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From: The Encyclopedia of Canada's Peoples/Finns/Varpu LindstrÖm

For the past century over 80 percent of Finnish Canadians have identified themselves as Lutheran, and virtually all the rest have also been Protestants. Those who identify with the Lutheran Church are generally married and buried by a Finnish Lutheran pastor. Church buildings function as community centres for members and non-members alike. Most Lutheran churches have belonged to U.S.-based organizations – the Suomi (Finland) Synod, the National Finnish Lutheran Organization (Missouri Synod), or the non-Finnish United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA). In 1986 most of the Finnish Lutheran congregations became part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC). Some have remained independent, however, and others have been more fundamentalist Apostolic Lutherans, also known as Laestadians. Pentecostals and the United Church of Canada also have dedicated Finnish followings. There are many Finns, however, who do not belong to any religious community.

The state church of Finland has had no Finnish equivalent in Canada and has seldom assisted emigrant churches. In 1903 Archbishop Johansson declared that Finland could not send trained pastors to North America until its own needs were first met. Moreover, the church condemned the “godless” Finnish Canadians. Thus Finnish Lutherans in Canada tried to reconstruct a demonination modelled after the homeland’s state church, but it had a mission and character of its own and unprecedented local independence. The struggling religious communities spent much of their time and effort collecting money in which women were afforded a special role, with their sewing circles and fundraising activities. Finns built and designed their own churches, gave their own sermons, and defined their own role in the community. To hold on to the second and later generations, churches have begun to offer sermons and activities in English.

Finnish Lutherans – coal miners and their families – set up the first congregation in Canada in Nanaimo, British Columbia, in 1893 and put up a church building in 1899. This congregation never had a pastor of its own and survived only until World War I. Saskatchewan’s New Finland Lutheran Church in Wapella, now St John’s Evangelical, began in 1893 and joined the Suomi Synod.

Before World War I, Finnish Lutherans launched five congregations in Ontario. In the beginning, all suffered from shortages of money and of Finnish-speaking pastors, internal divisions, and anti-religious pressures from outside. Copper Cliff’s church (founded 1897), Sault Ste Marie’s (1905), and Cobalt’s (1912) joined the Suomi Synod. Copper Cliff’s Wuoristo church, now St Timothy’s Finnish Evangelical Lutheran, and Sault Ste Marie’s Pyhä Maria, now St Mary’s Evangelical Lutheran, are still active, with 292 baptized members and 324, respectively. Cobalt’s church was short-lived. The congregations in Port Arthur and in Fort William, both founded in 1897, joined the National Lutheran Church in 1908. The National Lutherans founded small congregations, near Thunder Bay, in Gorham, Lappe, Leeper, Nolalu, and Nipigon, and also in Toronto (1926), Elma, Manitoba (1915), Dunblane, Saskatchewan (1914), and Manyberries, Alberta (1922). Those in Lappe and in Toronto are still active.

The Finnish Seamen’s Mission in Montreal, now St Michael’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, founded in 1926, received funding and a pastor from Finland. The Finnish consul, Akseli Rauanheimo, obtained funds for it from Finland’s Seamen’s Mission, but the generosity did not last long. The congregation eventually joined the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), which provided financial assistance. In 1986 the congregation joined the ELCIC and in 1997 reported 119 members.

Records for 1931 reflect early difficulties: only 3 percent of Canada’s Finnish Lutherans had actually joined a church of that faith. Religious freedom and lack of a strong central organization had splintered the Lutheran Church. In 1928 a professional organizer, the Reverend John F. Saarinen, set out to transfer Canadian congregations from the financially troubled Suomi Synod to the non-Finnish ULCA, and an agreement was ratified in 1931. After three years of vigorous work, Saarinen reported that the ULCA’s Finnish congregations had 1,259 baptized members, up from a low of 354 in 1930. Between 1931 and 1935 nine Finnish Lutheran congregations joined the ULCA – from Montreal; Kirkland Lake, Sudbury, Timmins–South Porcupine, Toronto, and Windsor, in Ontario; Sylvan Lake and Manyberries, in Alberta; and Vancouver.

