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Our Church. Suomi Synod. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America

Alfred Haapanen


This booklet contains a brief story of our Church, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, or Suomi Synod. It is the first historical sketch of our Church in the English language, Its purpose is to acquaint our younger members, our children, as well as others interested in our Church, with its history, its activities, and the doctrine upon which it is based.

I. The Pioneer Finns

A remarkably large part of the Finnish people, perhaps one ninth, have migrated across the seas to the North American continent - to the United States and Canada. It is estimated that at the height of the immigration there were approximately 500,000 Finns, including the American born. Of these over 400,000 were in the United States and about 60,000 to 70,000 in Canada. More accurate statistics are difficult to obtain.

Finnish immigration proper began around 1870. However, a smaller group of our people did migrate to this country earlier. From reports we learn that a small number were in the army during the Civil War. During the middle of the seventeenth century a group of several hundred came to Delaware in the Swedish Colonization party, which established the first Lutheran church in this country.

During the early years of this immigration the number of immigrants was comparatively small. The greater part came over during the period from 1880 to 1914. During the first World War immigration ceased. After the war a new law was passed in this country limiting Finnish immigrants to an insignificant number - 400 to 500 a year. Consequently, they poured into Canada by the thousands.

In this country our people located primarily in mining, logging, and farming areas. Their first years especially were filled with toil, hardships, and suffering. They were strangers in a strange land. Because of their lack of knowledge of the conditions and of the language, it was extremely difficult for them to establish contacts or to make attachments to this country. Hence they lived only in the thought of returning to the homeland as soon as they had saved enough money. For this same reason they neglected even the spiritual activities. Their life and its interests were, as a result, temporary arrangements. Overwhelmed by homesickness and loneliness, they were susceptible to moral dangers. They yielded easily to the temptations of the saloon, often with tragic results. Relatives were forgotten; even the most sacred ties were broken. Life degenerated for many in every way, and often in the best years of youth it ended in the desolate night of hopelessness.

Gradually, however, our people began to realize that man cannot live by bread alone, that he needs nourishment for his immortal soul, that he needs the comfort of the Word of God. When our people experienced that their plans do not always materialize and that in many instances they are completely thwarted, then as if of its own accord there arose in their souls a desire to seek something more permanent in which they could find strength and solace during even the darkest of days. Death took one and then another. The bodies were laid to rest in strange ground. The graves were blessed in many cases by a minister of another nationality, speaking an unfamiliar tongue. Occasionally a dear friend was buried unblessed. All this was sad and depressing. When Sunday came, the bells of the churches of other nationalities called God's people, but they brought no joy to the Finnish people far from their homeland. They were stirred by vivid thoughts of their native land - by the thought that there they used to gather together in the House of the Lord to hear the Word of God. In their souls surged the feelings of the psalmist:

"When I remember these things, I pour out my soul in me: for I had gone with the multitude; I went with them to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude, that kept holyday." Ps. 42: 4.

Childhood teachings arose in their hearts, and within them awoke a thirst and hunger for God. They began to search for the way of the Lord. Here was the soil, the first ground, in which the immortal crop was to be sown.

The mining districts of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Copper Country, received a large share of the Finnish immigrants. They were Finns from Sweden, Finns from Norway, as well as Finns from Finland, mostly from the northern part, from Oulu Province (Oulun Lääni). Their chief industries for a long while were mining and logging, but later they scattered by the hundreds to the surrounding regions to farm. The Copper Country, as the oldest and largest Finnish settlement, has had a leading part in the cultivation of the spiritual life of our people. Here began the work of our Church. Here the trails were blazed, the battles fought, the hopes and disappointments experienced. Here was born the Finnish American Evangelical Lutheran Church or Suomi Synod, and from here it spread to fulfill its calling.

II. The Origin and Early History of the Finnish Ev. Luth. Church

As early as 1867 we see a beginning of church life among the Finns, in Hancock and Calumet, Michigan. However, it was not an indepedent activity; it was carried on jointly with the Swedes and the Norwegians. There were no Finnish pastors. Norwegian pastors did the preaching; some through an interpreter and some in Finnish, of which they had a slight command. Rev. H. Roernaes was one of these. In 1876 the Finns set out independently and through the Finnish Missionary Society called a pastor from Finland. This pastor was the Rev. Alfred Elieser Backman, who arrived in Calumet on September 10, 1876, and settled there.

During his first year both the Calumet Bethlehem congregation and the Hancock-Quincy congregation were organized. The latter became the second leading early congregation. Rev. Backman established devotional centers in the neighboring communities and devoted himself untiringly to this great task. In addition to this lie also made occasional mission trips into Minnesota and Ohio. Rev. Backman lived in Calumet for several years. A parsonage was built there jointly by the Calumet and Hancock congregations. Later he moved to a new parsonage in Quincy.

Rev. Backman worked here in all about seven years, visiting his homeland once during that time. In 1883 he returned to Finland to live. Although he remained in America only for a short time, his work has been far-reaching. As the first trail blazer in the field of the American Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church, he has an important place in her history. He began the work, from which it has grown to its present stage of development. Diligently and faithfully he sowed the seed of God's Word in the hearts of our people. Although they lived in comparatively primitive circumstances, the seed soon bore abundant fruit.

After the Rev. Backman's return to Finland, the congregations were without a pastor for about a year and a half. But the need for church life was now so deeply ingrained in the members that they could no longer remain without a shepherd. They sent calls to Finland for a pastor and prayed to God that He would send them the right shepherd, one who would teach them in the spirit and concepts to which they had been accustomed in the country of their birth. Their requests and prayers' were answered. They received a shepherd whom the Lord had especially chosen as the apostle to the American Finns. He was the Rev. Johan Kustaa Nikander.

Rev. Nikander arrived in Hancock on January 3, 1885. He set out conscientiously to continue the work of his predecessor, and of course no one at that time realized how far-reaching his work was to be and how profound an effect it would have upon the Finnish people in America.

