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Cali Owings, Published March 28 2014

A forgotten reformer: Concordia to renew focus on Hans Nielsen Hauge, whose campus memorial once drew 15,000

MOORHEAD – When he was a Norwegian exchange student at Concordia College in the early 1900s, Peter Reite started a campaign to raise money for a monument on the campus to honor 19th century Lutheran reformer Hans Nielsen Hauge.

When it was dedicated in 1912, more than 15,000 people came to Concordia to celebrate the life and faith of Hauge, who is credited with spurring a spiritual awakening in Norway and influencing many Norwegian immigrants who settled throughout the Red River Valley.

While students pass the monument every day, few know of Hauge’s teachings and their impact on the college and church today.

Retired pastor and Concordia graduate Lyle Rich has studied Hauge’s legacy for two years with the help of school archivist Lisa Sjoberg.

As a student, Rich said he didn’t know any of the history behind the monument. After both of his grandparents passed away and he became interested in his Norwegian heritage, he started learning more about Hauge.

Rich and Sjoberg aim to use their research to increase awareness among today’s Concordia students because many of Hauge’s values are still relevant.

“This guy belongs not only by the chapel, but the School of Business,” Rich said. “Ethical, generous, honest. To me, he’s kind of the focus of the whole campus.”

He said they owe it to students to share his memory.

Students will have several opportunities to learn about Hauge’s influence this year. Over the summer, the Concordia Language Villages in Bemidji will dedicate an interactive display project to Hauge. For the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, today is the day to honor his memory.

Sjoberg said she hopes to create an exhibit about every four years dedicated to Hauge so students can learn his story at some point during their time on campus.

Born in 1771 as the fifth of 10 children on his family farm in Norway, Hauge had humble beginnings. He was called to share the word of God directly with people throughout Norway, walking from farm to farm visiting with people about their faith.

He called for the revival of the heart in worship, instead of “going through the motions,” Rich said.

At that time, participation in the Church of Norway was dwindling.

“He really rescued Christianity because in that day, the church had become too formalized, too connected to the government,” Rich said.

Because he wasn’t ordained, Hauge was often thrown in jail because laymen weren’t allowed to preach. Each time, he would return to sharing his message with common people.

Beyond his faith, Hauge was a practical Christian who started several businesses, and he was a champion of human rights. He was ahead of his time in hiring women and people with disabilities.

“His heart was for the common man, for the unemployed and for those that want to have peace with God,” Rich said. “That’s probably why 15,000 came for this dedication.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599