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Historical Review of the Congregation of Faith Lutheran Church on Its Sixty-fifth Anniversary 1895-1960

George V. Ojajarvi

The first Finnish speaking people are said to have settled in Conneaut temporarily in 1890 and 1891 and were employed in digging trenches and laying water mains and sewers for the city, but each year after winter set in they returned to Ashtabula from whence they had come. In 1892 a more permanent settlement of Finns was established when the ore docks were being constructed.

Congregation Established

In the next few years the more religious minded men who had emigrated to Conneaut from Ashtabula and Fairport, and where they had already experienced the blessings of Lutheran congregational work, began to discuss the possibility of establishing such a congregation in Conneaut. Thus a public meeting was called on July 14, 1895 in a building which was at that time being used by the Kilpi Temperance Society for their meetings. This meeting establishes the beginning of Finnish congregational work in Conneaut. The name of the congregation was selected to be "The Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran Congregation of Conneaut." The first officers of the congregation elected were: President, Anton Märkälä; Vice-President, Iisak Lemponen; Secretary, Jaakob Lemponen; Treasurer, Jaakob Palo. At this meeting it was decided to ask Pastor Aapeli Kivioja of Ashtabula Harbor (Bethany) to be their pastor and instructor. A membership enrollment listed 58 names, all men, who each agreed to pay 25 cents a month to the pastor. This was the only meeting held that year, and as the rigors of a cold and snowy winter settled on the small community, the work of the congregation was all but forgotten, and there were some who thought and expressed that the congregational work was to become a dead issue. Not so, as the very next spring there was renewed interest in religious activities as was proved by the calling of another meeting on May 17, 1896 to re-form a congregation and elect a new slate of officers due to the moving away of many of the former members. The name of the congregation was decided to be the same as previously. Since this second meeting the congregation has continued its existence, not with regular meetings at first, but it has been a continuous active organization.

Congregation Legalized

"The Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran Congregation of Conneaut" was accepted and recorded as a legal organization of Ashtabula County in Jefferson, Ohio on January 28, 1897 and of the State of Ohio in Columbus February 1, 1897.

At a congregational meeting in August 1900 it was decided to join the Suomi Synod as a member congregation, which the Synod accepted on September 18, 1900. Then at a meeting on January 8, 1911 the congregation decided to join the Ohio-Pa. Conference of the Suomi Synod and was accepted January 21, 1911.

By-laws of the Congregation

The congregation had operated for about 15 years without by-laws. It was not until December 1910 that a by-laws committee was elected and something was attained. The committee decided to use the by-laws of the Ashtabula Harbor Bethany congregation as a model from which to devise their own. With a few changes the committee wrote up almost identical by-laws as the model. The by-laws were accepted by the congregation at a meeting on January 15, 1911.

The Church Building

Congregational meetings and services were held for more than 3 years in a building rented from the Kilpi Temperance Society, but the congregational members were not pleased with this kind of arrangement, so they bought a lot, the same upon which the present church is located, in 1898 and they also bought the building which they had been using for services and renting from the Kilpi Society and moved it on their own lot. This then became the first church in the name of the congregation. However, in less than two years time the members began to talk of building a more spacious and properly designed structure which would be more suitable for religious purposes. Thus on June 1, 1900 at a congregational meeting the idea began to mature as a plan was made to go out and ask people how much money they would be willing to donate for a new church building if one was to be built. After a canvass of the people, pledges totalling $500.00 was revealed. Consequently, on November 11, 1900 at a congregational meeting the people were so inspired that they decided to start construction of a new church building as soon as possible. A building committee was elected as follows: Juho Mälli, chairman; Kalle Ojajärvi, secretary of the treasury; Samuel Jussila, treasurer; other members were Antti Rannanjärvi, Samuel Latvala, Juho Holkko, Oskari Kultti, and Juho Rintamäki. Blueprints for the church were drawn up by architect Konstu Gran for a mere $10. Construction was started in early December 1900 with corner-stone laying ceremonies held on December 17, 1900. A metal box was placed under the cornerstone, and within the box was placed several items of historical value, among them being a short history of the Finnish Lutheran congregational work in Conneaut up to that time written by Kalle Ojajärvi, a copy of Svebelius' Catechism, a few papers, and several pieces of money. The building was completed in early July 1901 and dedication ceremonies held July 21, 1901.