He soon observed that a more advanced church organization was impossible at that time. The congregation concept was weak. The support was meager. The sect spirit flourished. Recognizing these circumstances he adjusted himself to them and arranged his program accordingly. He realized that the work must be carried on as missionary work - that it was necessary for the minister to be always on the move, to visit the mining towns, the logging camps, searching for and gathering his people around the Word of God, to baptize children, to teach confirmation school, to bury the dead, and to minister in numerous other ways. In most of the places there were no churches. The people gathered in small private homes and in logging camps.

The meetings were nevertheless blessed. Many took part, and many were receptive. Most of our people were church-minded at that time. Despite the fact that many had succumbed to drunkenness and other evils, there dwelled in their souls a sensitiveness and a respect for all that is holy. The Word of God found response in many such hearts.

As has already been mentioned, congregations were organized to a certain degree in the principal towns, Calumet and Hancock, during Rev. Backman's time. As Rev. Nikander continued the work, the work of organizing gradually progressed. New congregations were established in the Copper Country and in the surrounding territory. Churches and other meeting houses were built. Interest in church work grew. As each year brought a large number of immigrants to the district, it was necessary to have more workers, preachers, and church publications.

The first Finnish church publications, Paimen Sanomat and Lehtiä Lapsille were born in 1889. As the work spread and the number of congregations increased, it became obvious that more cooperation would be needed among the congregations. Joint institutions and newer methods would be necessary for developing the work on a larger scale. A desire for an organized synod and for a private school awoke. The thought of establishing a synod developed year by year. It was discussed by both ministers and members of the congregations. The time came when those earnest desires were fulfilled, though not without a struggle.

The Establishment of the Synod

After the organization of the Synod had been worked out, the constitution drafted, and public opinion guided, the first church convention was held on March 25, 1890, in Calumet, Michigan. All of the pastors came to the meeting; namely, J. K. Nikander, K. L. Tolonen, J. J. Hoikka, and J. W. Eloheimo. Nine congregations were represented by the following seventeen delegates:

Delegates from the Calumet congregation: A. A. Pajari, N. A. Lempeä, J. Niva, E. W. Wennberg, Olli Rousu, and Alex F. Leinonen; Hancock: A. Johnson, K. Silfven, T. Suni; Ishpeming: J. H. Jasberg and N. Majbannu; Newberry: J. T. Erickson; Jacobsville: Joosep Salmu; Ironwood: W. W. Lundi; Republic: K. Silberg; Negaunee: H. Heinonen; Savo: H. Sarvela. (Savo is in South Dakota; all of the other places represented are in Michigan.)

It was unanimously decided to establish a synod. The draft of the constitution was studied and approved. The first executive board, the Consistory, was chosen. The following pastors were elected: J. K. Nikander, president (four-year term) ; J. W. Eloheimo, secretary (three-year term) ; K. L. Tolonen, treasurer (two-year term), and J. J. Hoikka, notary (one-year term).

III. Constitution of the Synod


"We, the people of Finnish stock in America, confessing the Evangelical Lutheran faith, in order to form a more perfect church union; to stabilize the Government of the Church; to preserve the pure evangelical faith; to spread the light of the Gospel; to revive true Christianity; to insure for ourselves as well as for our posterity the communion of union in the holy saints; and to protect the property of our congregations, do hereby ordain and establish the following CONSTITUTION, as required by Howell's Act 4653, Laws of the State of Michigan.

I. The legal name of this Church is: THE FINNISH EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH OF AMERICA, which in shorter form is called THE SUOMI SYNOD.

II. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America confesses the Christian Faith that is based upon the. Word of God, the prophetic and apostolic books of the Old and New Testaments, and published in the three Ecumenical Creeds of the Early Church, in the Augsburg Confession, and in the other symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and maintains as the highest principle of confession that the Holy Word of God is the only rule and standard by which all doctrines of the Church are to be tried and judged.

III. The activity of this Synod shall extend to all parts of the United States and Canada.

IV. The object of this Synod is: to provide ministers and teachers; to organize and admit congregations into its membership; to establish missions and libraries; to build churches, academies, schools, meeting-houses, church homes and hospitals; to sell, buy, control and rent real estate as well as chattels; to grant or accept loans, mortgages, notes and other securities.

V. The property of this Synod today is $1,832. Its income is derived from payments and donations of its congregations, societies and individual members, either in the form of real or personal property, and this property may be increased to the limit prescribed by the law of the state.

VI. The government of the Synod shall consist of: First, a Consistory, composed of four ministers: President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Notary, who are elected by the Church Convention; second, an annual Synodical Convention, composed of ministers and delegates of the congregations. The Synodical Convention elects annually a treasurer, either a minister or a layman, who must submit a financial report to the Convention.

VII. The headquarters of this Synod shall be where the President of the Synod has his residence, at present at Hancock, State of Michigan.

VIII. The Annual Convention of the Synod shall be held at a place designated by the preceding convention and beginning in the first half of June on a date designated by the Consistory.

IX. The Synod adopts its own By-Laws which shall be altered, amended, or annulled only after the following procedure: proposals for alterations shall be first made public to the congregations in the circular letter of the Consistory containing the program of the Synodical Convention. The proposed change must be approved by a two-thirds majority to be adopted.

X. Changes in the Constitution and By-Laws shall become effective after the meeting in which they have been approved."

IV. The Government

The government of the church is synodical. Individual congregations have freedom of action in their local affairs. They govern the Synod through the representatives they send to the annual Church Convention. This body has the highest governmental power. The government of the Synod is administered by the Consistory, to which belong four pastors who are chosen by the Church Convention for a four-year term, in rotation, so that one member is up for election each year. The officers are: president, vice-president, secretary, and notary. The president is the chief executive. Since 1924 he has been entirely in the service of the Synod.

