Reverend Even Meldal Schjelderup Cormontan
(father of Theodora Cormontan)
Even Cormontan was born in Øvrebø, Vest-Agder, Norway in 1798. He studied in Christianssands and the cathedral school in Bergen. He began advanced study in 1817, graduated with honors in Theology in 1824, and was ordained in 1825. Reverend Cormontan served at churches in Undal, Stranden, Søndmøre, and Beitstad before securing a position in 1847 as Priest (Prest) at Trinity Lutheran Church (Trefoldighetskirken) in the southern coastal town of Arendal. In 1861 he was promoted to Provst (a position with regional administrative responsibilities in the Church of Norway). One of his tasks in this position was to implement the Education Act of 1860, including advocating for women teachers in the public schools. The amount of work required as Provst impacted his health and he subsequently relinquished some of his duties. In 1875 he celebrated 50 years in the ministry and retired in 1882.
In 1886 the parsonage in Arendal where Rev. Cormontan and his family still lived burned down, and financial institutions in Arendal failed that same year. In May of 1887 (as a result of these economic setbacks) Provst Cormontan (age 89) and his daughters Eivinda (age 48) and Theodora (age 46) boarded the steamer Hekla and immigrated to Minnesota where his other living children had already located.
He lived in Franklin with his four unmarried children (Hans, C.G.V., Eivinda and Theodora) and attended the Fort Ridgely and Dale Church.
The following is an electronic translation (with editing) of an article in the Arendal newspaper (the “Agderposten”) from November 30, 1974:
Priest from the past
There lived many notable men and women in Arendal a hundred years ago. One of them was the town's parish priest, Even Meldal Schelderup Cormontan. In his time he oversaw Arendal's largest church.
Cormontan was born in Øvrebø Kristiansand in 1798 and earned his theological degree in 1824. After serving as priest at other locations, he came to Arendal in 1847 and was dean [provst] until 1881 in West Nedenes rectory.
The years Cormontan served as priest in Arendal were generally good and happy ones for the city. The sea provided an abundant livelihood for many. Government officials, including the parish priest, had a good relationship with the merchants and ship owners, and cultivated a profitable interaction.
There was much religious upheaval from 1860 to 1870. A religious revival that started in the middle of the 19th century spread throughout Norway, including Arendal. This led some people to withdraw from the state church, with many joining the newly formed Methodist congregations or following Pastor Paul Wettergren, who founded the Lutheran independent congregation in Arendal in 1877.
Cormontan celebrated his fiftieth anniversary of service to the Church of Norway in 1875, an event that few priests ever experienced. He was honorably discharged in 1882, but his saga did not end there. In 1887, when he was 89 years old, he immigrated to America. Six years later, in 1893, he died in Franklin, Minnesota.
Next is an electronic translation of a paragraph in a book that was in the lobby of the Thon Hotel in Arendal. It supports what we learned about Provst Cormontan during a tour of the Trinity Church conducted by Kari and Jens Barland. Just before this translation the book talks about the "battle" between the established Lutheran Church of Norway (the state church) and the new religious denominations that were emerging in the 1860's (Mormons, Methodists, and sectarian movements). Both sides took the position that "You are either with us or against us." The book continues:
"Reverend Even Meldal Schelderup Cormontan saw things differently. He sought to reconcile divergent factions, refusing to burn bridges or push people away. He wanted to lead the church in a way that welcomed and served as many people as possible, while also awakening them spiritually. He wanted a missionary church with a spirit of the Enlightenment, perhaps because he was the descendent of clergy on both sides of his family and knew what was needed to lead the church into the future."
The following elaborates on this topic. It is an electronic translation with editing from the following:
Roaming through three centuries: the 1800s (Part 2 0f 3)
By Olav Rune Ekeland Bastrup
On the Arendal 2023 website
Bastrup writes about church life in Arendal, Norway. In part two of a three part series Provst Even Cormontan plays an important role. Bastrup describes the religious turmoil in the town during the second part of the 19th century with the appearance of new denominations and philosophies of Christianity that challenged the established Lutheran State Church of Norway.
