Few topics raise such strong emotions in the Conservative Laestadian community as do the caretaking meetings. All those who grew up within this community have heard the word – and I dare to say that most have heard it in a negative sense. How many of them, however, really know what this expression means? Do you know, for instance, why the caretaking practice started? I did not know before the summer of 2017, when I was able to discuss this topic with people who had personal experience of them.
These discussions were part of my very special summer job. I had the honor of participating in the collection of material for the recently completed history book of SRK. My job consisted of interviewing people who had been working for SRK in the 1960s and 1970s or had been otherwise involved. The history book published in October 2019 deals with this period and is aptly titled Myrskyjen keskellä – Suomen Rauhanyhdistysten Keskusyhdistyksen historia 3 (Amid storms – history of Suomen Rauhanyhdistysten Keskusyhdistys 3). The word storm reflects well both the internal condition of the Conservative Laestadian movement at that time and Finnish society more generally.
During that period, Finland changed in irreversible ways. The old agrarian society gave way to urbanization. Masses of people moved to towns and to Sweden. Houses and farms were left empty and fields lying fallow. We speak about a major structural change. The values of society also changed. Left-wing ideas became prevalent. A new populist party was founded. Along with the secularization of society, Christian values lost their significance. Family planning was marketed by maternity clinics, and low-alcohol beer was introduced into grocery stores. Popular culture was spread by television, films and light music for people who began to have more money and more free time. Finland has never changed so thoroughly in such a short time.
These big changes were inevitably also visible in Conservative Laestadianism. There was a need to define the attitudes of believers toward the new phenomena. There was simultaneously also concern for the secular lifestyle and values that many people adopted along with the rest of society. I was told by many interviewees that members of local rauhanyhdistys associations in different parts of Finland had a real need to discuss these changes.
Congregation evenings that focused on general discussion became more and more common. Discussions were found necessary, but especially during the latter half of the 1970s, many errors and overreactions were made. Many people were judged wrongly. The history book discusses these events quite extensively, so I will not comment on them here.
But I will comment on my job as an interviewer, which was extremely instructive. It was not easy to go into people’s homes and ask them questions about such topics and the 1970s caretaking meetings. Many of the discussions touched on extremely sensitive material. I visited some of my informants several times. I asked questions and I listened. Hours upon hours of conversation were recorded. We took a coffee break and then continued. Afterwards I transcribed the recordings and studied the history. I delved deeper, pondered, and interviewed.
It was challenging work, but extremely interesting. I did not understand everything, and some things seemed incomprehensible, some even contradictory. It did not help that I knew this is typical of memorized information, and that each interviewee interprets past events through his or her own background experience. The things that I heard sometimes distressed me.
This work made me test the foundation of my personal faith. I understood that even while doing research, I must be clear about what I believe and how. Yet I had to keep my own views separate from the events discussed during the interviews. I understood that it would be quite useless for me to feel distress about things that had happened decades earlier. I thought that the fallibility of people and the stormy times in the past should not be an obstacle to faith today. When I had figured out this in my mind, I was able to continue my work freely.
I also found that it is extremely useful to get to know about the difficulties encountered in our Christianity. We learn a lot about them. We need not ponder and wonder if we know. It also helps us to talk about difficult topics. And at the same time we can examine the foundation of our own faith and the reasons for why we believe.
Text: Sauli Tervaniemi
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen
You will find the original blog post here.
HiIjattain päättyneet Reisjärven opistoseurat olivat kesän viimeiset suuret seurat. Kristillisyyden historiaan jää erikoinen kesä. Kaikki kesän suuret seuratapahtumat järjestettiin radion ja netin välityksellä. Kokoontuminen yhteen suurella joukolla ei ollut mahdollista koronaviruksen vuoksi.