The function of the Consistory is to see that the work of the Synod and the decisions of the Church Convention are carried out and that the Law and Order of the Synod are followed; to examine candidates for the ministry and to ordain them; to investigate and arbitrate dissensions and disturbances; to see that purity of the doctrine is preserved, as well as to see that the administering of the Holy Sacraments is done in a dignified manner; to attend to the Christian training of the children and youth of the Synod, and to supervise in general the work of the church.

The Church Convention is held annually in a place that has been chosen by the previous convention. Congregations may send one representative for every one hundred members or fraction thereof. Even the smallest congregations may send one delegate. Those qualified to be chosen delegates are the adult members of the congregations, both men and women. All of the pastors are delegates ex officio. Each of the delegates, pastors as well as laymen, has one vote.

Thus, our church government is democratic. It is in harmony with the government and ideals of our democracy. The government of the other Lutheran churches in America is essentially the same. Experience has shown that with this type of church government in our democratic way of life, the true ideals of the Church of the Reformation can be realized.

V. The Conferences

For practical reasons the Synod is divided into six conferences; namely, the Eastern, Ohio-Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Columbia, and California. Each of the Conferences has its own rules, boards, and annual meetings, but they are subject to the government and law of the Synod. The Conferences are made up of a group of neighboring congregations. This arrangement is particularly necessary because our field of activity is really as large as the United States. It would be impossible for the central government to arrange the work in any greater detail for such a large area. Through this district arrangement the work throughout the Synod is taken care of more fairly and thoroughly and the resources in the individual districts are brought out more effectively.

VI. Doctrine

The doctrine of the Lutheran Church is interpreted in a definite form, which is established on the Word of God and on Christian experience. The Creed is not an arm chair philosophy but is a living expression of the Lord's work in practice in the human heart and life.

The Creed of our Synod is stated in the second article of the constitution, which has already been presented.

The Word of God is the highest rule to faith and life. God's Word, which is written in the Holy Bible is given to us through the workings of His spirit. There He has revealed His salvation to the individual as well as to the whole fallen race. This message of salvation has been revealed more completely in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who is the central revelation of the Bible.

The conception of salvation of the New Testament: righteousness through faith, which the Apostle Paul has interpreted especially in his letter to the Romans, is the precious heritage of the Lutheran Church. It is the leading principle of the Reformation. The Lutheran Church is called the Church of the Word of God. As such it has tried to preserve its position even when in other circles there has been a tendency to drift away from the clear teaching. Be it mentioned particularly to the credit of the Lutheran Church in America that it has held its stand firmly. Also in our Synod is preached that simple but all inclusive gospel of the Cross for the salvation of the human soul, for the forgiveness of sins, for life, and blessedness. On this firm foundation our Church also wishes to remain.

VII. The Sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper

Through Holy Baptism the individual is taken into God's covenant, and through this act is realized the Lord Jesus Christ's royal command to make all nations His disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Baptism the seed of a new life is sown into the heart of the child. An important part of baptismal teaching is that the child is later to be taught to understand the meaning of Baptism so that he may consciously awaken to the knowledge of the great blessing of baptismal grace.

The sacrament of the Lord's supper was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ for the blessing of the spiritual life of His followers. In Holy Communion that life which was born in Baptism is kept alert and is nourished. In this sacrament, through the bread and the wine, the believing soul partakes of the glorified body and blood of Jesus for the assurance of the forgiveness of sins, of life, and of blessedness.

Our Church holds earnestly to the high worth and meaning of the holy sacraments as means of grace instituted by Christ.

On the question of confession our Church is also on the old basis. General confession is always a part of both the regular and the communion services. In this joint confession the sins and shortcomings are brought to God's mercy-seat in repentance. The pastor, as the servant of God, declares the sins forgiven on the basis of God's Word and promise of grace. There is also individual confession, where one can open his heart to his confessor and be guided by him to the possession of God's grace and forgiveness. Through the general or individual confession of his sins and through the absolution by faith, the troubled soul obtains peace for his conscience.

VIII. The Task of Our Church

We American Finnish Christians have been able to bring from our fatherland as a precious heritage the Evangelical Lutheran faith and doctrine. If we have been able to bring other things of great value, both nationalistic and cultural, the most precious, nevertheless, is our religion, for it is the most essential factor in human life. Therein lies the foundation of life and untold wealth which gives the right content and motive to the high calling of the human being. What would our life be without the Christian Church, without the preaching of the Word of God, and without Christian teaching and rearing?

We may say that our Church has been born almost of itself into our midst as the outward expression of this heritage. In order that our Church may properly perform her calling, she must be aware of her task.

When we speak of being cognizant of the calling of the church, we mean, above all, that the executives of the Synod, the pastors, and the members of the congregations have clearly in mind the necessity and meaning of the work of God's Kingdom. In the first place there must awaken a knowledge of the importance of.the work. In this way the calling of the church in general will be clarified. The more lively this calling is in individual Christians, the more effectively will it appear in church life.

The Kingdom of God is by its very nature progressive. Its purpose is to cleanse and sanctify human life in every way. It is God's love, His saving, uplifting, and working love which thus attempts to spread blessing in the greatest possible measure. When the life of the Christian fails to develop, there is something wrong. When the church fails to progress, there is something wrong; then the church is like a diseased organism whose life is being wasted away.

The chief duty of the church is to preach God's Word and to administer the Holy Sacraments according to Christ's command, to give Christian teaching to children and to youth, to cultivate Christian character and personality in its members, and to spread Christian influence into community life for the sustaining and developing of Christian morality and the feeling of right and the sense of duty. The sacred calling of the church is to realize especially the Master's request to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom into greater areas until the limits of the earth meet in the victorious course of the Gospel.

IX. Educational Work

In this country, where we have religious freedom, the danger of slipping into indifference in the Christian teaching and rearing of the children and youth is ever present. Large groups of children and young people may be left without any kind of religious training. Hence it is the obligation of the church to provide it.

