to improve their economic life, they also experienced freedom from State church requirements. A group of these people “settled on the west bank of the Des Moines River in Fort Dodge” and they are our First Covenant Church founding members. These people desired a deeper relationship with God and held a firm belief in the Bible as the Word of God. These beliefs were shaped by the Protestant Reformation, the state Lutheran Church of Sweden, and the spiritual like movements of the late 19th century. This group of believers held its first meetings in the homes of parishioners, and on April 28, 1896, with the Rev. Ernest Lindholm as their leader, the church was formally organized with six charter members. Today, the spiritual heritage of the founding members continues to guide First Covenant church.
A few years after its founding, the local church became part of the Swedish Evangelical Mission Covenant Church of America, a denomination which has since changed its name to the Evangelical Covenant Church. As stated on the denomination’s website, “The Covenant Church adheres to the affirmation of the Protestant Reformation regarding the Holy Scriptures, the Old and New Testament, as the Word of God, and the only perfect rule for faith, doctrine, and conduct.” This is one of the fundamental beliefs brought to the Fort Dodge church by the Swedish immigrants who founded the local church. It is because of this “centrality of the Word” that the ECC is making great strides toward racial reconciliation and true dialogue with different people groups. Revelation 7:9 describes people who will stand before God’s throne as “from every nation, tribe, people and language.” We desire for this “Kingdom vision” in heaven to be reflected on earth. This focus has allowed the ECC to be one of the most diverse churches in America.
In the 120 years since the First Covenant’s founding, our message has not changed; however, many specific ministries and aspects of ministry have come and gone. At different stages in our church history, we have had a ladies aid, string band, men’s Brotherhood, orchestra, junior choir, men’s chorus, revival meetings, Swede School, weekday nursery school, Two by Two Christian Day Care, and annual Swedish Suppers.
Some ministries continue today, such as the choir, Sunday school for children and adults, and women’s ministries. We understand the need for special appeal to special groups, but the common thread of Christ’s love draws us together. As a church, we value the church-as-a-family orientation so much that, as a part of the ECC, we stay united despite disagreements on communion, baptism, or worship styles. When we agree to disagree, the unity that we seek is achieved. The ECC values its diversity.
Our message does not change, but our methods do. It was during the 1910s-1940s that the language used in services gradually transitioned from Swedish to English, beginning with an English service in the evening then having the Sunday morning worship conducted in Swedish only once a month. A major change that took place in 1965, when the church began holding services at its current site. Since then, the facility has been added to and remodeled to accommodate the needs of the ministry. The most recent addition has been the Fireside Room. In November of 2008, we remodeled the sanctuary to incorporate new technology in a less invasive way. This created a more versatile space while maintaining the sense of a place set apart for worship.
As life speeds on, a major consideration of any church has to be “Is the local church meeting the actual needs of the people or are we expressing ourselves in a way that people no longer understand?” A church must be relevant, so we reach out to the next generation while remembering the wisdom and guidance from the previous. Each of the following ministries seeks to fulfill a need in the Fort Dodge area. We invite you to come, to participate, and to share in our church’s future.