East Nordic Union (1932–1955)

By Yvonne Johansson Öster

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Yvonne Johansson Öster, M.Phil. (University of Lund, Sweden), M.A. in religion (Andrews University), is a retired college teacher and pastor. Her numerous articles on Adventist history include a biography of pioneer missionary Hanna Bergström (Skandinaviska Bokförlaget, 2013) and an anthology of Swedish missionaries (Skandinaviska Bokförlaget, 2019). Johansson Öster also contributed an article about the Adventist church in the Encyclopedia of Swedish Free Churches (Sveriges Frikyrkosamråd och Bokförlaget Atlantis AB, 2014). Currently, she is writing a complete history of the Swedish Adventist church.

First Published: November 14, 2021

In 1931 the Scandinavian Union was divided into two administrative units: the West Nordic Union, which consisted of Denmark and Norway, and the East Nordic Union (ENU), which consisted of Finland and Sweden. Finland and Sweden shared a long history, both secular and within the Adventist church.1 In 1932 both Finland and Sweden were poor, but Finland more so due to the many wars since its independence in 1917. Yet Finland was to face even more difficulties during World War II. As Sweden remained neutral in the war, the Swedish Adventist church was able to provide some relief to the Finnish Adventist church.

Influences and Spirituality

During the years of the ENU both countries benefitted from the exchange of pastors, in spite of the Finnish language being spoken by very few indigenous Swedes. There was a marked difference in spirituality or more correctly the expression of it. This was partly so because of different traditions and circumstances over the years. Swedish Adventism was very much influenced by the revivals in the late 19th century. These revivals had made preaching the gospel acceptable for men and women alike, regardless of any social status in society. Joy and freedom dominated the Swedish free churches in the 20th century. Swedes had become Adventists to a great extent because of a connection with immigrants to the United States. Finland on the other hand had suffered immensely under Tsarist repression, and the seriousness and lack of religious freedom shaped a mentality of a heartfelt and devout God-fearing people, which was often expressed in a charismatic way.

Organizing Mission Efforts at Home and Abroad

In Turku, Finland, the transition from the Scandinavian Union to the newly formed ENU took place in May 1932. When the new union leadership positions were elected, the Swedish side dominated. However, the publishing and educational work had two leaders appointed, a Finnish and a Swedish, a necessity due to language differences and different educational and administrative systems in the two countries. Gustaf Albert Lindsay, a Swedish-American, was elected to lead the newly formed ENU. Lindsay had attended Broadview, the Swedish Seminary outside Chicago. He led ENU until 1946. He proved to be the right leader for a difficult time. In 1946 a Finn, Aarne Rintala, took over and led the union until 1951. Rintala had been trained at Friedensau, Germany, before the war and served as the Finnish conference leader between 1920-1932 and 1941-1946. Carl Gidlund, a Swede and former principal of Ekebyholm Mission School and former president of the Swedish Finnish Conference, led the union from 1952 until the partition in 1955.

1936 Report

Lindsay presented his first report in 1936.2 The work had moved forward with an increase in membership of almost 2000 newly baptized. The number of churches had increased from 82 to 96. Mission schools had moved to better facilities. Thirteen Swedish and five Finnish Adventists served in foreign fields: Egypt, China, Palestine, North Cameroon, Ethiopia, Kenya, Liberia, and the Congo. These were impressive numbers from a membership of 5,000 in the two countries.3 The health institutions thrived, and colporteurs sold remarkable numbers of books and magazines. Many of these colporteurs were students who worked for scholarships to attend the Mission Schools.

Evangelism: Fervor and Sacrifices

The 1930s were overlaid with dire financial problems worldwide, which also affected the Adventist church in the ENU. The increased involvement in the successful evangelistic work came with a price, as incomes had decreased. The church could continue and enlarge its mission work only with introducing salary reductions and the employees’ sacrificial willingness to accept reduced salaries. Lindsay emphasized the unselfishness revealed by the workers. The 1930s and 1940s were to be the most successful years of growth in Finland and Sweden ever, both in membership numbers but also in spirituality and loyalty to God and church. Most importantly that spirit of mission fervor and sacrifice spilled over to the generations born during these decades.