Christian training and rearing of children is, in the first place, the duty of the parents. If they do not care about it, the church is not able to accomplish much. However, the duty of the church is to see that the home has the possibility of fulfilling this obligation.

With the establishment of the first congregations Sunday schools were organized as quickly as possible. To further the work a country-wide organization, the Sunday School Association, was formed. After a few years, however, it was dissolved. A Board of Education was created to direct the Sunday school work, and the conferences assumed greater responsibility for promoting it. They adopted the custom of holding annual Sunday school conventions - lasting two or three days. At these gatherings there are lectures, teaching demonstrations, and discussions about the principles and practical phases of the work. In conjunction with these conventions there is generally a religious festival. From them have been received renewed enthusiasm for the work, skill and guidance for home instruction as well as for Sunday school work. Local Sunday schools hold teachers' meetings and arrange programs to which are invited the parents and others interested.

Summer schools have been held ever since the congregations were organized. The main subjects taught were religion and Finnish and, as much as possible, Finnish history and geography. At first the children attended school all day for two months. Later, the term was shortened to one month and more recently to two weeks with one group of children attending half a day and another group the other half.

That it was possible to hold summer school for two months was due in part to the fact that the children at that time had a longer vacation from public school and in part to the fact that there was more interest in teaching them Finnish. The results have been plainly noticed wherever summer schools were attended regularly. The children's command of the Finnish language was better and their religious training more advanced.

In the beginning instruction in our Sunday schools and summer schools was in the Finnish language. Now it is being given almost entirely in English. More and more the Vacation Bible School is taking the place of the summer school.

X. Suomi College

Suomi College, the most important institution of our Church, represents higher education and Christian training among our people. Even in the beginning when congregational activity was just getting under way and even before the Synod was established, the need for such a school was felt. When we progressed to the extent that we were able to bring about cooperation among the congregations and when the Synod was established, then the necessity of a church school became the burning question of the day. The need for pastors increased year by year. It was realized that in the future it would be difficult to get permanent pastors from Finland and that the future workers would have to get their training in this country in order that they would become thoroughly familiar with and interested in doing the work here.

Circumstances, however, were hardly favorable for such a great attempt. But the thought germinated in the minds of the few ministers and laymen. The subject was discussed in private conversations and at meetings. It was spoken of to God in prayer. Thus it developed and grew and finally materialized.

The first semester of Suomi College began on September 8, 1896, with twenty-two students and four teachers. Dr. J. K. Nikander was chosen president. He was also one of the instructors.

The curriculum was so arranged that it would require seven years to complete the work of both the Academy and the College. In addition there was a two-year course in the Theological Seminary. The first class was graduated in 1904. The first ministers from our Theological Seminary, five in number, were ordained in Hancock, Mich., June 5, 1906. They were Alfred Haapanen, Matt Luttinen, Salomon Ilmonen, Peter Keränen, and John Wargelin. The College had then been in existence for ten years.

Since that time the curriculum has developed, in accordance with the needs. The Academy course was extended to four years to meet the requirements of the public high school. The actual subject matter was one third more than required in the public school as the students also studied Finnish, religion, music, and other subjects which to the Finns were of particular importance. In 1930 the Academy was discontinued and more emphasis was placed on the junior College which was organized a few years before. The junior College has the regular subject matter required in the first two years of college. The Theological Seminary Course is three years. The Commercial department has developed remarkably year by year. For a long time this department has been the largest. Even in the Commercial department Finnish and Christianity are in the curriculum. From the beginning, music has been an important subject, and gradually a separate department of music was formed.

Great has been the significance of our school in the development of our Church. It has been an effective organ in the enlightenment of our people. Our Sunday schools and our summer schools have obtained their teachers from there.

It is true the school has had to work against difficulties the whole time, but in spite of that it, has been continuously active for almost fifty years. As the founder of the school and as its first president, Dr. J. K. Nikander was untiringly active for nearly twenty-three years, up to the time of his death in 1919. The succeeding presidents were Dr. J. Wargelin, Rev. A. Lepisto, and again Dr. Wargelin, and at the present time, Dr. V. K. Nikander, the son of the first president.

Our school still has an important task to accomplish in the service of our Church and people. With God's blessing its work will be fruitful in the coming days as well.

XI. Youth Work

Since the future of the church lies with its youth, our young people's work requires diligent activity, study, and above all love and understanding of the life and aspirations of youth. Christ has always exerted a great influence over young people. Among His fervent consecrated followers we have at all times found young men and women, but never before have they been an organized force as in our time. In its present form this movement is almost a hundred years old.

In the different Lutheran Synods all churches were encouraged to form Young People's Christian Associations quite early. The individual leagues formed district or conference leagues and these in turn were organized into synodical leagues. Youth work in our Synod started in organized form very early. We find the first Young People's Christian Associations on the West and East coasts. Already in 1894 a Seamen's Mission pastor, Rev. R. Hernberg, formed a Y.P.C.A. in San Francisco, California. At about the same time another was started in Fort Bragg, California, and in 1907 in Berkeley, California. Although the cradle of our youth movement is in the West, it was the last to organize into a conference league because of the scarcity of ministers in the West, the distance from headquarters in Hancock, and the distance of the congregations from each other. The work was dormant until the last ten or fifteen years.

On the East coast the first Y.P.C.A.'s were organized in 1903 in Brooklyn, New York, and in 1906 in Harlem, New York. In 1914 most of the congregations in the East had their Y.P.C.A.'s. At one time the Christian Youth movement was very strong in the East. Hundreds of young people gathered for annual conventions and song festivals.

Among the pioneer youth groups we find the Fairport Y.P.C.A., in Ohio, founded in 1905 by Rev. Hannes Leiviskä. In Michigan, a Y.P.C.A. was formed in Ishpeming in 1906, in Hancock in 1912, and possibly about the same time in other congregations.

