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The Story of Our Church

On January 30, 1898, a group of about thirty people gathered at Washington Ave. and Third Ave. N. in Newman's hall in Minneapolis to organize a Lutheran church among the Finnish people of Minneapolis. The outcome of the meeting was that nineteen people banded themselves together to form the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Minneapolis. Seven of these were married couples, one married woman, one single woman and three single men. The children, if any, were not mentioned. The charter members, as recorded, are: "Isaac Pudas (married), Victor Newman (married), Jacob Newman (married), Olli Niskala (married), Hendrik Niskala (married), Alex Hankanen (married), Antti Ryytila (married), Elizabeth Westerberg (married), Timo Kari, John F. Torma, Mary Salo, Herman Oikemus". Isaac Pudas was chosen president of the newlyformed congregation, John F. Torma secretary, Victor Newman treasurer, Andrew Ryytila and Alex Hankanen trustees. A constitution and by-laws was adopted and, with commendable foresight, recorded at the Register of Deeds Office of Hennepin County. The date of registration is marked as of April 19, 1898. At the following meeting about a week later the names of Mr. and Mrs. Herman Sandstrom, John Gronholm, August Wiitala, Lizzie, Hilda, Ida and Sophia Leinonen were added to the membership roster.

While the congregation was now organized, the first religious services were not conducted by an ordained minister until the Rev. J. K. Nikander, president of the Suomi Synod, travelled through in August, 1898. Mention is made in the minutes of a Rev. G. Bauruus having been called to serve the congregation once a month at $7.00, but nothing further is said of him. The group would meet to sing and read from some book of sermons. A ladies aid was organized and active, and social activities were maintained for raising funds. In July, 1899, the Rev. Kustaa Sahlberg, missionary of the Finnish Seamen's and Immigrant Mission, established headquarters in Minneapolis and conducted services once a month in the Finnish language, travelling about extensively in other Finnish settlements in this and other states. Pastor Sahlberg served for two years after which he left to ultimately return to Finland. This left the congregation without spiritual leadership. With the pathetic shortage of ministers in a time of an ever-increasing, and wide-spread immigration, and possibly a degree of disinterest in things spiritual, the Minneapolis congregation was left without a pastor, and remained inactive for a period of thirteen years.

After these many years of inactivity, a practically new group of people met on July 27, 1914, at the home of Evert Jacobson to revive the congregation. Some of these people had been active in the earlier days, but new names appeared on the roster. The following people are named in the minutes of the first meeting: John Hannu, Erick Mihkali, Antti Kemppainen, Evert Jacobson, Peter Kauppi, Lauri Pudas, Antti Mikkola, Emil Rinne, Hemming Santapakka, Helmi Kivi, and Fiina Leppioja. John Hannu was chosen president, Erick Mihkali secretary and Andrew Kemppainen treasurer. Pastor H. Sarvela of Duluth was called to conduct one service a month in the Finnish language. As he had a very extensive parish in Minnesota and Wisconsin, pastor Sarvela held services only on week nights, later giving the congregation a Sunday service every other month. Meetings were held in the early years in a German Lutheran church on Sixth Ave. and Seventh St. North, later at the Labor Lyceum on Eighth Ave. S. and 5th Street. For many years the services were held at Wells Memorial, until for a period of about three years they were held in the old Redeemer Lutheran Church on the corner of Irving and Glenwood. Many meetings were held in homes particularly during the winter months.

A Sunday School was organized in 1916 and was conducted in the Finnish language. Young people's work was already in full swing with attendance at meetings numbering as much as 100. Meetings were held in Finnish.

Up to this time the congregation was entirely independent of other church groups. But in 1917 the congregations at French Lake and Kingston felt the need of more pastoral service, and, after negotiating with Minneapolis decided upon calling a joint pastor who would serve these congregations and two churches in Wisconsin, viz. Almena and Owen. The Rev. N. J. Saastamoinen was called. He took over the work in October 1917, with headquarters at French Lake. The Minneapolis congregation now received two services a month instead of one. Promising signs of growth encouraged the people to begin talk of building their own church already in 1919.

Pastor Saastamoinen resigned in the fall of 1919 and the Rev. David Samanen became pastor of the parish in July 1920. Samanen first lived in French Lake, but soon moved to Minneapolis, which was the logical place to live in a widely-scattered parish. The church united with the Suomi Synod in 1921. Much of the activity at this time was at Wells Memorial. But the increased activity, and the vision of greater opportunities in Minneapolis kept alive the discussion of the congregation having its own church property. The possibility of buying a used church was studied, but not deemed advisable. Eventually in May, 1922 the present lot on the corner of Morgan and Second Avenues No. was purchased.

