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Texas | Architecture | Churches

“The Most Photographed Church in Texas”

New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church
New Sweden

If you haven’t seen it in person, you should.

Services are every Sunday at 10:30


By Johnny Stucco
New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church steeple, New Sweden, Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2006
20 Miles E of downtown Austin and about 10 miles W of Elgin, The New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church is an unforgettable specimen of Texas Ecclesiastical Architecture.

Driving Directions
New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Sweden, Texas
2000 Photo by J. Griffis Smith, courtesy TXDoT
The original church was organized in 1875 and the first building was constructed alongside the Lutheran Cemetery on the corner of New Sweden Church Road and FM 973. Coming from Austin, you will turn right at that intersection and follow New Sweden Church Road to the church.

The church was said to have appeared in the 1971 movie The Great Waldo Pepper (other scenes were shot in Martindale and Seguin). But a rented copy of the movie showed not a trace. It may have been “left on the cutting-room floor.” A crime if true.

You’ll have another chance to see the building on film with the (much anticipated) release of The Tree of Life, a movie written and directed by Terrence Malick, starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn.

The Tree of Life was filmed in several other central Texas locations including a brief scene in La Grange, but the lion’s share of the movie was filmed in the delightful town of Smithville, Texas, a town where cast and crew lived for six months back in 2008.

We were escorting visiting Florida restoration carpenter Max Zurko around Austin when we remembered the craftsmanship of the New Sweden church and headed east, racing the setting sun. Zurko, a retired professor was on a busman’s holiday visiting notable Texas wooden structures. We arrived at dusk, but were fortunate enough to find Pastor Hans Lillejord walking between the parsonage and church just as we pulled up.

Pastor Lillejord graciously offered to open the church for us and escorted us inside. He gave us a brief history and told us about Tree of Life and how the church was standing-in for a “Midwestern location.”

It was also Pastor Lillejord that told us that it was the “most photographed church in Texas,” a claim we don’t doubt for a New Sweden minute. When we commented that the recent paint on the building was an improvement over our last visit, we also learned just how expensive church upkeep can be. (You don’t want to know.)

The photos on this page credited to TxDoT were originally published in Texas Highways Magazine. The one with the truck was a full page back cover image. Texas Escapes photographer Barclay Gibson has visited the church at least thrice (that we know of) on his “Steeplechase” road trips.
Horses by the  New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Sweden, Texas
1983 Photo by Randy Green, courtesy TXDoT
New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Sweden, Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2006
New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Sweden, Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2006
Organ keyboard in New Sweden Luteran Church
New Sweden Lutheran Church organ keyboard
Photo courtesy Justin Parson, 2006

Driving Directions:

From Austin:
Take highway 290 East for until you come to FM-973. Turn left (watching traffic) and drive 4 and 8/10ths to New Sweden Church Road. Here you’ll see the cemetery and a historical marker. (This was the site of the first church.) Turn right and follow the road for the remaining 2 miles. Just keep the steeple in sight. At 104 feet tall, it’s easy to do.

From Elgin: Take highway 290 W and turn right onto FM1100. After 5 miles, turn left onto Manda Road and drive for about a mile until you see Manda Carlson Road. Turn right and drive 6 /10ths of a mile to New Sweden Church Road and drive the remaining mile and one tenth. Don’t forget to take a photo.

New Sweden Evangelical Lutheran Church, New Sweden, Texas
New Sweden, Texas
Photo courtesy Barclay Gibson, 2006

More Texas Churches

See New Sweden, Texas
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