Arendal experienced strong economic growth beginning in the latter 1820’s, setting up disparity between rich and poor, a diminished influence by the state church, and a sense of spiritual and moral crisis. Being a seaport town that traded with the United States, Arendal experienced the importation of new, pietistic expressions of Christianity. A small colony of Mormons arrived in 1850. In 1868 United Methodist congregations were established, as well as the pietistic Arendal Home Mission, with the revivalist pastor Lars Oftedal as its secretary. Aftedal was one of many revivalist preachers who came to Arendal with a new pietistic message of “Come to Jesus just as you are.” When Aftedal preached, Bastrup says the listeners “fell over and screamed in the middle of the Sermon—such was not exactly familiar with the state church.” Bastrup writes that Norway has never before or since experienced an evangelical preacher with such a “grip on the masses” as Lars Oftedal.
The State Church strongly rejected his work and sent out an edict that Oftedal should not be allowed to preach in any state church. All of the clergy in the Arendal area supported the State Church’s strong opposition to Oftedal except one: Pastor Even Cormontan. Though he was the opposite of Oftedal in personality, Cormontan intervened on his behalf and helped stabilize a potentially volatile situation.
Bastrup notes “Cormontan was artistically gifted. His daughter Theodora was later a famous musician and composer. He stands out as a mild and paternal government official . . .” Cormontan was “an open, generous person” who recognized “clearer than any other clergyman in the district that the revival revealed a real need that the state church had to meet.” This resulted in Cormontan having a “friendly and inclusive” attitude toward the revival that so threatened his fellow clergymen. Therefore, despite the bishops’ ban on Oftedal preaching in a Lutheran church and the great tumult it caused, Pastor Cormontan invited Oftedal to preach Sunday after Sunday at Vespers in Cormontan’s Trinity Church.
Bastrup writes “Cormontan clearly saw how important it was that the Church be open to the religious need that the revival clearly revealed.” During the height of the most intense years of revival, an aging Pastor Cormontan brought in a chaplain to the Trinity Church with special responsibilities toward the people who embraced the revival.
The following is an electronic translation (with editing) of a portion of the book "The Synod for the Evangelical Norwegian Lutheran Church in America." Vol. 20, p. 154-155. Published in Decorah, Iowa in 1893. The original article was submitted by Rev. Parelius Rognlie. Clarifications by the translator appear in yellow print.
Provst Even Meldal Schjelderup Cormontan died in Franklin, Renville Co., Minn., on February 14, 1893. He was born 4th September 1798 in Øvrebø, Vest-Agder, Norway, where His father, Hans Nicolai Cormontan, was priest.
In 1818 he became a student, and in 1824 he took the official theological examination at Christiania University, and on 5 May 1825 he was ordained and became the resident chaplain in Undal. In 1829, he traveled to Sondmore, and 1834 to Beitstad, North Trondelag, where he served until 1847, when he was called to Arendal. In 1862 he was named as Provst [a position of regional responsibility in the Church of Norway]. In 1865 he lost his dear wife - Louise Augusta, nee Hirsch, who had traveled by his side for 40 years, and with whom the Lord had given 9 children. He subsequently excused himself to become an Associate Provst, as the duties which were incumbent on him as Parish priest took all his time and energy.
He served as Parish priest in Arendal until 1882 when, at the age of 84, he retired after a long, rich, and blessed career of 57 years. In 1887, when he was 89, he traveled to the United States to spend his twilight years with his children. On All Saint’s Day in 1887 he spoke at the Fort Ridgely and Dale Church on Jesus' words: "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you, not as the World gives, I give unto you" (John 14, 27). The Word had a profound impact on all who were present, teaching the church community that the saving blood touched many a lost but precious brother and sister. This 89 year old man stood among us like a messenger of peace and faith from our Savior, yes from the Prince of Peace himself, Jesus Christ.
