Helsinki MapWe’ve had an adventurous 24 hours. Steve and I met Sami (a long-term friend of the Pylkas family and a part of the house-church movement here in Finland) at the train station in Helsinki. Drove two hours to Tampere—one of the largest cities in Finland (about 350,000 in the metro area). We are staying in the home of another Pylkas friend, a sweet lady named Anya. She has been fighting “flu” for the past 6 weeks and has recently put her husband in nursing care. So her hosting of us is an act of real generosity and hospitality.

We ate last night with a sweet couple (30ish—Reija and Hanna) and their two children (Olivia, 5, and Christian, 3). Talked and talked. Hanna actually attended Harding University for a while. The two of them are practicing faith in a typically Finnish manner: alienated members of the Lutheran Church, some contact with house church movements in Tampere, close connection with the Pylkas’ in their forays to Finland. The group that will gather in their home Sunday night is not a regular, weekly assembly … they gather only when Steve comes to celebrate their life together and their friendship with Steve.

Downtown TampereThe idea of a “faith community” has been tragically eroded in this culture. The state church—Lutheranism as a politically motivated and funded entity—has cornered the market on religious authority. They accredit and approve religious activities in this culture. Color outside the lines and you risk censure and expulsion. But there is little community in the formal church … hardly anyone actually attends much less becomes involved. Large, beautiful Lutheran cathedrals and churches but tiny audiences and even less personal interaction. Instead, these little house churches have sprung up across Finland, informal groups who get together for Bible Study and discussion. Still, the idea of regularly gathered, intimately involved community is a strange concept. Faith is primarily an individual matter, a vertical business involving a person and his/her God.

This morning, Sami picked us up and gave us a tour of Tampere. Churches, public spaces, old factory districts. We had coffee at a “Kauppahalli”—a market hall where merchants sell everything from coffee/pastries to fish (hundreds of varieties and styles), meats, flowers, clothing, leather goods, and snacks. It was wonderful to get a taste of the city and of Finnish life. It was cold today (38 degrees!) and I was underdressed. So I’m a little chilled.

We will have the afternoon to get some work done and then meet with another house-church group in the Lampaala area (that meets a little more frequently) this evening.

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