Laura Maria Raitis

Other Churches and Religions in Finland


Church for the People

Compared with the Lutheran Church other churches and religious organizations in Finland are very small. At the end of 2003 the Lutheran Church made up approximately 84% of the Finnish population. The second largest church is the Orthodox Church, which had 57,000 members in the same year, amounting to just over one per cent of the national population. Pentecostals accounted for almost the same amount. Since religiously unaffiliated people make up 13,5% of the population, this leaves a remainder of just over 1%, consisting of members of other churches, Muslims, and representatives of other religions. Increasing immigration means tha the number of Muslims and Catholics, in particular, has grown more significantly than is shown by the official membership figures of these religious communities.


The Orthodox Church

The Orthodox Church of Finland has the same legal ‘folk church’ status as the Lutheran Church. Its members are for the most part ethnically Finnish, and hierarchically this church is currently part of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Orthodox faith was brought to Finland in the twelfth century by missionaries from Novgorod, and until the time of Finnish independence in 1917 the Orthodox Church of Finland was part of the Church of Russia. These days Finland’s largest Orthodox parish is that of Helsinki, but the largest concentrations of Orthodox Church members are in the eastern part of the country. There are also three Russian Orthodox congregations under the Moscow Patriarchate in Finland.

The Orthodox Church has three dioceses in Finland. Many of its parishes are extremely broad geographically, and as a result many of their members are unable to participate regularly in worship and other church activities. Children of Orthodox families, however, are able to receive confessional religious education in their own faith within the public education system. There are also church organizations which bring together Orthodox believers from different parts of the country.

There is one Orthodox monastery for monks and one for nuns in Finland. Both monks and nuns are relatively few, but the New Valamo monastery for monks in particular has become famous as a retreat centre, and it receives large numbers of visitors from a variety of religious backgrounds each year. Orthodox traditions seem to be of interest to many, and Finnish magazines, for example, frequently carry articles on such topics. Especially at Easter time, which for the Orthodox Church is the most important holiday of the year, Orthodox people are highly visible in the media. Icons are commonly sold, and there are courses in icon-painting. A familiarity with the Orthodox liturgy has also influenced the structure of worship in the Lutheran Church in recent years.

The Orthodox Church of Finland participates actively in ecumenical work. It is a member of the Finnish Ecumenical Council, the Council of European Churches, and the World Council of Churches.


Other Denominations

The Pentecostals are the largest Protestant group in Finland after the Lutheran Church. There are about 250 Pentecostal congregations in Finland, and their total membership is about 50,000. There are also some congregations which have their roots in the Pentecostal movement but do not belong to the mainstream, making the exact extent of the movement difficult to calculate. Pentecostals tend to be concentrated more in southern and western Finland. Pentecostal congregations have until recently been independent, but they have many shared projects and events, which are arranged by national charitable and missionary organizations. They also cooperate in the field of radio and television work, and in publishing magazines.

The Pentecostal Church in Finland was officially registered in 2002, and individual Pentecostal congregations are able to join it if they so wish. The Pentecostal Church does not take part in the Finnish Ecumenical Council, but it is in contact with other small Protestant groups in the context of the Council of Free Christianity and the Finnish Missionary Council. This latter organization also includes representatives of the Lutheran Church. In addition to this, Pentecostals are often involved in organizing local events together with other churches in their area.

The second largest ‘free church’ association is the Evangelical Free Church of Finland, which has about 13,000 members. Its roots are in a revivalist movement within the Lutheran Church of Sweden in the 1870s, which emphasized personal decisions in matters of faith and the importance of a congregation of believers. At first the movement attempted to reform the Lutheran Church from within, but it later ended up separating from it. The Evangelical Free Church has also received international influences from Anglo-Saxon Christianity in particular. These days, like the Pentecostal movement, the Evangelical Free Church puts an emphasis on evangelism (aimed at revival and a ‘born again’ faith), promoting personal holiness, confessions and declarations of faith, and the autonomy of local congregations.

The free church movement arrived in Finland within the first decade of its existence. The free churches have enjoyed a stronger position among the Swedish-speaking population in the coastal areas of Finland than among the majority Finnish-speaking population. One reason for this may be the importance of strong individual personalities from Sweden’s free church movement, whose influence was also felt in Finland in the movement’s early years. Internal cooperation also has a longer history within the Swedish-speaking free church movement than among their Finnish-speaking brothers and sisters: a joint council of the Swedish-speaking free churches was founded in the 1930s.

Other Christian communities in Finland include Adventists (4,100 members), Baptists (2,600 members), Methodists (1,200 members), the Salvation Army, a few independent Lutheran churches, Quakers, and some new Christian groups which tend to be of a charismatic nature. There are also a number of inter-church organizations.

In Helsinki there is a small Anglican chapel and an international church, the members of which are mostly foreigners. Both of these groups hold their worship services in Lutheran churches. The Anglican Church and most of the ‘free churches’ in Finland belong to the Finnish Ecumenical Council.


The Catholic Church

The number of Catholics in Finland stood at 7,900 at the end of 2003. Many of them are foreigners resident in Finland. The number of Catholics in Finland is in fact greater than this, as far from all Catholic immigrants have become members. The country’s six Catholic parishes are all part of a Helsinki-based diocese.

