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The History of Our Church

Mrs. W. John Niemi

"Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost! Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."

Matthew 28:19-20.

There is a place where just that is done, the church.

The St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rockport, Massachusetts, was founded April 3, 1893, legalized June 27, 1894; on November 29, 1894, it joined the Suomi Synod. The church grew out of a desire of the Finnish immigrants to worship God as they had worshiped Him in Finland, in a language that they understood.

Regular meetings and worship services were held in the home of interested immigrants. The possibility of a church in Rockport was discussed. The first official meeting was held at St. Mary's Episcopal Church here in Rockport, April 3, 1893. Officers were elected, plans for raising money and a site upon which to build the church were discussed.

Subsequent meetings were held at Edmund's Hall and the Swedish Lutheran Church in Pigeon Cove. Finally Forest Street in Rockport was chosen as the site for the church. The building was started in 1894 and finished in 1895. Previous to 1893, the ministerial duties were performed by pastors from Seaman's Mission. This was the beginning of the Finnish religious movement in the East. At one time the total combined membership - Lanesville, Rockport, and Pigeon Cove - was 1800.

The following ministers have served the parish of Rockport since its founding in 1893:

W. K. Durchman 1893; Johan Kampi, 1894-1896; Pekka Airaksinen 1898-1900; Alpi Hukkanen 1900; Hannes Syoblom 1901; Gabriel Lipsanen 1903-1913; Samuel Heikki Ronka 1913-1934; Antti O. Kuusisto 1935-1955; Eino Olaf Rankinen 1955-.

From 1893 to 1903, the pastors served us for just short periods of time from one year to two years. But when Rev. Gabriel Lipsanen came in 1903 he was with us for 10 years. He accepted a call to Fairport, Ohio, in July 1913.

During the early years of activity some of the more notable accomplishments were a Sunday school, a vacation church school, and a ladies' sewing circle, in addition to the usual activity of a congregation.

Rev. Samuel H. Ronka was the second pastor to serve us for a longer period of years. He came in the fall of 1913, and after 21 years of faithful service died in 1934. He not only had Rockport and Pigeon Cove to serve but Lanesville, Peabody, and Allston as well. In Pastor Ronka's time youth work was started, choirs were organized. His wife, the late Mrs. Ida Ronka, was a great help to her husband-pastor in the work of the church. She was a gifted speaker and a Sunday school teacher. She delivered the sermons when Pastor Ronka was ill; she continued to do so after his death until a new pastor was chosen. Pastor Ronka and Mrs. Ronka had five sons who also helped with the church activities.

After the death of Rev. Samuel H. Ronka plans were discussed for procuring a new pastor. In 1935 Rev. Antti O. Kuusisto was elected. He came here from Minnesota, with his wife, Siiri, his son Allan, and his daughter Miriam. They lived temporarily in Rockport until the parsonage in Peabody was built. During Pastor Kuusisto's pastorate an all English Sunday school was organized, under the supervision of Mrs. Lillian Pedone. This was in 1947. In 1948 the Lutheran Friendly Circle was founded, which also was conducted entirely in English. Thus the need of using the English language in some of the church activities was seen.

From 1893 to 1947 the work of the congregation was carried on entirely in the Finnish language. However, at the present time the work is bilingual. There are two Finnish worship services each month and the meetings of the sewing circle are conducted in Finnish.

Meetings of the Lutheran Friendly Circle are conducted in English, also the teaching of both the church school and the confirmation school. English worship services are held every Sunday morning. The will of God is that the Gospel be preached in whatever language the people understand.

In 1928 the first major improvement in the Rockport Lutheran Church was made. This was the purchase of pews to replace the single chairs in use since the church was built in 1895. A group of girls from the Sunday school organized a sewing club, which met once a week to sew articles and embroider linens. Sales were then held and the proceeds used for the purchase of the church pews. The sewing club was started in October 1926, pews were purchased and installed in 1928, and a dedication service was held January 13, 1929.

The second major improvement was the building of a modern kitchen and the installation of lavatories. The Lutheran Friendly Circle started raising funds for this project and the Ladies' Sewing Circle gave a helping hand. The men of the church built and painted the rooms. A special "Dedication Service" was held December 30, 1951.

The third, and most recent, major improvement and the one calling for raising the largest finances has just been completed. This is the modern oil furnace. The Lutheran Friendly Circle began raising funds for the furnace in the spring of 1956. It was the largest undertaking started by these ladies. Of course, without the cooperation and aid of the sewing circle, the trustees, and the congregation, the goal would not have been reached. At the quarterly meeting of the church on October 21, 1956, the members voted unanimously to purchase the furnace. The "Dedication Service" will be held January 27, 1957.

After the death of Rev. Antti O. Kuusisto, after twenty years of service, guest preachers were engaged for the summer months.

In October 1955 Rev. Eino Olaf Rankinen, who had just completed four years as chaplain services supervisor at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, accepted the pastorate of the Rockport and Peabody churches. Pastor Rankinen is a graduate of Suomi College, Hancock, Michigan, and of Jamestown College, North Dakota. He was ordained in 1948. Previous to entering the armed services, he served as "flying preacher" in Wing, North Dakota, piloting his own plane for three years between two parishes eighty miles apart. The joint Peabody-Rockport minister is Pastor Rankinen's first parish since completing four years in the Air Force. The pastor, his wife, and two daughters, Wanda 5 and Sara 3, make their home at the parsonage in Peabody.

With the coming of Pastor Rankinen, English worship services were started as the need for it was seen. The majority of the Finnish-speaking members hope the Lutheran church will survive for their descendants.

The Lutheran church of Rockport has served its parishioners almost 64 years and with God's help will continue to do so.

With this brief history we may think back over the years that have passed in the life of our church and know that God has been our strength and help. So let us pray for His continued blessing.

"Turn not back, my comrades,
From a task begun;
There'll be time for resting
When the work is done:
For the strength that's needed
Trust the God Above
Daring, doing, winning
In the name of Love."

Page 7-9 in: "Improvement Day" January 27, 1957. St. Paul's Lutheran Church. 20 Forest Street. Rockport, Massachusetts. 1957.

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