In 1909 there were nine Y.P.C.A.'s with a membership of 400. In 1919 there were 52 groups with a membership of 2,678; in 1939-116, membership 3,279; in 1945-93, membership 2,066.

The Name

First the name, Young People's Christian Association or "Kristillinen Nuorisoyhdistys" or "Kristillinen Nuorisoliitto", was used. This name was inherited from the Mother Church in Finland. Gradually, however, influenced by the other Lutheran Synods, the name Luther League was adopted.

The Membership and Language

In former years the League membership was composed entirely of people who were born in Finland, and consequently only Finnish was used. Even later when some of the members were American-born, Finnish was still the official language. Parents did not want their children to forget the language nor the spiritual and cultural heritage of their forefathers. During recent years, however, English has gained ground. In 64 Luther Leagues the official language is English; only nine use Finnish. The rest use both languages.

There is also a noticeable change in the age of the members. During the early years of the League's development the members were older and more mature. The present membership is mostly of the teenage group. The older youth has organized into Young Women's Guilds, Mission Circles, and Brotherhoods. According to the last reports (1945) there are 18 Brotherhoods with a membership of 383; 32 Young Women's Guilds with a membership of 1,014; and 22 Mission Circles with a membership of 735.

In the Ohio-Pennsylvania and Minnesota Conference, the local Guilds have organized into Conference Guilds, which hold annual meetings. The Ohio-Pennsylvania Guild is especially well-organized and strong. For four consecutive years they have had guest speakers visiting the local Guilds.

The Conference Luther League

Following the example of the other Lutheran churches, the local Y.P.C.A.'s organized into Conference Luther Leagues in this order:

Eastern. "Nuorisoliitto", at Maynard, Massachusetts, in 1916.

Michigan, at Ishpeming, Michigan, in 1918 at a Spring Festival, but not officially organized until 1919 at Hancock, Michigan.

Ohio-Pennsylvania, at Fairport, Ohio, in 1919.

Minnesota, at Duluth, Minnesota, in 1930.

California, at San Francisco, California, in 1940.

The Columbia Conference is the only one that does not as yet have a conference young people's organization.

The Synodical Luther League

In 1919 at the Church Convention in Peabody, Massachusetts, a committee was selected to draft a constitution for a Suomi Synod Luther League. This constitution was approved at the Church Convention in Wakefield, Michigan, on June 12, 1920, and the first Board of Directors was elected. The members were: Rev. A. Setälä, Rev. S. V. Autere, Rev. H. Hillilä, Mrs. Anna Elm, and Mrs. Alma Haapanen.

But it did not last, and the Church Convention at Maynard, Massachusetts, June 11-12, 1926, decided unanimously to discontinue the Synodical League.

The Board of Education was then created to replace the Synodical League and the Sunday School Association. The duty of this Board was to further the Christian education of our youth.

During recent years our Church felt a need for a Synodical League and for a Luther League Field Secretary, who could devote at least part of his time to this work. The Church Convention in Hibbing, Minnesota, in 1942, elected a committee consisting of Pastors Douglas Ollila, Onni Koski, Carl Tamminen, and Edward Isaac, and Mrs. A. Haapanen to find a way to realize these two objectives. This committee and the Board of Education suggested to the Church Convention in De Kalb, Illinois, in 1943, that the newly-elected Seminary instructor, Rev. Raymond Wargelin, should give part of his time to this work. This was approved, and Rev. Wargelin became our first Luther League Field Secretary, in 1944.

During the years 1943-1944 the above-mentioned committee and the newly-elected secretary made plans to have all the Luther Leagues of the Synod meet in Detroit in connection with the Church Convention to revive the Synodical Luther League. Consequently a constitution was drafted. This together with questionnaires was sent to all local Luther Leagues, who were invited to send delegates to attend the meeting in Detroit. The result was that on June 18, 1944, about 70 delegates from the various Leagues gathered at St. John's Church in Detroit and decided unanimously to organize again a Synodical League. The constitution was approved, and the following Executive Committee was elected: Rev. E. J. Isaac, President; Rev. Douglas Ollila, Vice-President; Miss Hilda Larson, Secretary; Mr. John Ollila, Treasurer; and Mr. Harry Hietikko, Statistician.

The Bible Camps

The Bible Camp movement has proved to be one of the greatest blessings, for it has led innumerable young people to make a definite decision to follow Christ as their personal Savior. The pioneer in this activity in our Synod was the Minnesota Conference. The first Bible Camp was held at Loon Lake, in Palo, Minnesota, from July 5-10, 1931, with Rev. Antti Lepisto as director. Every Conference has Bible Camps at the present time, not only for young people, but for children, and older people, separately.

The Luther League Publication

In 1915 a monthly periodical in the Finnish language, Nuorten Ystävä, was published for the purpose of enlivening our youth work. For some years it was published in both English and Finnish. However, in keeping with the general trend toward the use of English, the periodical finally appeared in that language and under a new name - a change that was approved in 1939 at the Church Convention in Republic, Michigan. Thus was born The Lutheran Counselor, a monthly publication in English, which is now the official organ of youth groups in the Suomi Synod.

We are very much interested in the progress our young people's work is making. We want to encourage and assist our young people by maintaining a young people's program that is adapted to the spiritual experience and to the lives of our youth so that they can feel and say, "This is our own."

XII. Mission Work

Home Missions

Home Mission work is particularly well known in America, as this is in a special sense a Home Mission country. The circumstances of religious freedom, the form of government, and the continual immigration during the former decades have made it so. In former times large groups of immigrants came yearly to our shores and scattered throughout the broad country. In their homeland, particularly where there was a state church, they were obliged to belong and to adjust themselves to organized congregational life. In this new homeland their church life became voluntary. Some joined a congregation upon arrival; a large share remained outside of the church. This situation opened up for all of the churches a challenging field for Home Mission work.