Pastor Samanen's work was in great measure pioneering and exploring the possibilities for a Finnish church. But he was already at that time, as were his successors, handicapped by having four other churches to serve over an area covering more than 200 miles. He resigned from the parish in March 1925, and was succeeded by the Rev. A. O. Kuusisto. Pastor Kuusisto chose to live in Minneapolis because of its central location. He also saw that, if the church in Minneapolis was to continue, more attention must be given to this center.

The five congregations united in building a parsonage for the parish. This was completed in 1926 at a cost of over $5,000, and was dedicated in October of that year. Then followed a new insistence upon a church edifice. The lot was already waiting, and finally, on August 1, 1927 breaking of the ground for a new church building took place. Some money had already been raised for the purpose and a special drive for finances resulted in the raising of a substantial amount.

The original intention of the congregation was to build only the church basement, and to worship there until such time as finances permitted further construction. The laying of the cornerstone took place on the first Sunday in October, 1927. By fall. 1928, the basement was finished so that the congregation could move in and hold its activities under its own roof. In the meantime Mr. H. A. Sodergren, who had always been interested in the church, offered to donate the bricks if the congregation would complete the superstructure. This required some change in the original plans, but the proposal was accepted. Mr. C. J. Bard drew the plans for the church, and so the outer structure was completed except for the stairs, windows and the interior. This was completed in 1929. The windows were acquired in 1930 through the activity of the Luther League, Sunday School, and other interested members and friends. The front steps were built later mostly with free labor. The building as it was cost the congregation over $25,000.

Pastor Kuusisto resigned in 1935, and he was succeeded by the Rev. Carl Tamminen. Up to this time Finnish was used almost exclusively, with some little English. Regular English services were introduced for the first time under Pastor Tamminen with marked signs of progress despite the fact that the pastor must still serve five churches. But a decision to divide the parish was already on the record when Tamminen resigned in the spring of 1939.

The new pastor, Aarne Juntunen, began his ministry in September, 1939 with only three congregations in the parish, viz. French Lake, Kingston and Minneapolis. There was an increasing demand for English work. Pastor Juntunen saw the importance of completing the interior of the sanctuary and set out with diligence to liquidate the indebtedness on the building, and laying plans for the completion program. Pastor Juntunen worked under a number of handicaps, among them the war effort, and many other distractions. He heard the call to service in the armed forces and proceeded to prepare for the chaplaincy in the United States navy, to which he was ultimately called. However, the congregation was free of all indebtedness at the time of Pastor Juntunen's resignation in December, 1942.

The Rev. Dr. John Wargelin succeeded Pastor Juntunen in June, 1943. Pastor Wargelin resumed where Pastor Juntunen had left off and began to raise funds for the completion of the interior. The English work continued to increase and the work of the church was greatly unified. Under Dr. Wargelin's leadership almost $7,000 was raised to begin the work of completion as soon as war restrictions were lifted. Mr. C. J. Bard, the creator of the original plans, was called in to draw further details to complete the building. With the plans drawn, the congregation waited for the time when the government would permit civilian construction. Dr. Wargelin's resignation in the spring of 1947 prevented him from seeing the fulfillment of this objective, but the funds were ready.

The Rev. Edw. J. Isaac arrived as the new pastor of the congregation in September, 1947. The building committee had already granted the contract for the insulation of the church at the time of his arrival. With government restrictions lifted, the rush of civilian construction was on, resulting in considerable scarcity of materials, but the committee continued to go on, one step at a time. With available cash on hand, the congregation was determined to go as far as possible with construction. Men were anxious to do whatever they could in free labor, in electrical work, carpentering, etc. More than once we felt the wonderful guidance of God in that what often seemed impossible of realization became possible at the opportune moment.

A number of other progressive steps were taken at this time. The first of these was that English services were held every Sunday beginning in the fall of 1947. While the pastor still serves the French Lake and Kingston churches, a supply from Luther Seminary is in charge on the Sunday when the pastor is in the country. These supplies have been Mr. M. Sivertson and most recently Mr. Judson Crarey. The change to regular English services proved a very definite forward step. Finnish services are held on two or three Sundays a month, and during the week.

In January, 1948, the name of the church was officially changed from the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Minneapolis to Morgan Avenue Lutheran Church. Later, in the months of March and April, with the co-operation of the Home Mission Board of the Synod, the congregation called Sister Ilma Ruth Aho to serve as parish visitor for a period of seven weeks. This, too, was a fruitful, if brief, ministry indicating the beneficial effects of a consecrated parish visitor.

In view of the progress made Morgan Avenue Lutheran Church looks forward to years of blessed and fruitful service. Its position has, in the past, been unique, if not outstanding. Today it is waiting upon the Lord with an eye to better serving Him for the advancement of His kingdom among men. The opportunities are by no means small, the responsibility great. We face them humbly knowing that it is done "not by might, nor by power, but my Spirit".

Published in Our Church. 1898-1948. Dedication Booklet. Morgan Avenue Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, Minnesota. June 15, 1948. 1948, p. 5-10.

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