Laestadianism in America

Laestadianism in America

The Laestadian church arrived in North America with Nordic (especially Finnish) immigrants in the latter half of the 19th century, many of whom arrived to work in the copper mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Some of these new immigrants found themselves in conflict with older, established immigrants from the same countries, being generally poorer and less established, and hewing to the new, fundamentalist teachings of Lars Levi Laestadius. As a result, Laestadian congregations separate from the extant Scandinavian Lutheran churches were formed in Cokato, Minnesota, in 1872 and in Calumet, Michigan, in 1873.

Family Tree of American Laestadian Churches

(This chronology is very confused because it is difficult to find unbiased accounts of these events. Contemporary primary sources tend to downplay the size and significance of the "other side", while historical accounts are sparse. Additions and corrections are welcome.)

* 1873 - Solomon Korteniemi Lutheran Society was founded in Calumet, Michigan.
* 1879 - SKLS changed its name to Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church, led by John Takkinen.
* 1888 - Disagreements between factions led by Takkinen and John Roanpaa result in a second church led by Takkinen.
* 1892 - Old Apostolic Lutheran Church schismed from FALC.
* 1922 - First Apostolic Lutheran Church (led by Paul Heideman and Walter Torola) schismed from FALC.
* 1928 - Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church of America schismed from FALC. At this same time, the Pollarites led by John Pollari schismed into the Independent Apostolic Lutheran Church, sometimes referred to as the Pollarites.
* 1962, FALCA changed its name to Apostolic Lutheran Church of America [] .
* 1963 - Pollarites schismed into Auneslaiset and Independent Apostolic Lutheran Church. Both sides of this split continue to use the "Independent" moniker.
* 1973 - Association of American Laestadian Congregations schismed from 1stALC.
* 1974 - Firstborn Apostolic Lutheran Church schismed from Old Apostolic Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, MN.
* 1978 - Auneslaiset schismed into Aunesites, Davidites and Melvinites.
* 1995 - Association of American Laestadian Congregations changed its name to Laestadian Lutheran Church. []

(This chronology mostly derived from [] )

As of 2000, the following churches are believed to be active: First Apostolic Lutheran Church, Laestadian Lutheran Church, Apostolic Lutheran Church of America, Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, Finnish Apostolic-Lutheran Congregation, Independent Apostolic Lutheran Church.


Each congregation generally has a name they call themselves, which frequently differ from the names used in this article. In particular, First Apostolic adherents would recoil at being labelled "Laestadian"; for them, "Laestadians" are the opposing side of the 1973 schism. In the interest of editorial clarity, this article uses an internally consistent naming scheme which differs from the names congregations apply to themselves. The term "Laestadian" is used as an umbrella to refer to all churches with a clear succession of belief from the teachings of Lars Levi Laestadius. The respective branches of Laestadian churches recognize their roots with the teachings of Lars Levi Laestadius to varying degrees. The Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, for example, will read a postilla (sermon) of Laestadius along with a text from the Bible with every church service. In contrast, the Pollari congregations do not recognize Laestadius in any of their liturgy and he is not given any special emphasis in their teachings.

The term "Apostolic" does not refer to the doctrine of Apostolic Succession; rather, it denotes an effort to live as near as possible in the Laestadian view to the Apostle's doctrines and practices.

Congregations and Concentrations

As of 2000, significant concentrations of Laestadian adherents exist in the following locales:
* MatSu Valley, Alaska
* Phoenix, Arizona
* Prescott, Arizona
* Glenwood Springs, Colorado
* Bethel, Connecticut
* Lake Worth, Florida
* Waukegan, Illinois
* Centerville, Massachusetts
* Calumet, Hancock, Houghton, and nearby towns in Michigan (the "Copper Country")
* Bruce Crossing, Michigan
* Detroit, Michigan (Northern suburbs)
* Ishpeming, Michigan
* Ironwood, Michigan
* Minneapolis, Minnesota (Northwestern suburbs)
* Brainerd, Minnesota
* Cokato, Minnesota
* Rockford, Minnesota
* Duluth, Minnesota
* New York Mills, Minnesota
* Menahga, Minnesota and surrounding area
* Virginia, Minnesota
* Esko, Minnesota
* Portland, Oregon
* Battle Ground, Washington
* Davenport, Washington
* Longview, Washington
* Seattle, Washington (Northwestern suburbs)
* Spokane, Washington
* Toronto, Ontario
* High Point, North Carolina
* Greer, South Carolina
* Hamlin County, South Dakota
* Marengo, Wisconsin
* Vancouver, British Columbia
* Kenosha, Wisconsin
* Eben Junction, Michigan
* Hemet, California
* Martinez, California
* Oulu, Wisconsin
* Negaunee, Michigan
* Floodwood, Minnesota
* Black River Township, Michigan
* Fitchburg, Massachusetts
* Cloquet, Minnesota
* Deer River, Minnesota
* Eagle Lake Township, Minnesota
* Iron River, Michigan
* Outlook, Saskatchewan, Canada
* Dunblane, Saskatchewan, Canada
* Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada
* Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
* Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada
* New Ipswich, New Hampshire
* Kalispell, Montana

