A Church of Their Own
As immigration boomed between 1840 and 1920, the central plains attracted Europeans from agrarian backgrounds, while the West Coast and the Rockies lured Europeans and Asians seeking opportunity. By 1870, nearly three in ten westerners were foreign-born—and many of these newcomers had strong religious ties.
Not unexpectedly, then, ethnic churches became the cornerstones of many immigrant communities. Traditional worship reminded newcomers of home and helped them reaffirm their cultural identity. More importantly, ethnic churches evoked a profound sense of spiritual fulfillment that other American churches could not provide. As an 1887 German Lutheran sermon from Missouri confidently affirmed: "Dear God, grant that the Word may also be preached pure and unadulterated among those who speak English, as it is among us."
As immigrants settled across the trans-Mississippi West, religious leaders attempted to keep pace by creating new parishes, dioceses, and districts. German Methodists, Dutch Reformed, Eastern Orthodox, and Icelandic Lutherans, among others, could be found from the Midwest to the Pacific Coast. Chinese and Japanese Christian churches dotted parts of the Mountain West and the Pacific Coast, notably California. Growing ethnic populations often retained their identity even within denominations. The Lutheran Church in America was not a singular institutional body but a composite of many ethnic synods, including Danish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Slovakian.
Ethnic clergy who had been hindered by state churches in Europe readily found an outlet for their evangelical energies in America. Fratisek Kun, a Protestant Czech minister, served rural communities in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, and the Dakotas. Before coming ...