Pastors of the Congregation

During the first five years of the congregation's existence it was served by pastors from Ashtabula Harbor Bethany Lutheran Church, first by Past. Aapeli Kivioja 1895-1897, then Past. Kaarlo Huotari 1897-1900. Then the congregation decided to use a pastor jointly with Fairport, which call was sent to and accepted by Past. Kaarlo Salovaara who came directly from Finland and served from 1900 to 1904. After him came Past. Hannes Leiviskä who served from January to October 1905. Then Past. Torsten Hohenthal accepted the pastorate and served from December 1905 to the end of year 1906. The congregation was without a regular pastor from then until July 1907, but services were held several times by Past. Vihtori Tiitola and Past. Alfred Haapanen of Ashtabula and Fairport respectively.

Then it was decided to call a pastor to serve jointly with the Erie, Pa. congregation. Past. J.T.R. Hartman accepted the call and came here from Finland in late June 1907 and served until the end of August 1908. He was the first of the foregoing pastors to reside in Conneaut. He moved to Hancock, Mich. in September 1908 to teach at Suomi College. Then the congregation again decided to ask Ashtabula Bethany to share their pastor with them. Past. Frans Kava, who had also come from Finland to Ashtabula, accepted the call to serve the Conneaut congregation also. He resigned from his pastorate at Ashtabula in May 1912 when he moved to Duluth, Minn. After Past. Kava left Conneaut, Pastors A. Haapanen of Fairport and S. Ilmonen of Youngstown held sermons here a few times until the arrival of Past. Kalle Mannerkorpi to Ashtabula Harbor from Finland in May 1912, and who then served as pastor of Conneaut also until August 1917 when he left Ashtabula to go to Suomi College as an instructor in the Seminary. The next call went to Past. M. Kuusi who arrived in Conneaut in July 1917 and served here and in Erie until 1919 when he returned to Finland. Past. M. Pesonen was elected to the pastorate in May 1919 and arrived near the end of the year and served until early 1924 when he returned to Hancock, Mich. to serve there whence he had come to Conneaut. The Pastor Urho Valtari was invited here in April 1924 and he arrived in early May 1924. He did much for the congregation as regards finances of the church by recommending raising of money through lotteries, as the financial condition of the congregation was at a very low ebb, which idea proved fruitful by greatly reducing the debts of the congregation. Pastor Valtari turned in his resignation in April 1928 and returned to Finland in August.

Past. Anton Korhonen accepted the next call for a pastor to the Conneaut and Erie congregations. He came to Conneaut in October 1928 from Copper Cliff, Ontario and began the longest stay of any previous pastor. He was a very devout man and preached the gospel with vigor and sincerety. After more than 15 yrs. of devoted service he resigned Feb. 29, 1944 to accept the pastorate at Kaleva, Mich.

Then Past. Sakari Halkola was elected as the next pastor coming from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Canada, and was installed in office June 11, 1944. He served diligently, many times under adverse conditions, until June 15, 1955 when his tenure as pastor of Conneaut was terminated by the congregation. He and his family moved to Milwaukee, Wis. at the end of July 1955 and he accepted the pastorate of another Synod church there. He died in Milwaukee, after a long siege of illness at Wood Veterans Administration Hospital, on May 28, 1960 and was brought to Faith Lutheran Church in Conneaut on June 2nd for funeral services with burial in Edgewood Cemetery in Ashtabula.

Past. Walter Werronen was next invited to come to Conneaut, which he accepted while still in the Seminary at Suomi College. He was installed on July 1, 1956 into his first pastorate here at Faith Lutheran. He turned in his resignation in the Fall of 1958 and left Conneaut in December 1958 and went to Chicago, Ill.

