"laestadian, apostolic, gay, lgbtq, ex-oalc, ex-llc, llc, oalc, bunner" LEARNING TO LIVE FREE: Memories of Good (?) Times

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Memories of Good (?) Times

Note: This is a guest post by long-time reader CVOW. If you would like to write a guest post, please send an email to Free. Tell your story!

Friends, we've touched on this topic here and there, but I don't think in a dedicated thread.  Regardless of what particular branch of Laestadianism you were raised in, do you think that church is the same as you recall from years past?  How much did change in the church influence your decision to leave the church -- or perhaps enabled you to stay?

As I drift back in the theatre of my mind, I seem to recall a much different church (OALC) of close to 60 years ago.  I remember stern old Finns, who -- while they took their religion very seriously -- were also kind hearted (in a gruff old Finnish fashion).  I remember preachers who went out of their way to be gentle souls, trying their best to guide a flock in the best fashion they could . . . men who were good to me in every way. Sure, when W was preaching, you sat behind the biggest person in the church, hoping he wouldn't call on you to comment on what the sixth devil would do with the two edged sword on the slippery slope to hell or some such obtuse thing, but all in all, it wasn't unpleasant.  I remember evening services in a softly lit church during "meetings."  I remember my grandfather, who I suppose was the oldest of the "lukkari's," always leading "There's a land that is fairer than day," his favorite, as the last song, on the last night of meetings. 

I remember most of the men in church sleeping through the Laestadius reading, because I guess you can only take in so much information about the paps that bore no milk.  I remember being "blessed" with Finnish fluency and enduring a double dose of every sermon as a result.  I remember close fellowship with cousins and friends from all over the US.  I recall a preacher talking many times about "Uusi päivä, ja uusi armo" -- a "new day and a new grace."  I remember "our hearts being bound in Christian love."  I learned about the saving love of Jesus Christ, and the comforting thought of resting someday "siipeinsä varjosa" -- in the shadow of his wings. To this day, those are indeed precious memories -- even when a certain elder spoke for almost four hours one night and Lord, those wooden pews were hard!  I saw that same phenomenon when our family would occasionally go to services at what we called the "Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church," which I guess became the IALC.  

Now fast forward a few years, as the old preachers began to pass on and the new, young guns began to preach.  Suddenly things changed, and the "law" began to be the focus of the church instead of salvation and grace and Christian love.  From the young preachers, I heard nothing about grace, but plenty about law, condemnation, and judgement.  "You cannot do this, and you cannot do that.  You are but a wretch and a sinner.  You will surely burn in the depths of hell.  Anyone who is not a member of the OALC, you are condemned to hell, hell, hell."  And it wasn't just the OALC.  I recall an IALC preacher at a funeral of an old Finn (who happened to have spent a lot of his life in a bar as a good old Finnish town drunk), condemning him at the funeral to eternal hell.  Even as a 10-year old, I wondered how this man had the authority to judge and pass sentence on anyone, but pass it he did, with a certainty that was frightening. 

I refused to believe such foolishness, and I left.  I could not stand for that fear mongering, and just as much, I found I could not stand the accepting attitude of the members of the congregation who just shrugged their shoulders and wailed bitterly at the end of the sermons.  I could not accept that change to the church in which I grew up. 

I wonder how many of you have experienced a similar change. If your church had not changed, would you still be there?  Or perhaps, if it had only changed, would you still be there?  Or is the change what has kept you there?  Or do you stay because of some sort of stability you find there?  Please share your thoughts.  Don't throw stones -- we've done enough of that, and I've certainly pitched my share.  I have little appetite for that anymore.  Perhaps my heart has finally found a quiet place to rest.

Peace be with you all.  Se on uusi päivä, ja uusi armo!



  1. Hello, CVOW! It's good to see you back on the site. I enjoyed reading your memories and wish they were mine. I don't remember much grace but a lot of condemnation. I remember the preachers being a "separate breed" from the rest of us. A change I see today is the huge reliance on the preachers for everyday problems and concerns, acting as referee, counselor, go-between, financial adviser. In many ways, it seems as though the congregation is more infantile than ever. Why has this happened? SISU

  2. The happy and good memories you described above, are those which I wish I could have of my conservative laestadian church. I do not feel the unity among the members and all decisions seem to be decided by only a few ministers; it is not up to the congregation even though that is what the ministers will want all congregants to think. I have for basically my whole life, felt suppressed by my church and always having to be careful of all actions and wondering what the next person might think of this or that. In recent years, it seems "guidelines" or unwritten rules are becoming more hard-line rules and if you break them, you are not considered a believer. I consider leaving, however, do not know that I will find peace within myself if I do that, even though I don't feel totally at peace with the beliefs and stances of my church on many topics as being considered sin (school sports, makeup, TV, sports games). Because I feel like I don't agree with my church on all of those topics, I do not feel at peace with my church. None of it is biblical or a doctrinal issue, yet it is considered sin.
    I feel many agree with my opinions on the above topics, and many (possibly more), are fine with the current stance of the church - but it all goes unsaid and not discussed.

  3. CVOW, you asked, among other things, If your church had not changed, would you still be there? Or perhaps, if it had only changed, would you still be there?

