|Written by Rev. Les E. Niemi
Suomi College Development Department
Director of Planned Giving
Ninety-Two Years of Kirkollinen Kalenteris or The Church Year Books
Research of the Kirkollinen Kalenteri (Yearbook) was undertaken by myself in 1993 for the purpose of finding benefactors from a Suomi College education whom might consider helping the college. The task resulted in getting hooked by its fascination.
In the process, and since the obituaries, authors, and articles had never been systematized on computer, I decided to do this task for the college's Finnish-American Historical Archives. All future researchers, are welcome to use the alphabetical filing system now in place at the Archives, both in written copy and WP51 floppy disk. (In Feb., 1995, I updated the floppy disks to include the 1994 volume, on both the official FAHA copy and my own.)
More than that, I began to receive a composite overview of the living tradition of the old Suomi Synod and its successor, the Suomi Conference special interest group. I caught myself reading the articles, which ended up being an unplanned benefit of this project, albeit slowing me down. The following are some of my observations.
Most importantly, the yearbook depicts the theology and piety of the Finnish Church in America, filtered of course by the mother church of Finland. It expressed the deep concerns for evangelism, missions (home and foreign), higher education, and faith life particularly of the Awakened Movement (herännäisyys).
This is evident from the devotional writings of pastors and theologians, and from poets like Nikander, Autere, Saarisuu, Halkola, two Hillilas, Kantonen, Luoma, Korila, and others.
The language of the publication went from entirely in Finnish to half English (for the sake of sheer survival), along with the ensuing struggle to preserve the Finnish language. ("Jos sitä ei voi suomenkielellä selittää, olkoon se iankaikkisesti selittämätöntä," as it was once put in Hancock in the heat of the debate.)
Also notable, almost all synod pastors in the early years availed the chance to be published, while later, with many more pastors in the church, and diminishing of the Finnish language, only a fraction contributed.
Approximately 190 pastors of the former Suomi Synod, or Suomi Conference, wrote articles, 31 of whom wrote only once, while others, it seemed, following ordinaton wrote every year of their lives. Over 100 writers were from the Church of Finland which showed they cared for their brothers and sisters who had come down with the "America disease." Only eighteen non-Finnish pastors wrote. Perhaps some pastors were simply too busy in their parishes to write articles.
It was awesome to peruse the very first issue, which was in 1903. Like the twelve apostles there were only a dozen pastors (if you don't count those at the three seamen's missions).
The dozen were located in Calumet MI (Pekka Airaksinen), Hancock MI (Juho Back, Kaarlo Huotari, and Juho K. Nikander), Ironwood MI (Alek Granholm), Harbor Station OH (Juho Kallen), Eveleth MN (Samueli Renfors), Rock Springs WY (Aadolfi Riippa), Worcester MA (Aappo Salminen), Fairport OH (Kaarlo Salovaara), Duluth MN (Heikki Sarvela), and Negaunee MI (Otto Stadius). The Seamen's Missions were in Brooklyn NY (Alfred Groning), San Francisco CA (Akseli Renwall), and Astoria OR (Anton Wirtanen). Crystal Falls MI was home to J.J. Hoikka, who officially at that time was a member of the Augustana Synod.
An impossible task, they bore the brunt of caring for the 18,933 scattered synod members (in 35 congregations), and thousands of others, across the vast frontier land. (This was the same year that one of my grandfathers immigrated to Hancock via Sault Ste. Marie.) The 1902 Convention was attended by 59 men delegates, but no women.
At the turn of the century synod membership grew 19 % to 21 % each year, but these numbers represented only a small fraction of the many who were arriving each year.
There were in the Kalenteri the annual reports from the Suomi Synod conventions, the Suomi Conference festivals, both regional and international, statistical listings, role of pastors, the Canadian work, Suomi College, her board members and faculty, and the new ordinands. The state of the church article was always a primary focus of each issue. Important also were histories of parishes, and devotional articles. The astute articles by able laymen were unique and fascinating.
For many years it was the practice to ask each years new ordinand to write a devotional message in Finnish, later when the third generation did not know the language, only their pictures appeared, much to the consternation of some.
Each writer wrote from his or her perspective or responsibility in the church, making it appear as if that particularly task was the most important of all, e.g., whole church, regions, college, missions, the role of women, evangelism, devotionals, etc. Yet, when the various parts are put together, they appear to round out into a healthy whole.
I concur with Walter Kukkonen, one of my seminary professors at the Suomi Seminary, in his comments at a 1976 conference at Suomi College, that the Kirkollinen Kalenteri is "the best primary source when it comes to the life and history of the Suomi Synod", depicting the life of "the immigrants and their heritage, the nature of the church and its ministry, and the nature of faith".
In other words, if someone were to ask what literature to read to find the theology of Finnish Lutheranism, or, more importantly, the very way of salvation, it is outlined clearly in the Kirkollinen Kalenteri, albeit most of it is in the Finnish language, one of the great languages of mankind. As Kukkonen points out, in this "little tradition" "the note of repentance I found is never missing in any single article...which is first and foremost an inner happening", and "the single theme, the unmerited goodness and faithfulness of God".
Indeed, no treasure anywhere can surpass that! And if the KK is that impressive, maybe someday someone will take it upon themselves to translate all the articles into English.
The most number of articles on any single topic were written about Suomi College (76). Next came the topics Bible, Lord, faith, Finland (Finnish), foreign missions, prayer, and grace. Higher education and Suomi College headed the list like a torrid love affair.