Past. E. Olaf Rankinen was next elected and invited to come to Conneaut which he accepted and was installed into the pastorate on January 18, 1959 and is our present pastor.

Organizations of the Church

Church Council. The council of Faith Lutheran Church is composed of 15 members of the congregation, 1/3 of whom are elected each year for a 3 year period, and the pastor. Each year a slate of new officers is elected. They meet once a month to discuss and work out problems of the church.

Ladies Aid Society. This society was organized in October 1912. The Ladies Aid has certainly been one of the mainstays of our church life, at least in former years. Their work and devotion has enriched the church both financially and spiritually. They hold meetings twice a month and sponsor meals, programs, etc. throughout the year.

Women's Society of Faith Lutheran Church. This organization is a merger of the women of the Adelfi Society (which was organized in September 1927 under the direction of Mrs. Martha Valtari) and the Mother-Teacher Guild. The Women's Society is divided into 10 circles each circle bearing a Biblical Woman's name. Each circle meets once a month in member's homes.

Luther Choir. This choir is composed of all women who were young adults when the choir was organized in 1942. Most of the present members are also those who started the group at that time. The director is Mrs. Ruth Christopher; accompanist, Mrs. Jean Laitinen.

Church school. Church school is held every Sunday morning between the Finnish and English services. It was formerly known by the familiar name Sunday School. Sunday school was held amongst the Finns in Conneaut even before a congregation was established, so it is nothing new. During summer school vacation a two weeks period of vacation bible school is held with virtually all church school members attending.

Senior Brotherhood. This is a group of the older and primarily Finnish speaking men of our congregation. They hold regular meetings and are active in their own small way by helping out the church financially with what little they have to offer and they occasionally have programs on Sunday evenings when there are no Finnish morning services.

Junior Brotherhood. This group was organized near the end of World War II January 1945 under the guidance of Pastor Halkola. It was very active for several years but at present it is in existence in name only as no regular meetings are held.

Luther League. This is a youth group which was organized in January 1935. They hold regular meetings and are active in many phases of our church life. They have programs when there are no English services when the Pastor is on vacation or out of town on Sundays, and occasionally hold programs on Sunday evenings.

Committees of the Church

Stewardship. This committee was organized to stress to the congregation members the importance of attendance at Worship Services and offering of one's talents and treasures. A. R. Keskinen is chairman of the Stewardship committee.

Building Fund. This committee has charge of acquiring land and accounting of donations for our new church building which we hope to see come into being during this decade. May we have our 75th Anniversary celebration in our new church at the corner of Lake Rd. and Grove St. John Punkar is chairman of the Building Committee.

Radio Fund. Faith Lutheran Church sponsors a radio devotions program in the Finnish language each Sunday morning at 7:30 over the local station WWOW, Rev. Rankinen conducting. Mr. & Mrs. Al Gee and Pastor Rankinen are the Radio Fund Committee.

Membership

The membership of Faith Lutheran Church as of December 31, 1956 is 390 confirmed men and women plus 152 children.

Changes and Additions in Our Church

The new name of our church which is now known as Faith Lutheran was adopted at a congregational meeting December 8, 1957.

Altar pieces commemorated are as follows, the flower vases are in memory of Capt. Andrew Peltonen by the Peltonen family; the candle holders are in memory of Lt. Reino M. and Sgt. Charles A. Ojajarvi by the Ojajarvi family. The large bible on the epistle stand is in memory of the Punkar family and the bible on the pulpit stand is in memory of Mr. & Mrs. Antti Forsty by the family. The Finnish Altar book is in memory of Sanna and Matias Lemponen by Mr. & Mrs. Carl Lemponen. The epistle stand and pulpit were built by Andrew Kesatie several years ago. Other memorials are listed in the abiding memorials book on display in the narthex.

Published on p. 10-14 in 65th Birthday. Faith Lutheran Church, July 30-31, 1960. Conneaut, Ohio.

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