Tiistai 24.9.2019
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Elävät, elävät sinua ylistävät, niin kuin minä tänään ylistän! Jes. 38:19

Blog: Services and social life

in English 9.7.2019 06:58 | Päivämies-verkkolehti
My mother and father used to take us all to services on Sundays. When I was a little boy, we used to go to services at Oulu rauhanyhdistys. I remember the dark grey banisters, and I think there was a balcony upstairs. There was probably also an organ.
We sometimes got a small box of colored wine gums each. The green ones tasted best, but the yellows ones were the most beautiful. When you sucked them for a while, they stuck to your tongue or palate like a suction cup.
 
I also remember that we went to Sunday School and Day Circle in that same place. Quite recently, I was stopped by a lady at Oulu rauhanyhdistys who told me she had been teaching me there. I did not remember her, but I guess all adults appear more or less the same to a little boy.
 
Then we moved to the new rauhanyhdistys in Professorintie. Everything seemed very big. There was a lot of varnished light wood, and the speaker’s stand was decorated with the Christ monogram. Alpha and omega. A and O. Beginning and end. The backs of the pews had loudspeakers, and I would have liked to scratch their yellow-passivated grids with my finger nail. The floor was slippery, and it was fun to run between the pews during the coffee break.  There were many old people, and they sat right before the speaker’s stand. The speaker preached the gospel to them many times. The sanctuary was so big that if you sat in the back row, you could not tell who the speaker was. I gradually learnt to tell who they were by their voice, except when there was a visiting speaker. Many of those speakers have already passed away, but I sometimes derive comfort and strength from listening to their sermons on cassettes or CDs while driving. I simultaneously reflect the message of those sermons on my current life. Do I still have the same faith?
 
Even that new rauhanyhdistys building has been renovated a couple of times. Still, when I come to spend my vacation in Oulu and Pikkarala, I may have a lump in my throat when I see the familiar sanctuary and some familiar people. They remember me and come to greet me. At those moments I truly feel that people living far away from each other are united by the love and fellowship of believers. The years that have passed between meetings have not detracted from Christian unity.
 
Before confirmation age it was sometimes difficult to go to services. If I was visiting a friend, my mother sometimes called me and encouraged me to go to services. I sometimes left a TV program ant went to sit on the floor of the rauhanyhdistys lobby. There was some noise, but I could hear the sermon. The sermon often seemed long, and my bottom felt numb against the cold brown tiles. After the sermon I biked home or back to my friend. I remember having gone to Bible Class once.
 
When I was fifteen, we moved to Pikkarala. There were not many believers, but there was a small rauhanyhdistys building with a very warm atmosphere. There were home services on Friday nights, and together with the other teenage boys I sat on our neighbor’s staircase, quietly listening to God’s word. I remember that almost all of the adults asked for the gospel. I would often have wanted to ask for a blessing myself but was too shy. When I was a bit older, I was once brave enough to do it. It felt good.  In bigger services I have not dared to put up my hand for a blessing, nor have many of the other listeners. When I got older, I understood that one can freely believe the gospel preached by the speaker without specifically asking for it. Someone said that a person who has the grace to believe can reach for the gospel with his or her arm of faith. I thought that was a good way to describe it.

In Pikkarala I was given my first official duty:  together with the other boys I passed around the collection bag. I felt that the adults trusted in me, and that I was part of the believers’ community. Almost like an adult myself. Later on I was even asked to teach Sunday School. That seemed like a big and responsible duty. But I did not need to do that on my own. I felt that I derived strength from believers’ company as well the services.
 
 My parents paid my membership dues long into my adulthood, and for a while, living in southern Finland, I was still a member of Pikkarala rauhanyhdistys. At the same time I was given work duties at Oulu rauhanyhdistys. I did not need to be a member to work for the common good. When I had some hard years in life I felt that, although I did not seem to have any strength left, my work in the congregation was still blessed. No-one was critical about someone not knowing how to do the work properly.
 
It is important to go to services. We do not need a glamorous environment or luxurious catering to be refreshed. God serves us through His word. This is the most important function of all rauhanyhdistys activities. I always try to remember this when I occasionally feel tired of my own duties.
 
I have recently noticed that on Wednesdays or Saturdays there may be many empty pews in the evening services. At the same time, however, the sound control person says that more than a thousand people are listening online. I have friends who cannot come to services. They may have illness or suffer from anxiety. For someone abroad who does not have any local services, online services may be extremely important.
 
I have been wondering if the mutual unity of believers can gradually diminish if people do not come to services though they could. Do those who have come feel that, since there are so few people, they could also stay at home next time? Would there be anybody to talk to or sit with? But what is the purpose of services? Can anything be more important? When we had our Independence Day celebration at Helsinki rauhanyhdistys, the sanctuary was packed. I felt very good about it!
 
The summer services are also important to me, because I meet there many people who believe in the same way as I do. Their preparation requires a huge amount of work, and that also reflects the faith and commitment of the people who have agreed to do it. Even more generally, the activities of rauhanyhdistys associations involve a lot of work done by committed volunteers. It may even happen that a person visiting somewhere may wish to contribute to the local work effort. Mutual love makes us willing to serve.

Not long ago it occurred to me to wonder if I belong more to the Helsinki congregation or the Oulu congregation. And I have not been to services in Pikkarala for a long time. Feeling that at least a quarter of me belongs to Oulu, I always like to visit there and sing in the big and beautiful sanctuary with excellent acoustics. Then again, my friends in Helsinki wish me welcome in the fall when the swans move south and the leaves begin to turn yellow. That feels good too. Maybe it will take yet a little longer before I can call some particular locality my home zion. And if, in the future, I have a family, I will probably have to give some more thought to where I belong. For some reason I seem to appreciate smaller congregations. Maybe I feel a bit nostalgic about the communal fellowship in Pikkarala, where everybody knew where they belonged and what their duties were. If someone failed to turn up for services, we noticed that and took care of each other.
 
And even the ones who were small and weak felt brave enough to ask for the blessing. 
 
Text: Seppo Tervo
Translation: Sirkka-Liisa Leinonen

You will find the original Finnish blog post here.
 

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