The Finnish Church in Van Etten, 30th anniversary

The Finnish Church in North Van Etten

On the second day of December, 1913, about fifty Finnish Americans gathered in the little country church at North Van Etten, New York, to hear the Word of God. The Rev. Kalle Makinen of the Finnish Seamen's Mission of New York City was the preacher.

Following the service these people held a meeting and laid the foundation for the congregation that now celebrates its thirtieth anniversary. Pastor Makinen acted as chairman of the meeting and Hjalmar Nurmi as secretary. It was voted that the congregation should be known as the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of North Van Etten. At a meeting on January 2, 1916, the words, St. John's, were added to the name, thereby making it, St. John's Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of North Van Etten. It was agreed that the congregation should remain an independent body for the time being, that pastors of the Church of Finland and also Lutheran pastors in America be accepted as teachers in the congregation, and that meetings be held at least every third month.

At another meeting, which was held on September 20, 1914, a gathering of eighty men and women expressed the desire that the work of the congregation be carried on. At this meeting the congregation decided to affiliate itself with the Suomi Synod, a general Lutheran body having congregations in the United States and Canada. The local congregation was accepted into the membership of the Synod on April 25, 1916.

The constitution and by-laws of the congregation were prepared by a committee named for that purpose and were accepted at a meeting of the congregation on June 6, 1915.

Records dated April 8, 1915, give the following as charter members of the congregation: John Lehtonen, Hjalmar Nurmi, Nestor Rantanen, Isak Mattson, 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. The following were unanimously elected as members of the first board of trustees: Vice-chairman Jacob Lundy and John Lehtonen, treasurer Hjalmar Nurmi, secretary Otto Maki, sec.-treas, Alex Knuutila, and to meet the requirements of the state, additional members, Herman Kauppinen, Fred Johanson and Isak Peltoniemi. Nestor Parviainen was chosen organist and Jacob Lundy was elected to lead the singing.

Many separate organizations within the congregation have helped to carry on its work. A Sunday School was organized in 1915, a Luther League in 1922. A Ladies Aid has been active for many years.

The congregation was supplied for many years by pastors, who came from time to time, when called, to perform ministerial acts, to teach confirmation classes and to preach the Gospel.

In 1921, however, there arose a desire in the congregation to obtain the services of a full-time pastor. With the aid of the Home Mission Board of the Synod this was accomplished and in June, 1924 the Rev. Herman Matero became the first resident pastor of the congregation. He labored here until the end of the following year. Since then pastors Onni Koski, Waino Ylonen and Frans J. Koski have had charge: and the present pastor, the Rev. Frank A. Pelkonen has been here since the fall of 1937. For the past few years the congregation has been self-supporting and has made generous contributions to the general benevolence of the church.

The congregation holds its services in the North Van Etten Union Free Church. As far as practical matters go, the congregation also takes care of the said church property, which includes the church building, the cemetery, and the church grounds.

The North Van Etten congregation is a rural church. Its members make their living on the land. Their farms are scattered over a large territory along the hillsides and in the valleys in the southern part of the Finger Lakes region. In former years inadequate roads made travel difficult. The life of the emigrant in general was a hard one. In addition to these things, the local church was, and still is, separated from its sister churches of the Synod by a distance of 250-300 miles. This isolated position of the congregation has placed its stamp on the early life of the congregation. Despite these difficulties, the congregation has been faithful to its calling, has preached the Gospel and has been a true source of life to the people of the community.

Aili Rantanen Lampila

From the church booklet for the 30th Anniversary of St. John's Finnish Evangelical Church, North Van Etten, New York, 1943.