In his last year Provst Cormontan stayed mostly in bed and often suffered great pain: yet he never complained and thanked God dearly for everything. He read his precious Bible with a childlike devotion and, as his Body and Spirit failed and he slept often, while awake he spoke about "his old Congregations - for the many he had confirmed and taught by God's Word about the way to salvation. And often he said: It will be so hard to miss any of them on Judgment Day before God and the Lamb's throne.” A few days before his death he said “I am with Him - 'Here', now let your servant depart in peace, as you said, for my eyes have seen your salvation." And also these Words: "Father, I long for your bliss." He remained, as always, exceedingly dear. God, in His grace, heard His faithful servant.
Four of his children [Hans, C.G.V., Eivinda, and Theodora] were present when he died - knowing his master's joy and the eternal Sabbath rest – at the age of 94 years, 5 months, and 10 days. He was the oldest living citizen from the Christiania University. On Tuesday, 21st February , he was laid to rest beside the Fort Ridgely and Dale Church. Many from the community were present, including Prof. Frich from Luther Seminary [Professor Johannes Bjerch Frich (1835-1908) became the chair of Theology in 1888] and Pastors I. Bergh [probably the pastor of Rev. Cormontan's youngest daughter Marie, who lived in Sacred Heart] and L. Jerdee [had probably been the pastor of Rev. Cormontan's late son Magnus, who had lived in Fosston] as well as the undersigned [Pastor Rognlie].
In the mourners first prayer we thanked God for having bestowed on his faithful but weary servant the rest about which he taught and for which he waited - for what God in him had given us as father, pastor, and brother, and said that we all heard a joyous voice of salvation in the highest heavens. Next were offered some verses of Provst Cormontan’s favorite hymn: “I Jesu søger jeg min fred” ("In Jesus I Seek my Peace"). Pastor Bergh spoke on the words: "Blessed be God our Lord Jesus Christ, whose great mercy has given us a living hope through Jesus Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. "(1 Pet. I, 3).
The choir then sang “Nearer My God to Thee" and Pastor Jerdee spoke of the angels in the words of Jesus (John 8, 51):" Verily, I tell you, if anyone keeps My word, he shall never see death." Prof. Frich spoke from Matt. 25, 21: "Well done, thou good and faithful servant! You have been faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge over much: come and share God’s joy."
Everyone's testimony reflected that Provst Cormontan was a good and faithful servant of the Lord unto death and served as head of a good home. His dear children, who so faithfully nursed him to the last are indeed, for all of us, an example to stand in the Lord Jesus’s blissful Service; to be His good and faithful servants with the little He has set us over. We may assume that these faithful and sincere servants will shout with joy as He so gloriously repays them.
The burial was administered by the undersigned. By the tomb of the dead were present his 5 living children and others near to him. - "Let my soul die the death of the righteous, and let my end be like his!” (Numbers 23, 10).
Parelius H. Rognlie
[Provst Cormontan's children placed the following obituary in the March 9, 1893 edition of the Norwegian newspaper Vestlandske Tidende:
That our dear father--former Provst and pastor to Arendal--E. M. S. Cormontan died on 14th February 1893 in his 95th year after a prolonged illness, announced hereby for family and friends.
(signed) The deceased’s children.
Franklin, Renville Co., Minn N. A. (Minnesota, North America)
Please communicate this obituary in this form.]
[The March 25, 1893 edition of the Vestlandske Tidende contains a brief article on the funeral. It indicates that "a large number of acquaintancesI " attended the funeral. Speeches were given in both Norwegian and English, and both Norwegian and English hymns were sung. The coffin was "beautifully decorated" and borne by six clergy. The coffin was placed on a black, decorated sled that was pulled by horses that were also decorated. "Two Scandinavians served as Marshals."
The article also notes that "a funeral march, composed for the occasion, was played on the organ, and a large choir led the singing." This organ piece was doubtlessly composed by Theodora and was almost certainly her "Marsch religiosa," a manuscript dated March 27, 1893 with a notation that it was composed in Franklin. The choir would have been the Franklin Choir that Theodora founded and conducted.
The article concluded by saying "Shortly before his death, Cormontan asked those nearest to him to communicate to the Arendal congregation (Trinity Church) his last thanks and farewell."]