Immigrants came to America to practice their religion in freedom and tolerance.
My father, Hans Pederson, a late-19th century Danish immigrant to Seattle, built a Lutheran Church for his countrymen, St. Johannes Dansk Evangelisk Luthereske Kirke on 24th and East Spruce Streets. Services and gatherings kept the old country alive for the parents. Their children learned to speak Danish and fashioned suitable handicrafts. As time went on, old customs gave way to new ones.
Back on the east coast, The Society of Friends headquartered in Philadelphia has always worked for peace through their Quaker congregations and schools. During World War II they aided and succored the Nisei Japanese—American citizens descended from Japanese immigrants, who were rounded up and placed in camps for the duration of the war. Many later moved to the Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York areas. The simplicity of Quaker dress and lifestyle extends even to death. A Friends cemetery near one family’s ancestral home bears several small rounded headstones that simply bear the inscription “Friend Palmer.”
Old New England towns feature white clapboard Congregational churches on the town common. In Puritan days, a town could not incorporate unless a church first came into existence. In my Maine town, the church tops a hill, its steeple a beacon to mariners at sea. The church originated across the Kennebec River, but in winter, ice floes made the crossing hazardous. Since the whole family spent virtually all day Sunday at services, the church moved across the river and a new town followed a year later.
Even though the influence of founding churches has lessened, regional differences and customs still percolate through the generations.