In the Middle Ages, from the twelfth until the sixteenth century, Finland was a Catholic country. Christianity did in fact come to the eastern part of the country by way of the eastern Orthodox tradition, but the Catholic Church had a stronger influence because it controlled the centres of power in south-western Finland. After the Reformation, however, Catholicism was not officially tolerated in Finland for over 200 years. In 1799 a new Catholic Church was consecrated in the port city of Viipuri (Vyborg), but only foreigners were allowed to practise the Catholic faith. Only with Finland’s independence (1917) and its new freedom of religion law (1923) did it become officially possible for a Finn to belong to the Catholic Church.

In addition to Catholic parishes and organizations, there are a number of communities in Finland for representatives of different Catholic orders. Actual Catholic monasteries have not existed here since the Reformation, but among others there are still Dominicans, Birgittines, Ursulans, Little Sisters of Jesus, Carmelites and Sacred Heart Brotherhood priests (Congregatio Sacerdotum a Sacro Corde Jesu, to which most of Finland’s Catholic priests belong). Finland was the first country in which the Catholic Church joined a national ecumenical council.


Islam

The exact number of Muslims in Finland is hard to estimate, but the figure is likely to be somewhat below 30,000. The total membership of official Islamic congregations is only 2,600. The oldest established Muslim group in Finland are the Tartars, who came here from Russia over a century ago. The Tartars’ Islamic congregations have a total of about 1,000 members these days. The Tartars have preserved their own language and culture, but they have adjusted well to living in Finnish society.

The number of foreign residents in Finland rose dramatically in the early nineties, with a number of refugees arrived from Somalia in particular, as well as Muslim immigrants from other nations. These have established their own mosques and societies. In 1996 these groups came together to form a cooperative organ called The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Finland. The vast majority of Finland’s mosques are part of this federation, which aims to promote and maintain Islam and its traditions, and to develop flexible cooperation between Muslims and outside officials and institutions.

It is estimated that approximately 200 Finns have converted to Islam. The vast majority of these are women who have married Muslim men.

A new Finnish translation of the Koran was published in 1995. It was prepared by a Finnish scholar of Arabic language and culture, who later also published an introduction to the Koran in Finnish.


Other World Religions

There are about 1,200 Jews in Finland, most of whom are descendants of Jews who came from Russia in the last century. There are two remaining active synagogues in the country, of which the one in Helsinki is by far the larger. The Helsinki Jewish community also operates a day-care centre, a school, and a hospital. There are Jewish cemeteries in seven different locations in Finland.

There are no more than a few hundred representatives of Buddhism, Hinduism and other established world religions. These are for the most part foreigners resident in Finland. There are also Finns who have converted to one of the eastern religions, but they are very few indeed. They tend to belong to groups with established Western operations, classified here as new religious movements.


New Religious Movements

The most significant new religious movements in Finland are those with Christian roots. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are the largest such group; their current membership stands at 19,200, and the movement is slowly but steadily growing. Jehovah’s Witnesses are a conspicuous group because of their active field work. Their kingdom halls can be found in many communities, and they are famous for being able to build them quickly. Jehovah’s Witnesses are exempt from military service on the basis of their religious convictions, and their convictions are also taken into consideration in other public institutions such as schools. The general public attitude towards Jehovah’s Witnesses, as towards Mormons and Muslims, is quite negative.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) has 3,300 members in Finland. Other groups with a basis in Christianity but clearly separated from the traditional church have remained small here both in terms of their membership and their influence.

The traces of Hindu thought in Finland are most significant in the practice of yoga. Courses in yoga are offered in every part of the country, and it is practised by tens of thousands. The central organization for yoga practitioners has its own training institute in the countryside, in which yoga leaders are trained and special yoga courses are given. Some of these practitioners have also familiarized themselves with the meditation techniques and world views of Hinduism, but many participate without any serious interest in that direction. Of the other Hindu-based organizations which have proliferated in the West – the Transcendental Meditation movement, Elan Vital, the Hare Krishnas, Ananda Marga, the Osho movement and Sahaja Yoga among others – have also come to Finland. Each has a few dozen active followers, and some also have several hundred non-committed supporters. Other Indian movements and gurus have only a few individual followers here.

The influence of Buddhism in Finland is much smaller than that of Hinduism. Meditation is promoted to a certain extent, and some literature relating to these practices is available in Finnish, but there are very few organized groups. Nowhere do they have more than a few dozen members.

Anthroposophy is rather conspicuous in Finland. Many communities have Steiner schools and Steiner kindergartens. Steiner schools are certified as being equivalent to standard Finnish elementary schools. In Helsinki there is also training given for teachers in the Steiner system and for biodynamic farming and gardening. Steiner’s followers also have societies to care for the mentally and emotionally handicapped.

The spread of New Age beliefs, theosophical societies, and other such independent groups is difficult to judge. They are, in any case, not very large. Individual societies, centres, magazines, etc. are innumerable, though, which can be seen in Helsinki’s annual Fair of Spirit and Knowledge, which draws out nearly 200 exhibitors.

Some years ago one hot topic for discussion was Satanism and devil worship appearing among young people. Devil worship is mostly a phenomenon found among adolescents aged between ten and fifteen. Teachers, youth workers, and social workers dealing with this age group fairly often hear from young people and their parents about Satanism being practised. Police information points in the same direction. Satanism appears in connection with crimes involving narcotics and vandalism in particular.

In recent years neo-paganism has also had something of a revival. New groups have international contacts, though they are particularly interested in ancient Finnish gods and beliefs.

Other groups that deserve at least passing mention are Scientology, which claims to have over 1,000 members in Finland and which has had a good deal of negative publicity recently; and the Baha’i faith, which has a membership of approximately 500.

December 2004


*  Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland: Church for the People