Lindsay’s final words in his report of 1936 is also a sign of his remarkable capacity as a devoted leader during the most difficult time Adventism faced in both countries:

Our future lies before us both dark and bright. It depends totally on which viewpoints we take on. The world is on its way to destruction and ruin. Evil powers seem to have the supremacy. The approaching time will bring dire news to us. But our time is also bright. Harvest time has come to this world. The fields of men are ripe. We have a harvest message to bring, now more than at any time before do we have to throw ourselves to our great task…we need more of the power of the Holy Spirit in every branch of our work. Therefore, we must humble ourselves before God and in prayer probe our hearts and minds.4

In the same report Lindsay thanked all his co-workers for the outstanding cooperation that had been shown during the four years of his presidency.

Difficult Times (1936-1946)

The addition of 3,652 new members baptized during 1936-1946 was astounding. During the war, Swedish pastors were required to do compulsory service in civilian roles for four months each autumn. In Finland, almost all the pastors were conscripted for more or less the entire duration of the war. Lindsay reported: “When the prospects looked most dismal, the Finnish conference decided to send the women Bible workers into the field. This experiment succeeded far above expectations. Almost all the sisters who held evangelistic meetings of their own obtained good results.”5 This leadership of women became the very nucleus of Finland’s evangelistic success in the fifties and sixties. Eventually it led to a request to the General Conference, in 1968, asking for full ordination of their faithful and able women evangelists.6

Women in Sweden were also engaged in the widespread Dorcas-welfare work organized by the editor of the Adventist publishing house, Emy Grundberg. Between 1945 and 1946 six tons of clothing were sent from Sweden to churches in Finland and Norway to provide for members who had had to evacuate and lost everything. German, Austrian, and Hungarian Adventist churches also received aid after the war.7

Much of the ENU responsibility was laid on the local conferences because of wartime restrictions on travelling. However, income from tithing increased greatly, as did the resources donated for the foreign mission fields. The publishing houses reported record sales. For example, in two weeks of 1945 the sale was greater than a whole year sale before the war.

In 1944 the Adventist church had become a legal body in Finland on a par with the Lutheran church thanks to the fact that the Adventist preachers lifted up Christ more than ever before. The registration was done in two parts: 1) on June 12, 1943, for the Adventist church in Finland, and 2) on October 6, 1944, for Finland's Swedish church.8 In Sweden official recognition was not gained until 1953 when the Act of Religious Freedom was carried through Parliament (Riksdagen). Yet the sect stamp on Adventism in Sweden was long in eradicating.

Health work had a great boost during war times. The interest in both vegetarian food and healthful living grew among the general population in Sweden due to a scarcity of tea, coffee, and meat. Vegetarian food factories run by private Adventists had a flourishing business. The ENU’s three sanitariums9 were sought after as the possibility of foreign travel had been curtailed due to war and closed borders. The ENU health secretary, Finnish Dr. V. Sucksdorff made a remarkable observation in his report 1946:

I believe God has given us a great field through our health work. . . I hope the ENU will organize the institutional work thus that all staff, but especially nurses and cleaning women, could come to fully realize that they are mission workers as much as any Bible worker. They ought to be educated with this task in mind. When we have come thus far, I believe that it will be true that the health message is the right hand of the advent message, here as well as in the heathen lands.10

Proposals Concerning the Future

The 1946 session meetings of ENU were unique given the vast devastation Europe experienced during the war. It was said, “…since the days of the Flood the world has not endured such a catastrophe… indescribable distress in many devastated countries has led to a dissolved morality.11 Foremost came the necessity to rebuild lost properties and the lives of the local churches. Next, emphasis was on training lay people, men and women, to soul winning evangelistic work. The war had taught the need to educate and involve all members, not just pastors, in evangelistic work, because the time was short. Adventist schools were upgraded to be on par with general education requirements.

