The first organization of the early Finnish residents was St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of North Van Etten which was affiliated with the Suomi Synod in 1916. Charter members were John Lehtonen, Hjalmer Nurmi, Nestor Rantanen, Isak Peltoniemi, Alex Knuutila, Herman Kauppinen, Fred Johanson, Oscar Laine, Otto Maki, Frank Yliharju, Jacob Lundy, Oscar Olli, George Lampila, Robert Lehto, and Nestor Parviainen (Mattson), organist.

Services were held in the former North Van Etten Free Church, with visiting pastors of the Suomi Synod conducting the services. Confirmation classes of two or three weeks of intensive study were held each summer. All services and classes were held in the Finnish language. Spencer, Newfield, Danby, Speedsville and other nearby area residents were included in the membership of the church.

Descendants of the founders of St. John’s and their spouses, even those not of Finnish descent, keep this church in good repair although it is no longer in regular use. A new roof and a gleaming white coat of paint were added in 1975 with the labor and supplies donated by local residents and friends. The church cemetery, where most of the names are Finnish, is well-tended. A work bee is held every spring by survivors of those whose final rest is in this rural church cemetery.

A very active Luther League for the young people was organized in 1922. This activity was held at the homes of members and conducted in the English language. The Luther League helped raise the funds for a new organ for the church. Many of its members came from Spencer.

In 1924 Pastor Herman Mattero served as the first resident minister of the church. In addition to regular services on Sunday at the church, mid-week meetings were held in the homes of members, many of whom lived in Spencer. Christmas, Easter and St. John’s Day celebration drew large attendances from a wide area. A picnic was held on the church grounds to celebrate St.John’s Day, June 24th, preceded by a religious service.

Because it was so far to travel to North Van Etten, and the Spencer Methodists gave the Lutherans the use of their church building after they joined the Baptists in the Federated Church, the Spencer members of St. John’s formed their own congregation. They became organized as a separate church on July 15, 1934, naming it St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Charter members were Emil Nurmi, Jacob Ahola, Liisa Ahola, Marie Ahola, Harry Mattson, John E. Heikkila, Alma Heikkila, Martin Lehtio, Jacob Olson, Emil Hill, Hilja Hill, Susanna Huhtala and Niilo Koski. Reverend Frank Pelkonen, pastor of the North Van Etten Church, also became the minister of the church in Spencer. English as well as Finnish services were held at St. Paul’s by Reverend Pelkonen who served the two congregations until 1944.

Reverend Leslie Lurvey next served the two congregations until the end of 1947, followed by Reverend Ruben Ahlskog who was pastor from 1948 - 1956. He was the last minister to have regular services in the Finnish language. These were held on alternate Sundays with the English language services and became increasingly less well attended with death and the infirmities of old age taking their toll of those who were born in Finland.

A parsonage was purchased jointly by the two Lutheran congregations in 1948. It was located on Main Street in Spencer.

After Rev. Ahlskog left, it was very difficult to find a bi-lingual minister. As fewer and fewer worshippers attended the Finnish services, it became less imperative that the next minister need to preach in that language. Rev. Thomas A. Schultz became the first pastor (1958-1962) to hold only English services in the two Lutheran churches. Visiting pastors conducted some Finnish services for the few remaining worshippers who understood that language better than the English language.

In 1962, St. John’s merged with St. Paul’s and regular services were discontinued in North Van Etten.

Other branches of the Lutheran faith were the Apostolic Lutheran (Laestadians) and the Finnish National Church (Kansallis Seura), both of which had fewer members in the area. Rev. Pietari Wuori, a pastor of the “Kansallis Seura”, settled in Crumtown and held cottage services there and in nearby communities. Pastor Wuori taught confirmation classes in the Crumtown School during the summer, as well as performed the usual duties of a minister. Mrs. Wuori organized and directed a choir which sang for a few special occasions.

Sunday School classes were held in various homes in Crumtown and South Danby during the first years of residence, with lessons taught in Finnish. As in Finland, there was always a picture of a rooster on the cover of the “Aapinen” or primer. Older children usually taught the beginners.

After Rev. Wuori moved away, Miss Olive Norris held an English-language Sunday School for one summer. To some of the pupils who had become accustomed to Biblical terms in Finnish it first seemed strange to think of the prophets speaking in English.

Many of the newcomers did not become affiliated with any church after they came to the United States. In Finland they had been christened and confirmed in the Lutheran Church, the State Church of Finland, and for that reason, felt they were members of that church for the rest of their lives. Many of them claimed membership in the Lutheran Church even though they didn’t support or attend the local church, sincerely believing this was their right to maintain. Because the Lutheran Church in Finland was state-supported, that any church would require substantial financial support, may have seemed offensive to many of the immigrants who had to work so hard to make ends meet.

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