The Kalenteri (Yearbook) looms extremely important in setting forth the history of most of the approximately 200 congregations and preaching stations of the former Suomi Synod. The congregations with the largest number of articles interestingly, or order, were: Duluth, Fairport, Ishpeming, Fort Bragg CA, Conneaut OH, and Calumet.
The editors of the Yearbook-Kirkollinen Kalenteri were, in reverse order: E. Olaf Rankinen, Yrjo Raivio, Walter Kukkonen Sr., Matt Sallmen, Armas Korhonen, Raymond Wargelin, John Wargelin, Alfred Haapanen, Alvar Rautalahti, and Juho K. Nikander.
In five cases the task went to the head of the jurisdiction, with Haapanen serving 31 years, and Sallmen and Rautalahti only one.
The Kirkollinen Kalenteri/Yearbook is an invaluable record of a humble people of faith, pioneers-journeymen, exhorting and encouraging one another along the path. All to often the path was uphill and against the wind, or as Ukko Paavo (Ruotsalainen) put it to his wife: "Riitta, elämä on kuin kivikkomäki" (Life is a rocky hillside).
My personal view, at this point in time, is that in 1962 and again in 1988, our churches ought have chosen the option of electing the non-geographical synod status in the mergers. As it was in most areas where our conferences existed we got jerked around by synod presidents who didn't bother to try to understand our unique view of theology and the gospel, and who practised "Russification" of Finnish-background churches by bringing in non-Finnish pastors and steering Finnish-background pastors into non-Finn congregations. Laymen were repeatedly overheard accusing their shepherds of not knowing what constituted a true sermon (or the gospel) which fed the needs of the soul.
Now in the gay 90s we seem to find ourselves in a serious drought of the living word of God. God has taken it away though there is not a lack for words. How else can a church body lose a half million members in but several years? We meant well in merging with the various geographical synods, but perhaps, in hindsight, a mistake was made. What a vibrant living synod we might yet have been where the bell of the gospel might sound clearly for all our people to hear, as we had been accustomed!
In future years these almost one hundred volumes of the Kirkollinen Kalenteri and Yearbook, tiny enough to fit into a man's back pocket, will become an important source of research for scholars curious to find the spirit and life of the immigrant sons, daughters, and descendants of the mother church of Finland.
The obituaries will be a source of information for descendants researching their family trees. There are 2,098 obituaries. Interestingly the most common top ten Finnish surnames are, in order of frequency: Koski, Maki, Johnson, Kangas, Niemi, Hakala, Luoma, Anderson and Hill. Obviously the prefixes having been dropped for convenience.
As a third generation Finnish-American, coming out of a leftist political background, my systemetizing of the Kalenteri became a fascinating endeavor. I was surprised that the articles and authors had never been systemized previously.
While I had intended to peruse the Kalenteris for the vested interest of who might be suspects to Suomi College support, more profoundly I saw it also as a way of keeping the commandment of honoring ones father and mother. It was to me a paying tribute to the gifted leaders not only of the Finnish Church, but Finnish-Americans in general, of the past. I found myself once again reading their words, wisdom, and expressions of faith. yea blessed, once again could I be?
If we could suggest that the leadership of the old Suomi Synod was based on the frequency of writings by the following 61 pastors who wrote ten or more articles, the leadership would be as follows. However, bear in mind that various writers wrote for various reasons. Many wrote often by virtue of the office they held, e.g., church presidents, area conference heads, affiliation with various institutions, etc. Some wrote because of great conviction of their beliefs. Some dabbled in poetry. And some wrote because they were eccentric, and it was an easy way to get published.
Those leaders with over fifty articles were: Juho Kustaa Nikander, Raymond Wargelin, Alfred Haapanen, Sam Autere, Eeli Merijarvi, Hugo Hillila and Arvi Saarisuu.
In the next inner circle (thirty to fifty articles) were: John Wargelin, Alvar Rautalahti, Viljo Heiman, Ralph Jalkanen, Walter Kukkonen, Olaf Rankinen, Arvo Korhonen, and John Saarinen.
The final circle is the largest, ten to thirty articles: Alpo Setala, Eino Vehanen, Otto Maki, Viljami Rautanen, Matti Pesonen, Solomon Ilmonen, Svante Luoma, Bruno Wuornos, Henry Kangas, Viljo Puotinen, Armas Korhonen, Vihtori Kuusisto, Aapo Salminen, Albin Savola, and Waino Ylonen, Juho Hoikka, Carl Tamminen, Taito Kantonen, Anton Korhonen, Frans Joki, Bernhard Hillila, Jacob Heikkinen, Rodger Foltz, Lauri Ahlman, Armas Holmio, Edward Isaac, Otto Kaarto, Bill Kaskinen, Frans Kava, Karlo Keljo, Rudy Kemppainen, Jeno Kunos, Alex, Frans and Onni Koski, Henry Leino, Antti Lepisto Sr., Les and Waino Niemi, Douglas Ollila Sr., Frank Pelkonen, Sam Ronka, David Samanen, Eino Tuori, and Walter Werronen.
The leaders are about equally divided by first and second generation Finnish-Americans, first being Finland-born. Only Foltz, Kemppainen, Les Niemi, and Werronen represent the third generation.
Obviously to define the leadership of the Suomi Synod by the frequency of their writings in the Kirkollinen Kalenteri probably leaves something to be desired. Perhaps a better gauge of leadership is now how wordy they were, i.e., number of articles, but rather what they said, their content. Thanks be to God.
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