|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
(St John's Church), Helsinki, Finland.
Lutheran Church of Finland, Diocese
of Porvoo, or Borgå as the cathedral town is known
in Swedish. All Lutheran parishes in Finland where Swedish is
either the main language or the only language spoken are part
of the Diocese of Porvoo.
St John's is the work of the 19th century Swedish architect
Adolf Emil Melander, who designed several churches in Sweden
and Finland as well as a number of railway stations, private
homes and villas. Completed in 1891, the church is in the neo-Gothic
style with a cruciform floor plan. Near the main entrance is
a statue of St John the Baptist, installed in 2003. In the back
of the church were book racks holding both Finnish and Swedish
versions of the Church of Finland's prayer book/hymnal. The
altar is still against the east wall. A gallery surrounds the
nave, including seating behind the altar. A painting of Saul's
conversion on the road to Damascus, by Eero Jarnefelt, brother-in-law
of the famed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, is behind the altar.
There are many chandeliers placed throughout the church. St
John's has superb acoustics and is used as the site of many
classical concerts, including an annual performance each Maundy
Thursday of Bach's St Matthew Passion.
The present parish community began operation on January 1, 2009,
and at the beginning of 2011 claimed 12,000 members, with seven
priests on staff. They have a wide range of Christian formation
programs and social ministries, and an extensive music program.
St John's is in Helsinki's Punavuori neighborhood, near the
central city. It is on a hill where midsummer bonfires are built
(on St John's day, June 24). A soccer field is right next to
the church; in the immediate neighbourhood are a petrol station,
apartments, and small upscale shops.
The Revd Maria Repo-Rostedt, pastor, was the celebrant and homilist.
Cantors Rolf Löfman and Eva Henricson were in charge of
The date & time:
Palm Sunday, 13 April 2014, 12.00pm.
What was the name of the
Familjemässa (Family Mass). The service was in
Swedish. Finland is officially bilingual, with about eight per
cent of the population having Swedish as its native language
(I gather it's a very moneyed eight per cent!).
How full was the building?
This is the largest church in Helsinki, seating 2600, but there
were only perhaps 110-120 present.
Did anyone welcome you
An usher handed me a service leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not really. High back, with no curve in it. No kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service
I arrived a bit early, and a children's choir of four young
singers (eight or nine years of age, I would guess) were rehearsing.
When the organ prelude began, it was quiet and reverential.
What were the exact opening words of the
They were in Swedish: "I Faderns och Sonens och den heliga
Andens namn. Amen." (In the name of the Father, and of
the the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen).
What books did the congregation use during the
Only the service leaflet that was passed out.
What musical instruments
An organ by the famed Walcker Orgelbau, a German firm that can
trace its history to 1780 and still exists today. The instrument
is located in the rear gallery, was renovated in 1956, and now
has 74 ranks. It is Helsinki's largest church organ. Also, a
grand piano to accompany several anthems sung by the children's
choir. The church also has a smaller organ, Baroque in design,
that was not used in this service.
Did anything distract
The distraction was the beauty of such a large space, particularly
when there were stretches of spoken Swedish that I did not understand.
So much to marvel at.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
A formal liturgy, made a bit more informal by the performances
of the children's choir. It was a truncated communion service
(only one reading and an abbreviated eucharistic prayer
only a short introduction and the institution narrative) interspersed
with hymns and several children's anthems. The celebrant carried
a veiled ciborium in the entrance and exit processions and was
accompanied by six torch bearers, who also assisted in the gospel
procession. Celebrant was veiled in a deep violet chasuble.
One of the anthems was nicely choreographed, with the children
raising the palms in their right hands, then raising the palms
in their left hands, then raising both together. They nailed
it. During the intercessions, a member of the altar party took
a candle and lit the paschal candle as a way of remembering
the faithful departed.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 The pastor spoke very confidently and effectively,
with no distracting mannerisms.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Not a clue. I guess it was on the gospel, which must have been
about Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem it was
much too short to have been a Passion reading.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Singing "Halleluja! Sjung om Jesus" to the customary
tune of Hyfrydol). I was seated near the back of the
church, not near very many other congregants, so I took a stab
at singing this old favorite in Swedish. Also, the sheer beauty
of the space.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The worst part of the experience was walking the mile and a
half from my hotel in a cold, drizzling rain under a grey sky.
I berated myself as I settled into my pew for coming to Helsinki
for a week without an umbrella.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I remained in my pew to listen to a brief but tuneful organ
postlude on the church's magnificent instrument. I was in the
back, and so was one of the first out the door, where Pastor
Repo-Rostedt was waiting to greet worshippers. We chatted briefly;
she was most welcoming.
How would you describe the after-service
Pastor Repo-Rostedt kindly invited me to a coffee, and told
me just to "go with the flow." The congregants I chose to flow
with, though, weren't headed to the coffee. When this became
apparent, I was far enough along that I decided to head back
to the hotel (I had a flight to catch later that afternoon).
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 This "0" is not a negative comment about anything I experienced; I thought it was a beautiful way to spend Palm Sunday in a foreign country. But, realistically, if Materfamilias and I were to find ourselves living in Helsinki, we would seek out an English-speaking parish to join.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, indeed. I always welcome the chance to worship with fellow Lutherans in other national churches.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Walking back to the hotel in a cold, drizzling rain on Palm
Sunday, with the strains of Hyfrydol running through
my head. And the choreography with the palms.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.