A photo of seventeen “Finnish” Pastors, and what this photo tells us about the future of the Suomi Conference…
Look at this photo of the “Finnish pastors” at this year’s May 2018 Suomi Conference in Sudbury Ontario. Seventeen smiling faces. Seventeen pastors who, for the most part, like each other, share jokes, help each other out, support each other, and share an eagerness to be the best leaders they can be, helping faith to grow, in a renewed, vital Finnish-Canadian church.
But as they say, a picture tells a thousand words. And this picture, taken in the closing minutes of the Suomi Conference 2018, says a lot about what the Canadian Finnish church is, and what it might become.
17-6= 11 17-3=14 14-3=11 14-7=7 17-4=13
To start with, six out of the seventeen “Finnish” pastors in this picture aren’t Finnish at all! Six are actually English-speaking pastors from Canada. Only one of the six “anglos” – Stanley Johnston - is fluent in spoken Finnish. The rest of us practice our pronunciation with varying degrees of success!
Three of the seventeen “Finnish” pastors who DO speak Finn were either born in Canada or the United States. Or they moved here at a very early age. That means that nine out of the seventeen people in the photo are probably more culturally North American than European. That’s major. The Lutheran church in North America is not a state church. Lutherans have always been a minority here. When you’re a minority, living with small budgets, and relying heavily on volunteers, you tend to think and act differently (as North Americans do, in any case).
Three of the seventeen pastors are actually visitors from Finland. Olli Valtonen is founder of the Tuomasmessu (The Thomas Mass), an international movement, and a book author. Leila Valtonen is a book author as well, a group psychotherapist and an expert in the Enneagram personality test. Mauri Vihko is the new Kirkon ulkosuomalaistyön johtaja, administrator of Finnish churches abroad. He says that the Finnish church is also shrinking, along with its budget. Since 90% of the Suomi Conference budget comes from Finland, that’s a concern! Mauri assures us that there is no immediate danger. But changes are ahead…. Mauri is very interested in how to reach out to Finns who are “global migrants”, travelling out of Finland for jobs, adventure, or relationships. This is EXACTLY the kind of Finn we’re seeing more and more of, in Montreal.
Fully half of the fourteen Canadian pastors in this photo are either retired, or within a few years of retirement. Nothing wrong with grey hair, but there’s a lot of it in this photo!
Three of the seventeen serve part-time, mostly because the parishes have become so small they don’t need a full-time pastor.
Only four of the seventeen are women. But notice - they are among the youngest in an otherwise aging group. The face of the Finnish presence, and the face of clergy, in Canada, is changing.
Our congregation has gone through a lot of changes in the last few years. It’s good to know that we are not alone. This photo says it all!
Pastor Matthew R. Anderson, Montreal (photo courtesy of Ismo Makkonen)
This article was also published in Isien Usko