Through this work we are best able to approach our people in the more distant regions and to serve them with the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments. There are sections in which our people are neither able to organize a congregation themselves nor to support a pastor by themselves. But when the Home Mission comes to their aid, a congregation is formed, a pastor is sent, and financial assistante is given according to the need. These groups are assisted and directed in their work until they can make their congregation self-supporting.

Home Mission work has been done in our Church ever since the Church was established. The work was originally in charge of the Consistory, which arranged mission trips whenever sufficient funds, obtained solely through voluntary contributions, were available. If on the other hand the treasury was empty, the work was temporarily stopped. Interest, however, was kept alive, and later when more pastors were ordained and when the first congregations began to prosper, the mission work was continued and developed. From 1916 on, after a special Home Mission Board had been chosen at the Church Convention held in Superior, Wisconsin, the work was better organized and progressed with greater effectiveness. The first members elected to the board were: Rev. Victor Koivumäki, Rev. Victor K.uusisto, Mrs. Augusta Lahti, and from the Consistory, Rev. Alfred Haapanen.

A noteworthy step in our Home Mission work was taken in 1921, when our Church made an agreement with the United Lutheran Church of America to do joint work for the development of Home Mission activity. The work was extended over the whole of the United States and Canada. We were able to call a regular worker to take charge. The U.L.C.A. promised immediately to give fifty per cent of the necessary support. They kept their promise faithfully. In addition they aided our seminary students financially during their school years. The coöperative work was harmonious, engendering mutual understanding between the two church bodies. This joint work continued for fifteen years.

Approximately six to ten mission pastorates have received Home Mission aid yearly. The amount of assistance has varied from twenty-five to one hundred dollars a month per congregation. Besides the regular mission pastorates, missionary trips have been made elsewhere when necessary.

Our Canadian congregations and their mission work were, according to our mutual agreement and with the consent of the Canadian congregations, taken over by the U.L.C.A. in 1931. The Canadian work being entirely in charge of the Home Mission would have required so much support from our Church that it would not have been possible for us to take care of it properly.

Home Mission work in our Church continues to have great possibilities. The mission fields are still broad even though Canada is not included. Our greatest need right now is for more pastors and for more workers inspired by shepherd-love. These we can obtain from Christ Jesus if only we ask for them sincerely and with the right attitude.

Foreign Missions

Foreign Mission work was especially close to the heart of the members of the Suomi Synod from the very beginning. One of the early pastors, K. L. Tolonen, had been a Missionary in Africa. Dr. J. K. Nikander, when he was a theological student at the University of Helsinki, tutored at the home of the Director of Foreign Missions, Rev. Charles Gustaf Tötterman. In this cultured Christian home, where the burning interest was foreign missions, Dr. Nikander was inspired with the love for mission work. Although the Suomi Synod itself was a vast mission field with few workers and meager funds, it did not forget Christ's command to His disciples: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." Matt. 28: 19.

To further this work a Foreign Mission Board was established in 1916 at the Church Convention in Superior, Wisconsin. The first members of this Board were Dr. Alvar Rautalahti, Rev. F. V. Kava, and Mr. M. Pesämäki. At this same convention Rev. Niilo Korhonen, who had received his education at the mission school in Helsinki, was ordained as our missionary to Finland's mission field in China. He worked in China for five years. A weakened physical condition forced him to leave.

Quite often Finnish missionaries on their way to or from the mission fields have visited our congregations from coast to coast. With their messages they have inspired the congregations and have often received liberal donations for the support of their work in China, Africa, and Japan.

We cooperated with the Foreign Mission Society in Finland until World War II. We sent $1,000 annually for the support of one missionary in China.

Since the beginning of World War II our Church has coöperated in the support of Foreign Mission work with the National Lutheran Council. We have participated in the Lutheran World Action.

The present Board of Foreign Missions consists of four members. They are elected for a three-year term, in rotation, at the annual Church Conventions. They are elected from the same Conference to facilitate attending the meetings. The present members all reside in the Ohio-Pennsylvania Conference.

Where interest in missionary work is alive, there the spiritual life of the congregation is vigorous. Where this interest is dead, there is spiritual poverty.

Inner Missions

Inner Mission work means the demonstration of Christian love toward the sick, the helpless, the orphans, and the aged. The many types of institutions of mercy are in the sphere of the Church the finer fruits of this love.

In our Synod, however, Inner Mission work as an organized phase of activity is still in its early stages of development, although interest in it has always been evident. There has been a desire to found both an orphanage and a home for the aged. But owing to the rigid requirements of state laws and the modern trends in regard to the building of orphanages, the desire has not been realized.

However, we have funds for this purpose. A few individuals have willed sizeable amounts to be used for such institutions; among them are: Mr. and Mrs. Iisak Sillberg, Miss Linda Mahlmberg, and John W. Swartz. The Eastern Conference has several thousand dollars in the treasury for an orphanage. The interest from. this money is divided yearly among the most needy orphans in that district. The Ohio-Pennsylvania Conference and the Synod also have funds for this purpose.

At present there is a private Old People's Home in Republic, Mich., founded and owned by Rev. K. V. Mykkänen.

Our hope and prayer is that we shall soon realize our dreams of having our greatly needed institutions of mercy.

In 1923 the Seamen's Missionary Society, in Helsinki, Finland, turned over to us the Seamen's Mission in San Francisco, California. After eight years the Synod decided to discontinue the station as a separate institution. From our viewpoint the station, as it was, no longer answered its purpose. Consequently the Seamen's Missionary Society of Finland took over the station once more.

XIII. The Publishing Field in Our Synod (The Printed Word)

The expression of ideas in all the avenues of lite through the printed word is one of the most powerful phenomena of our times. It is powerful also in the work of the Kingdom of God. The printed word has had a particularly important place in our Synod. In early times a church paper was the only preacher that visited our people in distant sections for months and even years.

