History of the congregation

On December 7, 1919, the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Suomi Synod was formed. Rev. Arvo J. Korhonen served as its first pastor. The new congregation created its Articles of Incorporation. Bylaws were also established and resemble the present Constitution.

The following slate of officers was elected and executed these documents and became the first Church council.

Victor Koski – President, Andrew Lassila – Vice-President – Ferdinand Haggman – Secretary, John Lindstrom –  Financial Secretary, John Carlson – Treasurer, Kaisa Lassila – Deacon, and Ida Lindstrom, Deacon

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.

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 – Bethel Lutheran Church of Suomi Synod
  • June 23, 1966 – Bethel Lutheran Church of King County
  • January 18, 1988 – Finnish Lutheran Church

In the early 1960s the Suomi Synod congregations were merged into other LCA synods. Whatever changes this brought about are unclear.   Pastor Kaarto responded by disengaging the Finnish Lutheran Church congregation from the LCA. This lead to the name change on June 23, 1966 referred to previously.

Pastors

Church historical records are incomplete. However, 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 and Kaarlo Pöllänen: 2011 – 2013

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.

Site

The Finnish Lutheran Church has occupied its present site at the intersection of NW 85th Street and 13th Avenue NW since 1954. Its previous location was at 1706 NW 65th.

The ‘Old’ Church period ends

The history of the congregation is divided into two eras. The period from inception of the church in 1919 through the ministry of Otto Kaarto who died in 1978 is referred to as the “Old Church”.

1981 onward the period is referred to as the “New Church”. Rev. Kaarto passed at an advanced age.  This left the congregation without an established successor. Furthermore, the number of active members attending Sunday service had dwindled to a handful. 

Following the death of Rev. Kaarto no further services were held for some time. During this period, an independent congregation of non-Finnish Lutherans gained access to the church and began holding services. Finns who did show up were not welcomed. 

The Lawsuit brings a New Era

Finnish “sisu” soon emerged.  There were numerous meetings held within the Finnish community to discuss the fate of the congregation. An attorney was hired to represent the Finnish Lutheran position.  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 the efforts would bear fruit.  Even the doubting people eventually became believers, giving further momentum to the cause. Support from within the Finnish community was widespread.  Support was not limited to just church going individuals. During this period of uncertainty, the church was blessed to have Pastor Richard Rintala in the area.  Pastor Rental was 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 many people. During the two week trial in the spring of 1983, the Finnish Lutheran (Plaintiff) side of the gallery was full of concerned observers.  The defendants’ group gallery was empty.

This must have made an impression on the jury that ruled unanimously in favor of the Finnish Lutheran Church case.  This brought to an end the four year struggle. The Finnish Lutheran Church emerged into a new era.   There were  challenges.   There was debt due to the legal expenses.  

A Flourishing Congregation

Pastor Richard Rintala accepted the Call to the ministry of the congregation. The challenges faced at this time were probably similar to what the original founders of the church experienced in 1919 and beyond. All of these challenges were met.  By meeting the challenge, the congregation grew and so did individuals.

The old congregation held its services 100% in Finnish, and ministered mainly to Finns who had come to this area as immigrants. The new church has a more broadly mixed membership so church services are now bi-lingual. 

History compiled by J. Bradford Borland, President Emeritus
Finnish Lutheran Church

Revised September 8, 2022 by Melody Adams-Forsstrom