One family from many nations – in Espoo, international Lutheran worship services are held almost every Sunday

The multicultural Christian family in the Helsinki region is constantly changing, reflecting developments in world politics. Sometimes, this creates theological, cultural, and ethnic conflicts that must be resolved.  

In the picture there are several people walking in the church, the first one is carrying a wooden cross.

On 1 October, Matinkappeli Chapel hosted an international worship service. Sylvester Okay carried the cross, followed by Hilkka Arminen, Lahja Rainesalo, Jukka Kivimäki, and Hans Krause.  Photo: Esko Jämsä.

Nigerian Erezih Green sits down for a hot drink before the Matinmessu worship service begins. He ended up in Finland as a refugee fifteen years ago.  

– It was a difficult journey. 

After moving to Espoo, he walked into the chapel one day and asked whether there was anything there for people like him. He has been involved in Matinmessu international worship ever since and also brought his family, which he founded in Finland, to the community. 

The procession enters the church hall led by cross-bearer Sylvester Okey. The congregation rises to welcome the procession. Cantor Sanna Franssila‘s worship band fills the space with music.  

In Espoo, you can attend an international Lutheran worship service almost every Sunday. Four parishes take turns hosting a service four weeks a month. In addition, diaconal services, groups, camps, and confirmation schools for all ages are provided, as well as hospital chaplaincy and family counselling. Besides English, there are communities using Russian, Estonian, Chinese, and Arabic; the church also offers services in those languages. 

In Matinmessu worship, English and Finnish are used side-by-side. The hymn ‘Lord, have mercy!’ cuts right to the bone when Totti Mäenpää blows the trumpet. Hilkka Arminen delivers the sermon. 

In Papua New Guinea, she translated the New Testament into a language with a vocabulary of less than 3,000 words. There was no proper expression for the term ‘kingdom of God’. But then somebody came up with an idea: God’s kingdom is a space set apart for God, where everyone is welcome at the Host’s invitation. The Matinmessu worship community is like that. 

Two women, mother and her daughter are smiling and forming a heart with their hands.

Aneela Zarish and her musician daughter Ilona Gill sing in the worship band. Photo Esko Jämsä.

During the prayer time, worshipers can ask to be anointed with oil. Pastor Oili Karinen draws a cross on Marja Ahonius’ forehead. In addition to the international and youthful atmosphere, Ahonius treasures that ethnic, church, or political background does not hinder fellowship here. 

Hala Aldakar, a Syrian woman who has lived in Finland for five years, picks up an offering bag and starts collecting the offering. Today, the proceeds go to the aid of Myanmar’s orphans through the Lutheran Evangelical Association of Finland (LEAF). 

After the mass, the band’s female singers, Pakistani Aneela Zarish and her musician daughter Ilona Gill, collect the sheet music and stow them in their bags. 

Zarish works in Espoo as an early childhood educator. She has been involved in Matinmessu worship ever since she moved to Finland 15 years ago. Her pastor husband serves a church in Pakistan remotely. The recent wave of persecution has increased the need for spiritual care there. 

A volunteer sign-up list is circulating during the coffee fellowship after the service. Markus Silvola, the secretary for missionary and multicultural work in Olari Parish, looks pleased. There are many names on the list. 

Oili Karinen gratefully takes off her stole and alb. 

– Native Finns, too, find a new perspective on the world and their own lives here. Moreover, you can bring your children; we provide a special programme for them during the service, says Karinen. 

Although the participants come from many backgrounds, the community is Lutheran. The shared confession provides stability to the gathering. 

One in five Espoo residents have another mother tongue than Finnish or Swedish. The need for multicultural work in the church is growing, says Matti Peiponen, who coordinates the work. The multicultural Christian family in the capital region is constantly changing, reflecting the developments in world politics. Sometimes, this creates theological, cultural, and ethnic conflicts that must be resolved.  

The war in Ukraine has caused tensions within the Russian-speaking community between those favouring and those opposing the Russian government. However, the community agreed not to discuss politics at its meetings. 

– Since many Ukrainians know Russian, they have joined the Russian-language work. This is not an easy situation. 

On the other hand, disputes arose over theological issues in the capital region's Chinese-speaking community. Fortunately, the community was able to resolve them and did not break up over them, Peiponen is happy to tell. 

The Urdu-speaking community, on the other hand, did split up. Some joined Pentecostal churches, others stayed in the Lutheran church, and still others founded a new community. In the Arabic-speaking community, the challenge is getting Christians from the Middle East's traditional churches and recent converts from Islam to collaborate. 

After drinking her tea, Hilkka Arminen walks home from the chapel down a quiet and dark street. Her years working on a tropical island were colourful and international. Matinmessu worship has some of the same elements. 

For more information: Espoo International Lutheran Church - multicultural activities in Espoo’s parishes. 

Four international Lutheran worship families are gathering in Espoo. Together, they form the community of ‘Espoo International Lutheran Worship.’ 

Text: Danielle Miettinen, translation Hans Krause.

First published in Kirkko ja kaupunki in Finnish 23th October 2023.

10.11.2023 10.52