After World War II, the ULCA revived its efforts in Port Arthur, which already had three Finnish Lutheran churches. Today the Finns of Thunder Bay have five congregations: Bethel Finnish Lutheran, Finnish Evangelical Lutheran, Hilldale Lutheran (formerly Finnish Independent), Saalem Finnish Pentecostal, and St John’s Finnish Lutheran.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Yearbook (1998) reports that in 1997 Finnish Lutheran congregations were growing and thriving in Canada. The largest and most active, Agricola, in Toronto, has 2,229 members, followed by St Matthew’s, in Sudbury, with 991. Other Evangelical Lutheran congregations in Ontario are smaller. Emmaus in Vancouver has 692 members. In 1997 the Finnish National Lutheran and ELCIC churches in Canada had a total of about 5,000 members. They represent only 5 percent of all Finns in Canada, and 11.5 percent of those of single origin. Their newspaper is Isien Usko (Faith of Our Fathers; Sault Ste Marie, 1938– ).

A number of Finns are members of the Apostolic Lutheran Church and are commonly referred to as Laestadians. Laestadianism was especially popular in northern Finland and Ostrobothnia, the home of many immigrants. In Canada they have congregations on the prairies and in larger urban centres. After years of stagnation, they reorganized, adopted bilingual services, and reported considerable growth in the 1980s. They promote a simple life and large families, and children make up a sizeable portion of their members. For example, the congregation in Richmond Hill has 170 members, of whom over one hundred are children. The Laestadians cooperate with fellow congregations elsewhere in North America and in Finland and Sweden, and young people of both continents get together in language and Bible camps.

The increasing number of foreigners arriving in Canada after 1900 from non–Anglo-Saxon countries created concern among Canadians who favoured assimilation. Public education was seen as the greatest agent of Canadianization, and mainline Canadian Protestant churches also acted to this end. The Presbyterian Church, and the United Church after its formation in 1925, offered Finnish-speaking pastors and financial support. Canadian congregations respected Finnish cultural values yet helped acculturate Finns by offering them English lessons. Port Arthur–Fort William got financial assistance from the Presbyterians early, in 1898, and Finnish Presbyterian congregations were founded in Toronto and in Copper Cliff.

The Toronto church began as Congregationalist in 1906 and became Presbyterian in 1907, and the Presbyterians proselytized among youths and women. In 1925 it merged with the United Church of Canada, and in 1927 it moved into the new Church of All Nations, known among the Finns as Queenin kirkko. The United Church’s Department of Strangers focused its efforts on Finnish women. One year the Women’s Missionary Society gave English night-school classes to over 400 Finnish women and afternoon classes to 113 Finnish girls. The Toronto church soon became a meeting place and second home to live-in domestics, but it began to lose members when new Lutheran churches were founded. Now Yhdistynyt kirkko (Finnish United Church), it has fewer than a hundred, ageing members.

Copper Cliff’s Finnish Presbyterian congregation was founded in 1913 by the Reverend Arvi I. Heinonen, who set up the Suomalainen Kansan-opisto (Finnish People’s Institute), which offered cultural and practical courses as well as religious instruction. Heinonen also fought against Finnish socialism and communism. On his departure in 1919 the congregation declined rapidly. In 1926 the Reverend Thomas D. Jones, another anti-Communist crusader, launched the Sudbury Finnish United Church. In the 1930s Finns founded a Lutheran church in the city, and by the 1940s most Finnish Presbyterians and United Church members had returned to the Lutheran Church.

The Presbyterians sent travelling pastors to smaller Finnish communities on the prairies and formed small, usually very short-lived, congregations in the Eckville-Manyberries region. The Baptists started small Finnish congregations in Toronto and Thunder Bay.

The first Pentecostal Assembly in Finland was founded in Helsinki in 1915. During the 1920s several Pentecostal preachers visited Canada from Finland and the United States and began to convert immigrants. Early preachers relied on the Finnish Pentecostal bulletin Totuuden todistaja (Witness of Truth; New York, Vancouver, 1925– ), first as a monthly magazine and since 1985 in newspaper format. It has a circulation of about two thousand. The Pentecostals have emphasized missionary work and music.

Canada’s first Finnish Pentecostal Assembly was founded in 1930. The Toronto Saalem congregation has 280 members and an assembly hall that can hold 650 people. The Port Arthur Finnish Saalem congregation, founded in 1933, has 210 members, who meet in a building constructed in 1984. Saalem’s missionary work produced smaller prayer groups in Nipigon, The Pas, and Winnipeg. Other congregations exist in Vancouver, Calgary, Sault Ste Marie, Sudbury, South Porcupine, and Windsor. A small Pentecostal Assembly functioned in Montreal from 1933 but has since lost most of its membership. The nearly one thousand Finnish Pentecostals in Canada belong to the Pentecostal Assemblies in Canada. They broadcast radio programs from their own studios, occasionally produce TV shows, and support several missionaries in Canada and abroad.