History of the congregation
On December 7, 1919, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Suomi Synod was formed. We believe that Rev. Arvo J. Korhonen served as its first pastor. This lawful meeting of the new congregation created its Articles of Incorporation that consisted of two Articles. By-Laws were also established, and resemble what we now refer to as our Constitution.
The following slate of officers was elected and executed these documents:
- Victor Koski, President
- Andrew Lassila, Vice-President
- Ferdinand Haggman, Secretary
- John Lindstrom, Financial Secretary
- John Carlson, Treasurer
- Kaisa Lassila, Deacon
- Ida Lindstrom, Deacon
The above named individuals also comprised the first Church Council.
Finnish Lutheran Church and Suomi Synod
On December 14, 1919, the newly formed congregation applied for membership in the Suomi Synod of the Finnish American Evangelical Lutheran Church. This application was signed by Otto Linderman, Vice-President. Acceptance of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Seattle by the Synod is evidenced by the framed document on display outside the pastor’s office. It is dated January 5, 1920 and is beautifully written in Finnish. On September 8, 1920, the Articles of Incorporation were filed with the State of Washington. Two additional Articles were approved at the Annual Meeting of our Congregation on January 31, 1999, which were subsequently filed with the state. Other amendments made over the years to the original Articles reflect name changes as follows:
- February 15, 1951 name changed to Bethel Lutheran Church of Suomi Synod
- June 23, 1966 name changed to Bethel Lutheran Church of King County
- January 18, 1988 name changed to Finnish Lutheran Church
In the early 1960s the Suomi Synod congregations were merged into other LCA synods in their respective geographical regions. Whatever changes this brought about are unclear, but Pastor Kaarto responded by disengaging our congregation from the LCA. This lead to the name change on June 23, 1966 referred to previously.
Unfortunately, historical records of our Church are incomplete. However, we are able to determine that the following Finnish Lutheran Pastors likely have served this congregation:
- Aarne Viktor (Hellstrom) Halla: 1919 – 1920
- A.J. Korhonen: 1922
- Sakari Hakala: 1922 – 1925
- Abraham Salminen: 1925 – 1929
- Otto E. Maki: 1930
- Antti Karlin: 1930 – 1937
- Otto Kaarto: 1939 – 1978
- Richard Rintala: 1981 – 1986
- Jarmo Tarkki: 1986 – 1994
- Auvo T. Naukkarinen: 1994 – 1999
- Seppo J. Hartikainen: 1999 – 2006
- Timo Saarinen: 2006 – 2009
- Kaarlo Pöllänen: 2011 –
During the last couple of decades, other Pastors who have figured prominently in our congregation include Leslie Larson, ELCA ret., Jukka Joensuu, Emmaus Lutheran Church, Paul Bjorklund, Evangelical Covenant Church ret., and Antti Lepisto, President, Suomi Conference. Other recent visiting Pastors include Nina Tetri-Mustonen, Stuart Lundahl, Tom Kangas, Pastor Liljenstolpe, Pastor Daggett, etc..
The Finnish Lutheran Church has occupied its present site at the intersection of NW 85th Street and 13th Avenue NW, in the Crown Hill district of Seattle, since 1954. This was a newly constructed facility that speaks positively of the spiritual and financial condition of the congregation. City records indicate that the church was previously located a few miles south of its present location at 1706 NW 65th in the community of Ballard. A drive by of this address shows that the small church has been converted to a private residence.
The ‘Old’ Church period ends
Exploring the history of the congregation further compels the writer to divide it into two eras. The period from inception of the church in 1919 through the ministry of Otto Kaarto who died in 1978 is to be referred to as the “Old Church”. From 1981 onward it will be referred to as the “New Church”. Unfortunately the passing of Rev. Kaarto at an advanced age left the congregation without any established successor. Furthermore, the number of active members attending Sunday service had dwindled to a handful. One member of the old church commented that Rev. Kaarto’s compensation was only $100 per month. No wonder there was no successor!
Following the death of Rev. Kaarto no further services were held for some time. During this dark period, an independent congregation of non-Finnish Lutherans gained access to the church and began holding services. Those Finns who did show up were treated with contempt. On one occasion the pastor of this renegade congregation referred to the Finns attending Sunday services as “weeds needing to be plucked from the garden”.
The Lawsuit brings a New Era
Finnish “sisu” soon emerged, and there were numerous meetings held within the Finnish community to discuss the fate of the congregation. This led to the hiring of an attorney to represent its position, and a lawsuit was brought against the congregation of squatters who were in possession of the church facility. A significant number of people in the Finnish community doubted that our efforts would bear fruit, but even these people eventually became believers, giving further momentum to our cause. Support from within the Finnish community was widespread, and was not limited to just church going individuals. During this period of uncertainty, we were blessed to have Pastor Richard Rintala in our area, a person who was instrumental in keeping the congregation alive.
Many services were held at St. John Lutheran Church on Phinney Ridge in order to demonstrate that the congregation was alive and well. The court action was costly in terms of human effort and expense. There were many bake sales, bazaars, and personal giving of time and funds by a great many people. During the two week trial in the spring of 1983, our side of the gallery was full of concerned observers, while the defendant group’s gallery was empty. Certainly this must have made an impression on the jury that ruled unanimously in favor of our case, bringing to an end our four year struggle. The Finnish Lutheran Church thus emerged into a new era, but not without challenges, as we were still somewhat in debt due to the legal expense.
A Flourishing Congregation
Pastor Richard Rintala accepted our Call to the ministry of the congregation and we were off and running. The challenges we faced at this time were probably similar to what the original founders of the church experienced in 1919 and beyond. We have met all of these challenges and have grown as a congregation, and as individuals. While the old congregation held its services in Finnish, and ministered mainly to Finns who had come to this area as immigrants, the new church has a more broadly mixed membership which of course includes immigrant Finns, but also many second and third generation Finns, often with non-Finnish spouses, and others who are Finnophiles (lovers of things Finnish). Church services are now bi-lingual, with the sermon delivered in Finnish or English on alternating Sundays. The congregation has also reached out to the community of Swedish speaking Finns and their families and proudly includes a significant number in its membership. Where else can you find a church where the minister gives communion in Finnish, English or Swedish, depending who is the recipient of these sacraments?
History compiled by J. Bradford Borland, President Emeritus
Finnish Lutheran Church
Last revised May 1, 2012