Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gertrude Rambo

The historical facts are well-documented; sources will be provided upon request. Yet, I take artistic license by “imagining” a story behind the historical facts. My children have no interest in “facts” but readily tune into the stories of their ancestors. For instance, as a pastor very familiar with Lutheran Catechesis, an image of a young Gertrude on the day of her confirmation comes quickly to mind. In addition, I know first-hand the fear and apprehension of a young girl as she approaches her First Communion. The story starts to take shape.

Gertrude Rambo, born 19 October 1650, was one of nine children born to Peter Gunnarson Rambo and his wife, Brita Mattsdotter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Peter Rambo founded the first Lutheran congregation in the colonies. (See older posts for Peter and Brita’s story). A special thanks to Dr. Peter Craig, F.A.S.G., Swedish Colonial Society historian and to Ron Beatty for the historical facts.

By the Rev. Dr. Cynthia and the Hon. Church Mouse

Now is the hour. After three years of Catechesis, Gertrude, fair head bowed, brow damp with beads of perspiration, heart pounding wildly, solemnly confesses her sins. Upon receiving the absolution promised in the ancient Swedish liturgy, a soft sigh escapes her trembling lips. The long, white robe does not conceal the relief shown in the shrug of her shoulders. Gertrude's sweet soprano voice joins those gathered on this Festival Sunday intoning the responses to the Introitus, Kyrie, and Gloria. The warm glow of candlelight dances across a velvet - peach complexion revealing faint shadows under her eyes.

Gertrude had not slept well last night. Lack of proper rest, along with deep anxiety about this important day, makes it increasingly difficult to stay focused on the Collect, Epistle, and Graduale while her brother, Gunnar, one year older, is making faces at her. Gunnar, who cannot sit still a moment, delights in teasing his younger sister despite the solemnity of the occasion. Gertrude glares with disapproval at Gunnar who flashes his famous Gunnar Grin: a smile that simply does not stop. Gertrude returns the smile, helplessly, realizing that he is the only one who gets away with smiling in church.

She tries again to pay attention during the reading of the Gospel and the sermon that follows. For Gertrude, the sermon is too long - almost unbearable. She struggles to keep her thoughts on the message. “The pastor does ramble on!” The thought bursts into her silence so clearly she glances at her parents to see if they might have heard it, too. But her parents are completely absorbed in the booming voice coming down from the pulpit. Gertrude stares at the angel over the baptismal font. Will this ever end? As if in answer to prayer, the pastor says the Amen.

Gertrude's anticipation increases as she rises from her chair to affirm her faith in the words of the Apostles’ Creed. Kneeling at the altar, the pastor places his hands on her head and beseeches God with thanksgiving:

Pour your Holy Ghost upon Gertrude, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence. Gertrude, child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Ghost and marked with the cross of Christ forever.

Children of the Heavenly Father, safely to His bosom gather,” sings the congregation with great gusto. Gertrude returns to her place, quite radiant and flushed with happiness as the Swedish Mass moves forward through the remainder of the liturgy: the Offertory, Prefatio, Sanctus, Prayer of Consecration, Verba Institutionis, Pater noster, Secreta, Pax, and Agnus Dei and on to the high liturgical point: the Eucharist.

And now the crescendo; now comes the moment of Gertrude's First Communion. Once again, with fear and trepidation, she rises, moves forward to the altar and kneels; the priest places the morsel of bread onto her tongue with the words, “The body of Christ, given for you!” Softly she whispers, “Amen.” The priest returns with the pewter chalice and tips it to her lips saying, “The blood of Christ shed for you!” “Amen” she replies as the wine spreads its warmth into her being. “Amen and Amen!,” she whispers under her breath. As she returns to her place, the congregation sings the Postcommunio. “The music is so joyful, It sings me!” She feels considerably taller rising to receive the blessing that concludes the Swedish Mass.

"When we get home, Gunnar," she threatens as they recess, "I am going to pinch you." He laughs, "You are going to have to catch me first." And joyfully, Gertrude and her family return home to a great feast: a smorgasbord with pepparkakor (gingersnaps) for dessert. The Hon. Church Mouse is not invited.+++

Eighteen-year-old Gertrude, child of God, was married in the “new church” at Wicaco (Gloria Dei), a low, square, log-timber structure with a short steeple. "She was given in marriage 22 November 1688 to Anders Bengtsson, known to the English as Andrew Bankson. The newlyweds embarked on their life together on their farm at Mayamensing along the Delaware River in present South Philadelphia. Anders served for many years as a justice on the court and as a church warden and lay reader for the Swedish church at Wicaco.

Pastor Andreas Sandel, a successor to Andreas Rudman, at Gloria Dei (Old Swedes Church)
relied heavily on the advice of Anders Bengtsson. On 14 September 1705, Sandel presented the
final word covering his friend’s life: “I buried Anders Bengtsson, born in Sweden near Gothenburg in the parish of Fåxarn (Fuxerna) and Hanstrom farm. He drowned in the Delaware, sixty-five years old”

Gertrude and Anders had nine children, generally known by the surname of Bengtson in church records, but usually as Bankson in English records. More about Anders Bentsson will be posted soon as we follow the lineage of their son, Andrew Bankson, Jr. and their role in the life of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

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