HANSEN, NIELS MIKKELSEN, Lutheran lay missionary and Anglican clergyman; b. 29 Aug. 1829 in Haderslev, Denmark; m. c. 1856 Else Christine Lund (d. 1901), and they had eight children; d. 18 April 1912 in Falmouth, Maine.
Early in life Niels M. Hansen demonstrated a scholarly aptitude, which his pastor fostered. He had a talent to teach others and in the mid 1850s was encouraged to enter the seminary at Jelling, from which he graduated with honours. Assured of a teaching position at Brunsbüttel in Schleswig-Holstein, he married Christine Lund, the daughter of a schoolteacher.
In 1858 nationalistic feelings made Hansen move north, where the use of the German language was not so prevalent. He taught first in D
pjringe, near Sor p, and then in a large school at Hallenslev. The latter position provided pleasant surroundings, a home, a garden, and good wages, ideal for raising his growing family. Hansen spent some of his non-teaching hours as a sought-after speaker and musician. Otherwise, church work commanded his energies. An active layman, he also formed a Saturday afternoon Bible class (he was capable of exegesis) and a choir. He was a member of the Home Mission, which worked within the National Church of Denmark and stressed pietism, the importance of good deeds, and the infallibility of the Bible.
Farmland in Denmark was scarce at this time, and would become more so after the loss of Schleswig-Holstein to Austria and Prussia in 1864. Thus many Danes joined the European migration to North America and Australia. Hansen himself was influenced by the movement. In 1861 a missionary from Wisconsin went to Hallenslev to speak of the need for Danish missions in America and he stayed with the Hansens. Six years later Hansen began a series of articles under the pseudonym Monitor in Den Indre Missions Tidende [Home Mission News] in which he stressed the need to help Danish-speaking communities abroad. Although many expatriate Danes had not attended church in Denmark, he argued, they might now be disposed to do so in order to hear their native tongue. “You never miss the water,” he maintained, “till the well runs dry.” He further suggested that laymen, who could supplement their income with other work, might replace pastors, who were both scarce and costly.
Hansen’s good friend the Reverend Johan Vilhelm Beck, a leader in the Home Mission movement and editor of its paper, offered Hansen a place called New Denmark, a rural community in New Brunswick founded in 1872, and volunteered to pay his family’s way there. Hansen left Copenhagen on 20 Aug. 1875, accompanied by his wife, their eight children, and 20 others from their parish. When they reached Saint John, Hansen was warned by Danes who had left New Denmark that the settlement was so poor the people were starving. On arriving there and hearing that the community desired his presence and would pay him what they could, he bought a small house, began church services, and, assisted by his eldest daughter Rosa, offered school lessons.
Homesick, and with little food, the Hansens soon decided to return to Denmark. However, a visiting Anglican clergyman suggested that Hansen should become a minister of the Church of England, which would provide him with support. After seeking advice from his mentors in Denmark and polling every family in New Denmark, Hansen began to prepare for holy orders. He was ordained a deacon on 11 June 1876 and a minister on 27 May 1877 by Bishop John Medley*. Hansen believed that the differences between the Anglican and Lutheran churches were not doctrinal but rather in the form of services. In New Denmark the Danish language continued to be used, with Medley obtaining Danish language Bibles and prayer books for the congregation. Visibly, the church had a Danish character as well. The Danish flag adorned the interior and, in accordance with tradition, the congregation stood to pray, sat to sing, and arranged themselves with men on one side of the church and women and children on the other. In the Sunday school the Lutheran catechism was retained.
Despite these concessions, Hansen experienced opposition from the settlers. “It is sometimes tiresome,” he wrote in 1880, “to repeat over and over again to the new arrivals the arguments for our joining the Church of England.” After St Ansgar’s Anglican Church, modelled on a Danish country church, was consecrated on 17 June 1884 Hansen confided to a friend, “This is a great triumph as there were just as many who tried to hinder the building of this church as to assist it.” Even in 1891 the older members of the congregation still called themselves Lutherans, though they received the sacraments of the Church of England. In 1905, after Hansen’s departure, two Lutheran congregations would be established in the area.
New Denmark was a stepping-stone colony. Once acclimatized to the language and customs of North America, the immigrants – including Hansen’s family and friends – moved on, mostly to the area of Portland, Maine. After his parish joined with that of Grand Falls, N.B., in 1894, he retired to join his family in Falmouth. Having declined an invitation to return to New Denmark, he died there on 18 April 1912.
[Information for this biography was graciously provided in a letter of 7 July 1992 from Palle Bo Bojesen of Copenhagen, Denmark, and in the author’s 1992 interview with the late Elsie Christine [Jensen] Kelly of Saint John, a granddaughter of Pastor Hansen. Details were also provided by Helen [Nielsen] Craig of Fredericton, who was raised in New Denmark, N.B., and is very knowledgeable about its history. k.w.]
N.B. Museum, Hoyt, L. A.,