Our oldest Finnish church paper is Paimen-Sanomat (The Shepherd's Message). It was begun in 1889 and was published once a week. God only knows to how many lonely, distressed souls it brought cheer and courage as well as greetings from fellow Christians. Paimen-Sanomat is still published in the Finnish language, but only once a month.

To further the Sunday school work, Lasten Lehti (Children's Paper) was started in 1892. For more than half a century Lasten Lehti was published once a week in Finnish. For several years now it has been published in English, because the majority of our Sunday school children do not have sufficient knowledge of the Finnish language. The name has been changed to The Messenger.

Nuorten Ystävä (The Friend of Youth) was begun in 1915 and was published once a month. The Church Convention in Republic, Michigan, in 1939, sanctioned the change of the language to English and the change of the name to The Lutheran Counselor.

Among the oldest periodicals is also the Joululehti (Christmas paper). To the same group belong Pääsiäislehti (Easter), Juhannuslehti (Midsummer), and Uskonpuhdistuksen Muisto (Reformation). These are published in Finnish by the Suomi College.

Since 1903 the Kirkollinen Kalenteri (The Church Calendar) has been a welcome addition to our Christmas literature. It has the widest circulation and comes as an old dear friend to thousands of homes, where Finnish is still read.

The oldest publishing house of our Church is situated in Hancock, Michigan. It was established in 1889. In the beginning it was privately owned. In 1900 it was sold to the Synod. The Hancock Finnish Lutheran Book Concern has published and is publishing the Amerikan Suometar, a Finnish newspaper, begun in 1899. It is an eight-page edition, issued three times a week.

The other publishing house of the Synod is in Astoria, Oregon. This was established in 1921. This concern publishes a newspaper in the Finnish language, the Lännen Suometar (Western Finnish paper) which on the West coast is considered an important medium in the church and secular work of our people. The business suffered a great financial loss in the Astoria fire of 1922.

The two newspapers, Amerikan Suometar and Lännen Suometar, besides serving our Church, serve the Finnish-speaking public by giving them current world news and acquainting them with the life and thought of our times.

Besides the publications mentioned the Hancock Book Concern has published text books for summer and Sunday schools in Finnish and hymnals and songbooks in English - in short, the literature needed in the work of the Church.

The pioneers in this field were the same people - ministers and laymen - who were the early workers in the other phases of our Church; namely, Dr. J. K. Nikander, Rev. K. L. Tolonen, Dr. J. J. Hoikka, Rev. John Bäck, Mr. J. H. Jasberg, Mr. Alex Leinonen, Mr. Iisak Silberg, Mr. E. Pesonen, and others.

XIV. Stewardship

The church, while it is a spiritual institution, has its human side. The spiritual appears in the human frame. The better the outward organization, the greater the possibilities for the advancement of the Lord's work in the individual Christian as well as in the life of the congregation. When the congregation has a practical and home-like church, the service is much more impressive. When the music and singing in the church are good, the service is particularly moving. When those who love the Word of God are able to come often to hear it, then their lives are that much more blessed. But, in all of this we need material support.

The means necessary to church work should be received without any greater difficulties. Christians should realize that it is a pleasurable responsibility to bring their contributions to the Lord. In the early churches the giving of gifts was a part of the worship. In the time of the Old Testament it was considered a duty to give tithes to the church. The idea of the New Testament is that God's church should be able to get the necessary amounts through joyfully given contributions.

The spirit of giving is a virtue, which is to be developed, particularly here in America. Here the state does not support the church. Therefore, the church people should with that much greater care support the work of God's Kingdom with their material goods. The Lord's Cause should not need to suffer for lack of material support, but often, unfortunately, it does. Many good opportunities are lost in the homeland as well as in the foreign fields just because the Christians have not fulfilled their duties.

As mentioned previously, the spirit of giving is a virtue which can be cultivated and developed. It takes time before Christians notice that this is a pleasant obligation which brings blessing. Stewardship in our Church is gradually growing. In the early years when the work was in every way disorganized, the material support was meager. Our people themselevs lived in difficult circumstances economically. Working conditions were unstable; earnings were small; life in every way was unsettled, as we have described earlier. More abundant contributions could not be expected even for the work of the church. At that time the meeting houses and churches were very humble in many places. It was difficult to support a regular pastor. Since the work was begun under such conditions, very rapid progress in stewardship could not be expected. It was providential that we were able to keep the fire alive so that in the future it could burst into flame when the situation would become more favorable.

As was mentioned, the support was very indefinite and unorganized. For the most part the income was obtained through suppers and other such activities. The same custom was followed for the support of our institutions. Gradually, however, we began to tire of continual evening entertainments and other such practices, particularly when those customs often seemed in conflict with Christian principles. In the Synod there generally awoke a desire to find a more certain form of support and one more in keeping with the ideals of the Church. The budget system, which is in general use in other American churches, was developed. In the budget plan the yearly expenses of the congregations and of the various institutions and phases of the Synod are computed, and the individual offerings are set accordingly. This arrangement was officially approved by the Synod at the Maynard, Mass., church convention in 1926. Arrangements were also made for the local congregations to adopt this system as soon as it was possible for them to do so. Although it took time to put this plan into practice, the budget method has proved to be of great advantage.

The value of the property of the congregations and of the Synod has risen rapidly during the past thirty years. Churches and parsonages have been built and repaired. In general the contributions for these improvements increased proportionately during prosperous times.

The work is the Lord's. His also is the money, the earth, and the goods. When the value of God's Kingdom and its blessing is revealed to us, then we will give gladly for the cause-not only a few coins but truly an offering according to our means and the love in our hearts.

XV. The Present Situation of Our Church

A great change has taken place in our Church during the past fifty years. This is not said of the outward organization as such but of the change in attitudes and character of the work.