(additions welcome!)

Beliefs and Characteristics

American Laestadians practice varied degrees of fundamentalist Christian belief. Most Laestadians avoid alcohol; varying numbers of adherents avoid a number of "worldly" practices, including dancing, card-playing, cinema, television, high-school sports, popular music, and the performing arts (listed in approximate order of avoidance). However, caffeine is widely consumed and tobacco is generally tolerated. Family size tends to be large compared to the American average; most families in non-urban congregations have between 4 and 10 children, while most churches have a few families with 12 or 15 children. Birth control is generally not practiced, and some consider it a sin (although as on most issues, urbanites tend to be more liberal than rural adherents).

Laestadian asceticism is distinguished from other American fundamentalist Christians in that none of the above-mentioned pastimes is officially "proscribed"; rather, Laestadians counsel each other and employ a reinforcing system of social feedback to encourage abstention. Active congregations provide social outlets in keeping with the beliefs of the church; nearly every weekend evening will find Laestadian teenagers congregating at one or another's home (get-together).

Laestadian churches teach that every human is a sinner and that every sin can be forgiven; forgiveness stems from the hearts of Laestadians, not from ceremony or hierarchy. Some Laestadians practice "lay confession" whereby a member confesses to another member; in the Heidemanian tradition, some vestige of this practice remains in the liturgy but confession is not widely practiced.

Some Laestadian congregations consider themselves the one, true Christian church, and preach that all other Christian churches (including other branches of the Laestadian tradition) are not true Christians.

Ceremony and Service in the Heidemanian tradition

American Laestadian churches provide services in Finnish to varying degrees; in some churches circa 2000, every service is bilingual, while in others only special occasions merit translation, and in yet others all preaching is done in English. In any case, a Laestadian may request to receive Communion in Finnish; another lay member of the congregation can deliver Communion if the pastor is not fluent. Communion is the only regularly practiced ceremony (performed once or twice a month, or every week, depending on congregation), and consists of unleavened wafers and wine (sometimes grape juice), delivered assembly-line fashion at a communion rail at the conclusion of Sunday services.

Teenagers undergo Confirmation around age 13 to 15, after which they are eligible for communion. Other significant life ceremonies are baptism (performed during the first months of life, and rarely for adult converts) and marriage.

The Old Apostolic Lutheran congregations hold annual Elder's Meetings, often combined with St. John's summer services, several days to one week long, with guest preachers delivering evening sermons each weekday and two or more church services on the bracketing Sundays. Elders (senior preachers) from Lapland are invited to teach. Many church members follow the elders as they travel across America visiting different congregations. Other Apostolic Lutheran bodies hold similar "big services," in which members of multiple congregations gather in one location to hear speakers from the United States and from Scandinavia (if they have a cooperating European counterpart).

External links

* [] provided most of the chronology information.
* [] attempts a comprehensive listing of historical and current Finnish churches in North America
* [] attempts a comprehensive listing of active congregations of all churches calling themselves "Apostolic".
* [] is the official website for the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC)
* [] History of how a Botanist became the founder of a church. Story of Lars Levi Laestadius
* [] History and books about the history of the movement in Lapland and the effect on the immigrants to the US.
* [] Thesis regarding social problems within the church from Department of Psychology University of Joensuu, Finland
* [] Laestadius sermons in text and audio files free of Charge in English, Swedish and Finnish


* "Cradle to Grave: Life, Work and Death at the Lake Superior Copper Mines", Larry Lankton (Oxford University Press, 1991) ISBN 0-19-506263-9

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