Finnish

17 “Finnish” Clergy & the Future in Canada

Finnishpastors2018

Look at this photo of the “Finnish pastors” at this year’s Suomi Conference in Sudbury. Seventeen smiling faces. Seventeen clergy 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, 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 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 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.

This photo says it all! (photo courtesy of Ismo Makkonen; missing from photo: Pat Dorland)

 

 

 

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The Young Finnish Women Pioneers of Montreal

Finnish maids in Quebec ca 1930

The earliest waves of Finnish immigrants to Montreal consisted overwhelmingly of young Finnish women. Unlike in other areas of Canada, where Finnish immigrants engaged in forestry or other labour, in Montreal the gender balance was definitely female! These determined and resourceful young Finns often worked as domestic help in the ‘grandes maisons”, or the large and rich homes of the Montreal wealthy. They were the primary movers behind starting the congregation, and the initial financial offerings they raised came from their own, often meagre, earnings. Through the years, unlike in many other churches, women and men together have always been on church council, and active in the direction of the congregation, its music and its social life. Newly arrived maids on the steps of the Finnish Immigrant Home in Montreal ca 1929 Victor Kangas Collection

It’s not surprising that so many of the Suomi activities planned for fall 2017 in Montreal – a Finnish bus trip to the Eastern Townships on Oct 14, the sold-out Suomi 100 Ball in December – are likewise spearheaded by women. The historical video can be watched here: https://vimeo.com/235420822

English is so Difficult

ski trail Psalm 23 Finnish

Several times now while walking downtown I’ve walked by a children’s park on the river with colourful images of the game “Angry Birds”. Wow. These Finns are really commercialized, I thought. Until Sari told me: did you know that Angry Birds was invented here in Rovaniemi? The creators donated money and play equipment.

I walk past the lonely little fast-food “grilli” where, my first afternoon, I bought a sausage and stood in the snow in the middle of the empty parking lot to eat it. Then up the pedestrian walk, past the display of reindeer antler jewelry, imitation Sami shoes with their upturned toes, and ice sculptures. I wander into one of the local “Safari in the Arctic” waiting areas. There are two friendly young women at the reception who tell me they don’t mind if I use the wi-fi. As I work, a United Nations of tour groups pass through. They are back from snowmobile and snowshoe journeys, and are returning their helmets, gloves, and full-body suits. There is a long wall of packed snow blocks that the city has required the companies to erect to muffle the sound of so many snowmobiles taking off. I hear Chinese, Hebrew, French, Russian and English, and some languages I can’t identify.

My few phrases of Finnish are already growing stale: “Mina olen pappi ja professori montrealista” “kiitoksia” “hyva paiva”. But I’m at least starting to be able to identify a few words better when Finns say or sing them: “makara” (sausage),   “kirkko” (church), “kotti” (home), “karhu” (bear), “lapsi” (child), “laulua” (song) and “rakasta” (love). I guess the words I’m learning reflect my visit. Or maybe Finnish culture, at least here .

The fluidity with which Finns switch genders in their speech is often funny, and sometimes disconcerting. Because there aren’t different words for “he” and “she” in Finnish, when speaking English to me, the Finns here may just choose one at random: “Oh yes, my husband is a tall man and she is strong too.”

I’ve also learned that there are many different words for “bear”. The reason, apparently, is that in the “old religion” you were never supposed to say that word. They came up with synonyms and other ways of describing the powerful creature, which not so many years ago had the status of a god. I think about the Bible, and the way that Yahweh’s name was never to be spoken aloud.

My host for the last day in Rovaniemi is Ilari K. He is a pastor in the church that is hosting my second set of documentary showings. Although he looks to be barely out of his twenties, he tells me that many years ago he and his wife and first two children (they now have five) spent a year in Saskatoon. Immediately we start comparing memories. He takes me to the university where I meet the chaplain, Heini, and tour the building. We three have lunch together. After, when I ask him to drop me at a wi-fi spot, Ilari simply takes me to the family home.

I walk in to meet a very young-looking woman whom I assume to be Ilari’s wife Kaija. I give her the flowers I bought at the supermarket while Ilari picked up groceries. “This is my daughter,” Ilari says as I hold out the flowers. Then, just when, stammering, I start pulling them back, he corrects himself: “I mean wife.”

English is so difficult. Either that, or it’s that Finnish sense of humour again.

Heini Ilari and Matthew

Ilari Kaija and family