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Highlights from the History of Mass St. Paul's Lutheran Congregation

Charles Närä

Finnish people began to arrive in Mass, Michigan about the year 1900 to work in the mines. The locality was at that time the heart of the Ontonagon County copper mining industry. The moral tone of life here was that which was usual for mining centers.

However, there were some among our people who had not forgotten the God of their fathers and who longed to have the Church in their midst so that they could worship God in their mother tongue. Having been requested by the local people Pastor Kaarlo Huotari, an instructor at Suomi College, came to conduct worship services in Mass. Under his leadership a meeting was held at the home of Mr. Victor Wentela on November 10th, 1901 where the congregation was organized. At that meeting the first church council was chosen. This was made up of the following men: president, Oscar Tallbacka; treasurer, Henry Hankila; vice-president, Erick Erickson; secretary, Antti Kangas; and for additional members John Piri, Victor Wentelä, and Matti Kyllönen. Besides these officers there were the following charter members: John Kangas, Fabian Tolonen, Antti Käyräkangas, August Järvi, Kalle Koskela, Jacob Wälimäki, Jacob Abramson, Perttu Knuuttila, John Kantola, Isaac Laakko, Benjamin Martin, Kalle Rytilampi, Johanerig Koski, Adolph Pietilä, Tuomas Mäntylä, and Emil Niemi. This first meeting understood the responsibility of the congregation toward the Christian training of children and chose Johan Erickson and Oscar Tallbacka for the first Sunday School teachers.

In the beginning worship services were held regularly twice a month in the "Wiheriä Ruusu" Temperance Society building. During the ministry of the first pastor who lived in Mass, Otto Stadius, a decision was made in a congregation meeting on February 5th, 1905 to build a church on the lot that had been donated by the Mass Mining Company. The building contract was let on March 5, 1905 to August Anttila. From August, 1905 on services were held in the church and it was dedicated by Dr. J. K. Nikander on the 29th of August, 1905.

After the Mass-Laird parish bad been organized, Pastor V. Kuusisto came to serve the parish on June 1st, 1912. During his time a bell was bought for the church, which even yet invites all to the house of the Lord. The words: "How amiable are Thy tabernacles, O Jehovah of hosts!" are inscribed upon the bell in Finnish. During the same year (1912), the altar and altar railing were obtained and in December of the same year artist Edward J. Närä presented to the congregation an altar painting which was the work of his own hands. It is a large oil color painting depicting Jesus and the rich young ruler. It still beautifies our church as a permanent memorial from the deceased artist.

In 1927, during the pastorate of Antti Karlin, a parsonage was purchased near the church. This has been gradually modernized by improvements made through the years. During the summer of 1950 major repairs were done in the parsonage and an oil heating system was installed. During pastor Isaac's time the congregation bought the building which formerly had housed the Mass Mining Company hospital and it was moved to a site next to the church where it even yet serves as a parish hall.

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Kirkkoneuvosto - Church Council

In 1941, during the pastorate of Alex Tamminen, the church was completely remodeled and a furnace was installed. After a few years, in the spring of 1948, the church became even more pleasant when new pews were obtained. In September, 1947 the members of the congregation rejoiced in receiving a new electrically-powered organ from Miss Ethyl Hermansen in memory of her parents. The churchliness of the church building was also greatly increased through the new cathedral glass windows that were obtained through the efforts of the men's Lutheran Brotherhood. Let us also add that the women's Bethany Guild was largely responsible in financing the new pews. They also purchased a valuable carpet for the church in 1949.

In the early years Mass formed one parish together with Amasa, Covington, and Rockland. Later the Mass-Laird parish was formed. When the Kyrö parish was formed as a separate entity, the Mass-Wäinölä parish was organized. It is now composed of the following congregations and preaching stations: Mass, Wäinölä, Greenland, Simar, Firesteel, Woodspur, Green, Winona, and East Branch.

The Mass congregation has been served temporarily by pastors Groning, J. K. Nikander, and S. Ilmonen. The following pastors have served in a permanent capacity: Kaarlo Huotari (1901-03), Bruno Wuornos (1903-04), Otto Stadius (1904-08), V. Kuusisto (1912-14), J. F. Saarinen (1915-17), Anton Korhonen (1918-25), A. Karlin (1925-32), E. J. Isaac (1932-37), Alex Tamminen (1938-44), Viljo Puotinen (1944-47), and the present one, Arvo Niskanen (1947-51). The present church council has the following members in addition to the pastor who is president ex-officio: vice-president, August Korhonen; secretary, Herman Wentelä; treasurer, Toivo Koski; financial secretary, Charles Närä; and Emil Raaska, David Marttinen, John Keränen, Konstu Kuurila, Wäinö Kangas, and Emil Laakko.

The congregation remembers with deep gratitude the many who have gone on, the faithful pioneers who are too numerous to be mentioned here. With the zeal of youth they began the work and as they matured they sacrificed their best, each serving with the talents God in His grace had given to them, in the firm hope that the work will continue from generation to generation.

Above all we are grateful for the guidance of God and for His blessing in the times of rejoicing and of sorrow which the congregation has experienced. We have been permitted to have difficulties, but in all the Lord has helped. Trusting that the Lord will guide we look forward toward the future with courage and hope. May the Lord of the Church permit the work which has been begun during the past 50 years to remain in firm hands unshaken in those same convictions and principles which our pioneers and our Lutheran Church have displayed.

Published in Massin, Mich. Pyhan Paavalin suom. ev. luth. seurakunnan riemuvuosijulkaisu. 1891-1951. The jubilee book of St. Paul's Finnish Ev. Lutheran congregation Mass, Michigan, p. 9-11.

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