In the beginning of this booklet we described the early attitude of the immigrants, that they came to stay a few years, only long enough to earn some money, and then.to return to Finland. This viewpoint was evident in all of their interests. With this attitude they joined the congregation and took part in church work. Some of the pastors even had this same idea. Therefore, it was not easy for either the laymen or the ministers to entertain the thought that they would stay here permanently, to live and work until death. Notwithstanding, most of the church members as well as some of the ministers did remain, fulfilling their calling faithfully.

Such was the attitude during the first decades. It left its mark on the work of the church. It kept many completely outside of the church. Also, it was natural that matters pertaining to the congregations were always interpreted in the light of what was customary in Finland. The church was then truly an immigrant church.

Gradually this situation changed. The older people adjusted themselves to the existing conditions. They began to understand the language and the customs of the country. Homesickness for the fatherland faded and more and more the new land became their home. To the children, who were born and reared here, this is naturally the homeland. The older generation is quickly disappearing according to the natural order. The native born and reared are already in the second, third, and fourth generations. The Finnish people are now very much at home here.

This adjustment to conditions and this change of attitude have naturally had their effect on the church. The work, because it is more settled, has a more permanent stamp to it. The church is adapting its work more and more to the needs. It is no longer an immigrant church but a church of the Finnish Americans, whose holy obligation is to care in the first place for the Finnish Americans, who have become members of this society. Furthermore, in so far as our Church is adopting the language of the country and is otherwise adapting itself to it, it, duty is also to help take care of others, those who do not belong to any church. Our obligation is to help teach our people as good citizens and Christians to perform their life's calling as members of this society. With this understanding our Church must do its work.

Our Finnish origin, the land of our fathers, and that which belongs as a heritage to our people should be esteemed; it should enrich and enliven our home and cultural life. May the church of our fathers and our religious heritage be preserved among us as a powerful factor in the enrichment of our religious and civil life!

We are still living in a transition period. Many important questions such as the language question, youth work, and methods of work and their application remain to be solved. The language question does not need to give cause for much conflict any longer. The use of English is increasing. The religious instruction of our children and youth is given in the language they best understand.

As we have mentioned before, the youth question is a very burning one. How can we keep our youth in the church? It is not enough to solve the language question satisfactorily. It is also necessary to find the way into the soul of our youth. The soul of the Finnish American youth is the same as that of other young Americans. The public school has a great influence. The viewpoint of the community and society puts its stamp on the soul of our youth. All of this we must learn to understand and we must approach the young accordingly and adapt our Christian teachings and upbringing to them. With this in mind our Church should work among our youth.

The methods of work are to be renewed according to the needs and circumstances. The forms of work which have been very effective in the church of Finland do not always fit into the situation here. We will have to give up many things which, to the older generation, have been precious and take in their place such practices which may seem strange, but which are necessary for the furtherance of the work among our rising generations. We must be a part of this age, a part of these experiences. The main thing to be kept always in mind is the advancement of God's Kingdom in every heart.

XVI. The Relationship of Our Synod to the Other Lutheran Churches

The relationship between our Church and the Church of Finland, which is our mother Church, has always been friendly. Her bishops and clergy have shown understanding and sympathy toward our Church. Official visits have been made on both sides. In 1921, Bishop J. R. Koskimies visited our Church. Professori A. Pietilä, in 1925, made a semiofficial trip among us. In 1930, when our Synod celebrated its fortieth anniversary, Archbishop Gustaf Johansson's personal representative at this occasion was K. R. Kares, Dean of the parish of Lapua. In the year 1940 the Church of Finland was to be represented at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of our Synod by Bishops J. A. Mannermaa and Max von Bonsdorff. However, the Russian-Finnish War prevented their coming. In 1933 the president of the Synod, Alfred Haapanen, at the invitation of the Bishops of Finland, attended the Conference of the Bishops of the Northern Countries, which was held in Naantali, Finland. A friendly attitude toward our Synod was also shown there.

We have tried to approach other Finnish American church organizations with understanding. In 1915-1916 there were discussions about uniting with the Finnish National Church. Unfortunately we did not reach the desired goal. Again these discussions were held in 1935-1938. Committees from both churches were chosen to work on the question, but again we did not attain our objective. We still hope, however, that we will. The question is an open one on the part of our Church.

We have wished to come to an understanding also with the Apostolic Lutheran groups and have succeeded to some degree. For example, we have joint churches in a few places. Indications show that closer coöperation is possible. Favorable attitudes are evident on their part as well.

Our Church has also had the opportunity to become acquaintcd with other Lutheran Churches in America. In 1921-1936 we coöperated with the United Lutheran Church of America in Home Mission work. In 1930 there was a question of joining the U.L.C.A. However, it did not materialize. Our Synod felt that such a step was still premature.

We have had occasion to come in contact with the Augustana Synod and the Norwegian Lutheran Church. In fact, in the earlier years we worked together as one unit with the Swedish and Norwegian Lutherans, as we mentioned previously. We hope that this friendly relationship will continue and that it will become ever closer.

The Synod decided to join the National Lutheran Council at the Church Convention in San Francisco, Calif., in 1941. Even before this, our Church coöperated with the Council.

It is our earnest hope that all the Finnish American Lutheran Churches - in fact that all of the American Lutheran Churches will some day be united into one organization to fight as one powerful force against evil.

Jesus says: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." John 17: 20-21.

Statistics of Suomi Synod, 1945

Membership (baptized)


Organized Congregations


Preaching Places






Sunday Schools


  Teachers and Officers




Summer Schools (Vacation Bible Schools)






Churches and Chapels













  Young People's












Valuation of congregational property

  (Churches, Parsonages, and other property)


Valuation of Synodical property


Total valuation of congregational and synodical property


Total indebtedness


Total local expenses


Total expenses-church at large


Grand total-expenditures


Publication: Alfred Haapanen: Our Church. Suomi Synod. The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Hancock, Michigan 1949, 89 p.

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