Thursday, 27 April 2017

Laestadian Lutherans (and a tender novel)

Many American Christians have some knowledge of the various Lutheran denominations in our country.

The largest is the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America The word "Evangelical" in this denomination is, I think, from Germany where in Lutheranism it is more or less synonymous with Protestant rather than with the usual English speaking world's usage meaning "born again" Christians.

The ELCA is a mainstream protestant denomination like the Episcopal Church.- indeed our ordained ministries are interchangeable. (Friends of mine attend an Episcopal Church in Wolfborough N.H.,which has a Lutheran Pastor).

Then there is the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod -  very strict, and theologically conservative.

Next comes the Wisconsin Synod, even more exclusive than Missouri.

(ELCA members are not allowed to receive Communion in these two latter denominations, nor would LCMS welcome Wisconsin Synod members at the Lord's Table and vice versa. (It's important to keep the Church pure!).

I know that there is an Alphabet Soup of smaller Lutheran Churches  (each convinced that it has a monopoly on the truth), but until this week ** see below I had never heard of Laestadian Lutherans.  They are of Swedish/Finnish origin, and came into being because of the remarkable ministry amongst the Lapps of one Lars Levi Laestadius  (1800-1861).

Of course this form of Lutheranism came to the United States, where it proved to be entirely fissiparous.   See this (from Wikipedia).

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171 000 laestadians in total in world. 26 000 laestadians in total in America.
  • 1. Firstborn laestadianism ("Esikoinens") 10 000 people in U.S.A. (Old Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 2. Little firstborn group (Rauhan Sana group) (Federation) ("Mickelsons" 6 000 people (in U.S.A.(Apostolic Lutheran Church of America), Canada(ALC) and Guatemala)
  • 3. Conservative laestadianism ("Heidemans") 5 000 people (in U.S.A.(Laestadian Lutheran Church), Canada(LLC) and Ecuador)
  • 4. Torola group 4 000 people in U.S.A. (First Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 5. Reedites (pollarites) 3,500 people in U.S.A (Independent Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 6. Aunesites 550 people in U.S.A. (The Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 7. Andersonites about 200 people in U.S.A. in South Carolina (Grace Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 8. Davidites 40 people in U.S.A.
  • 9. Melvinites 20 people in U.S.A.

Jesus wept, or something like that.


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I heard of these fringe Lutherans by reading a most tender, honest and tragic novel by Hanna Pylvainen who was raised in this group.  It is called "We Sinners" and was published by Henry Holt and Company in 2012.

It creates a tale about  the Rovaniemi family, and is set in  contemporary America's mid-west. They are poor. 

The Rovaniemi's have nine children.  The chapters are written from the vantage of each of the children, with no regard for chronology.

As the dust jacket puts it   "... each chapter is told from the distinctive point of view of a different Rovaniemi as they grapple in some way with their relationships to their faith, to one another, and to the outside world, both embracing the security of their community and chafing against its restrictions.................What emerges is a haunting depiction not of strangers from a strange faith but of ordinary people making their way through the world as best they can".

I like this novel, partly because I am one of nine children who were raised in a somewhat esoteric and fundamentalist British and Irish denomination -  the "Plymouth Brethren". We too were poor.  The Brethren afforded us  a place of secure faith which was good for the while.  But none of the Povey nine are today connected with this denomination. 

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My copy of "We Sinners" will be returned to the Sarasota County Public Library system on April 28th 2017.



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