Swede-Finns and the Baptist General Conference
Skrivet av Clifford Anderson   
2007-10-14 11:13

Swede-Finns and the Baptist General Conference

by Clifford Anderson

Most of us know that immigrant Swedes were the beginning of the Baptist General Conference. But most of us don't know the part that Swede-Finns played in the development of our denomination.

Swede-Finns were Swedish-speaking people who lived in a part of Finland just across the Gulf of Bothnia from Sweden. Signs in some of those town are still in both Swedish and Finnish. (Finnish is not related to the other Scandinavian languages but is more closely related to Hungarian and Estonian.) Many of the people living in this section of Finland now speak both Swedish and Finnish.

East Little Fork Baptist Church

Sweden was once a world power and after the 12th century had strong influence over the territory of Finland. Many Swedes settled its western area. However, in 1809 Russia gained control of Finland until 1917 when Finland won its independence.

The Swedish-speaking Finns (Swede- Finns) were viewed as more privileged than the Finns. Famous composer Johan Julius Sibelius was a Swedish- speaking Finn. The Swede-Finns helped inspire the vastly out-numbered Finns to resist and punish Russia in the winter war of 1939. When Hitler invaded Russia, Finland felt a common cause with Germany but refused to imprison Jews when Hitler so commanded.

When the flood of immigrants from Scandinavia to the United States began shortly before the turn of the century, many from Finland also came. One estimate is that 18,000 Finlanders came in 1905 alone. About one-fourth of them were Swede-Finns. The first believers' baptism on Finland's mainland was on July 14, 1869. Baptist Swede-Finns began their own denomination in Chicago in 1901, called the Finska Baptist Missionforinigen.

In the new land, the Swede-Finns were known as hard-working, honest, and determined. They were scattered among the northern states from Massachusetts to Washington. Some learned metal-working and furniture-making, and many became lumberjacks, fishers, and farmers. Women worked as cooks and maids for the upper classes.

During its best years, the Baptist Mission Union, the name later chosen by the Swede-Finn denomination, counted about 20 Swede-Finn Baptist churches with about 1,000 members. The churches were determined to preach the gospel to the Finnish people who spoke Swedish and also to those who spoke Finnish. More than a dozen missionaries were sent out, most of whom spoke both Swedish and Finnish. Many of the churches that grew out of their work were Swedish-speaking, but several congregations spoke Finnish as their language of choice.

In the United States, as in Finland, the relationships between the Swedes and the Finns was sometimes touchy. The Finnish-speaking Finns regarded the Swede-Finns as different and privileged, and the immigrants from Sweden felt the Swede-Finns were not truly Swedes!

Swede-Finns met together for fellowship and to learn what was going on in the "old country." Societies that promoted temperance and that cared for the sick and dying sprang up among them to meet needs. These came together in 1921 as the Order of Runeberg lodge. Picnics, sporting events, choirs, and lectures were sponsored. Newspapers were begun and eagerly read.

As the flood of immigrants greatly declined after World War I, the second generation was English-speaking. Swede-Finn churches, like those of other languages (German, Norwegian, etc.), had to make the difficult switch to the English language.

In 1961, the Baptist Mission Union (the name of the Swede-Finn churches) went out of existence. Most of its members felt at home with the Baptist General Conference and affiliated with the BGC. Most of the Swede-Finn pastors had been trained at Bethel Seminary, when the majority of classes were taught in Swedish.

Many of the descendants of this group have been important leaders in the Baptist General Conference, including missionaries Eric Frykenberg, Ruth Bertell, Herb and Jean Skoglund, and Ken Gullman.

Other descendants of the Swede-Finns have played important roles in the Baptist General Conference. Dr. Emmett Johnson was a successful and much-loved pastor and district executive who led American Baptists in evangelism and became a vice president of the Baptist World Alliance. Dr. Clifford Anderson has been a professor and later dean of Bethel Seminary San Diego. At least four moderators of the BGC were from the Swede-Finn background as is Dr. James Erickson, chair of the BGC Overseers for seven years.

What a contribution this small faithful group of Swede-Finns and their descendants have made to the total work of God, especially in the Baptist General Conference.

Bethel Seminary, 3949 Bethel Drive, St. Paul, Minnesota 55112

The 50th Jubilee of the Swedish Baptists, October 1,
1902 Walker Hall, Morgan Park, Illinois
Senast uppdaterad 2007-10-14 11:44
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