History of the Movement

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Swedenborgian Church of North America: A Brief History

black and white picture of the New Jerusalem Temple

The Swedenborgian movement began in Sweden, France, and England in the 1780s. The first Swedenborgian church was registered in England in 1787, and the artist William Blake was one of the members of that first church. 

Swedenborgian thought spread through the efforts of many people, including John Chapman (1774-1845) who was also known as Johnny Appleseed. Johnny Appleseed is most well known for all of the apple trees that he planted in the Midwest, as well as for spreading “good news, right fresh from heaven.” He would give away pieces of Swedenborg’s theological writings as he traveled.

Swedenborgians became known for believing in: the oneness of God, the afterlife, a deeper meaning to the Bible, and the importance of living a good life. Swedenborg’s writings were very popular at that time in the United States. Notable Swedenborgians include William Blake, Charles Bonney, John Chapman, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Helen Keller, Dr. Kristine Mann, Howard Pyle, Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, and Eliza Tibbets. 

Except in rare years of national emergencies, an annual summer convention has been held since the first one in 1817. In fact, prior to changing their name, the church was called the “General Convention of the New Jerusalem.” It is at this convention that ideas are shared, business meetings are held, policies are created, and elections of the officers of the church are voted upon. Each church/region sends a delegation of members to vote on denominational business.

The Swedenborgian Church of North America ordained their first female minister in 1975, and their first openly gay minister in 1997. The organization in North America consists of many different churches who follow Swedenborg’s theology. Its spiritually rich and inclusive ministries can be found throughout North America and online. 

Swedenborgian Church of North America: A History by Rev. Dr. Jim Lawrence (2021)

The Swedenborgian movement had beginnings in Europe, which helped to grow interest in Swedenborg’s radical critique of the older Christian traditions. Created in Avignon in 1773 by the Marquis de Thorn and involving such well-known figures as Benedict Chastanier and Abbe Pernety, French Freemasonry provided the first organizational toe-hold with a Swedenborg Rite comprised of six Degrees (Apprentice, Fellow Craft, Master Neophyte, Illuminated Theosophite, Blue Brother, and Red Brother). Carl Bernhard Wadström converted as a young man to Swedenborg’s view of Christianity through his engagements with the first Swedish publishing efforts, started a society in 1779 in Norköpping, Sweden. Later as an emigrant to England he became a central figure in the British abolition movement and shaped an anti-slavery program influenced by his reading of Swedenborg. In the first ecclesiastical church movement through a meeting that included the artist William Blake, the Swedenborgian church launched, organized, and registered in England as a non-Conformist dissenting sect in 1787.