    For you, in the OALC of decades ago, the problem was the church changing. For a number of people now in the SRK and LLC, the problem is the church’s refusal to change. For me, I’m not sure that any amount of change would have been enough, because my “examination of the pearl” continued to identify problems the closer I looked, from the SRK/LLC to Laestadianism, to Luther, to Christianity, to the Bible and the very idea of God as he is traditionally envisioned. But I respect those who see the obvious problems with their particular sect of fundamentalist Christianity and find solace in a more accepting, less demanding faith that resonates with their own innate sense of grace and love. If I had not found as many problems lurking beneath the rotted foundation of my Laestadianism as there were in it, I would have been one of them.

    In some ways, I miss the God I thought I knew for most of my life. But the words of Peter Fromm express my sentiments very well: “What a relief, to be rid of that obnoxious, intrusive presence, and to have my privacy and the freedom to explore my own thoughts and feelings returned to me” (quoted in Tucker, Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief).

    When I wrote my book and submitted it to the LLC’s elders for their review, I was in a state of suspended disbelief with the possibility in mind, however small, that a reasonable, helpful reply on their part could keep me “there” as a “believer.” Their refusal (inability, really) “to examine ‘the pearl’ with the light of reason,” as they put it, was the final straw. But I wonder what it would have taken to avoid that outcome.

    How can a church acknowledge its flaws or admit the absurdity of so many of its doctrines without evacuating itself of all authority? Imagine what it might sound like:

    This is God’s Kingdom, the Pillar and Ground of Truth, guided by the Holy Spirit. But we completely screwed up by conducting all of those caretaking meetings in the 1970s, we were wrong about our condemnations of evolution in church publications, and we really don’t have any grounds for calling other branches of Laestadianism “heresies.” Time and time again, we’ve proven our lack of knowledge about the Bible. Only a handful of our preachers really understand it or know anything about biblical scholarship, and they have to keep quiet about a lot of what they know. But you should totally listen to what we have to say now, for example about women getting pregnant over and over again, even at risk to their lives.

    I don’t think so.

  4. Interesting to read CVOW's reminiscings. With regards to the comments by others I sort of concluded that if one was to remain a contented member of an Apostolic Lutheran type church of any color one needed to observe the following rules:
    A. Do not question anything
    B. Have no associations outside the church circles
    C. Work in a construction related field
    D. Keep accepting the latest 'status quo' consensus about the latest 'issue'.
    D. Accept the speakers teachings or understandings even if their understandings change 10 times.
    E. Have very little intellectual curiosity about any subject
    F. Incorporate fatalism into one's Christian beliefs
    G. Accept that Lutheran & Laestadian writings are co-equal with the Bible
    H. Go to a doctor when you are sick but then discredit their medical education in church circles because, 'Doctors don't know everything.'
    I. Constantly stay tuned in to the latest unwritten rules.
    J. Always agree that child abuse is 'strict parenting.'
    K. Our Laestadian group has the right lineage versus the others.
    L. If you have doubts about anything listed go back to Rule A.
    In short be a 'dumbed down Finn.' Old AP

  5. This discussion is very thought provoking...about whether you left due to changes in the church or because they didn't change. How about changes in you...or changes in life that no longer made the churches teachings and rules matter?

    I don't believe we all leave for anyone specific reason, but that we all leave because we no longer can
    adhere to what they want us to believe.

    I am saying this as a past member of the FALC. Where all sins is blessed away, where there is no sin too great to forgive, which in turn allows pedophiles to become whiter than snow and continue on their lifestyle. THERE has never been anyone in the Pulpit, Mission Board etc addressing the needs of the victims, all attention is paid on blessing away the sins.

    It is incredible to me, that the sins of nail polish and or TV watching gets thrown in with child abuse....

    I believe that we as a human species are gaining more awareness and expanded consciousness and that we can no longer Blindly believe.

    When the premise of most of these religions talked about on this site, are based upon strict following and unquestioning faith...that the best believers are the most blindly submissive, it lends itself to living life completely in denial as to what these rules and the forgiveness of sins preached is doing to your life.

    I was a blind follower, until I began to question and things started no longer making sense. I too was married to man who was not so indoctrinated into this. He did spend his childhood in a branch of these faiths, but he was his own free thinking man. Who had his own set of moral standards.

    In trying to justify the church against reality and where I thought separate, became the crack in the 'belief'. Which is why the church preaches to not hang out with others outside of the 'faith'. For, you will have to try and explain the unexplainable and in doing so, begin to doubt.

    Most of the rules are to keep you blind and ill informed.

    I left due to myself changing....and seeing that the churches teachings kept me from being me. The church owned me for 46 years. I am now a free agent...embracing life, nature and a loving free God.

    I believe it is much more that our life experiences debunk the church. It becomes impossible to believe that which they want us to believe.

    Beth Jukui

  6. I left because my former church couldn't answer my questions, and it couldn't answer my questions because it was adapted to appeal to a different type of person than I was. The church became increasingly strict during my time there, but I probably would have left anyway, because I didn't fit in with the small-minded, anti-intellectual clique there.

    I've heard of the Federation group referred to as the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church in the past.