In all proposals and visions for the future one stark thank you spoke to the faithfulness of all those who had endured the war under dismal and sometimes horrid circumstances: “In particular we are grateful for those brethren who through God’s grace have endured so much suffering when struggling during long severe war-years.”12 The Finnish pastors had been treated as traitors by society due to their stand as conscientious objectors.

Rebuilding and Reorganization (1946-1955)

As some of the Northern European Division’s (NED) wartime activities had had to be carried out from Stockholm, the NED office operated from there until 1950. G.A. Lindsay became the NED president, and the ENU elected Aarne Rintala as its president. Rintala had previously done a commendable job as the president of the Finnish Conference, but he never succeeded in winning the Swedes to his leadership style, which to them was too authoritarian.13

Whilst the rebuilding of properties was a paramount task, not least in Finland, so was the restoring of people’s faith and hope. In 1948 The Voice of Prophecy Bible correspondence school was introduced by Adolf Blomstedt. It met great success among the members in both countries and became an important tool for lay members in their evangelistic outreach work. Bringing the gospel to many was also the focus of many young preachers who entered the workforce in both countries.14 The war experience added not only to their fervor but also to the strong conviction of the shortness of time before Jesus’ second coming. The 1950s became a time of great spiritual revival. In Sweden, it reached all generations. The foremost charismatic evangelists at that time were Eric Erenius (Swedish), Elsa Luukanen (Finnish), and Arvo Arasola (Finnish).

Youth work, which had started just before the war, blossomed after the war. A youth campsite, Västeräng, had been bought against all odds in 1944 and it vitalized the young postwar generation. It became a place of revival among both children and youth. By far the most cherished speaker was Pastor G. H. Minchin, an Australian. From the All-European Youth Congress in Paris 1951 a spirit of revival had spread.

When ENU met in session in 1955 there was no previous indication that a split was emerging, neither was there any proposal preceding the meetings.15 In fact the proposal came during the third meeting on June 15. A special committee was formed which resulted in a decision to divide the ENU into two, a Swedish Union and a Finnish Union. The unexpected proposal seemed to have been an unpleasant surprise to Carl Gidlund, the ENU president.16 The result was that a bond, which had been established in 1893 when the first Swedish Adventist missionaries came to Finland, was broken. The Swedish speaking minority in Finland continued to have their conference as part of the new Swedish Union until 1981 when it finally became part of the Finnish Union.17

Sources

Carlsson, David and Lisa Söderberg. “Proposals voted at the ENU union conference as well as North and South Swedish conference annual meetings in 1946.” Missionären, 1946.

Lindsay, G.A. “Ordförandens rapport över verksamheten I den Östnordiska unionskonferenmsen för 1932-1935.” Missionären, 1936.

Lindsay, G.A. “Protokoll S.D.A. Östnordiska Unionskonferens tredje ordinarie möte, Stockholm July 23-26,1946, under åren 1935-1946.” Missionären, 1946.

Ottschofski, Hannele. “The Church in Finland led the Way.” AdventistToday.org, December 1, 2019.

Protokoll S.D.A. “Östnordiska Unionskonferensen, Helsingfors, Oscar Grundberg secretary-treasurer.” Missionären, 1951.

Protokoll S.D.A. “Östnordiska Unionskonferensen, Stockholm, June 14-19; Unto Rouhe secretary-treasurer.” Missionären, 1955.

Sucksdoff, V. “Report of Health work in the ENU.” Missionären, 1946.

Wiklander, G.A. I vår Herres Tjänst: Missionsarbetare inom Adventistsamfundet i Sverige 1880-1997 [In Our Lord’s Service: Workers in the Adventist Church in Sweden 1880-1997]. Göteborg: Adventistsamfundets Svenska Union, 2001.

Notes

  1. Sweden and Finland were a union of countries, ruled from Sweden, until the 1809 war of independence.

  2. G.A. Lindsay, “Ordförandens rapport över verksamheten I den Östnordiska unionskonferenmsen för 1932-1935,” Missionären, 1936, 136-138 (chairman’s /president report).

  3. I have counted both men and women in the married couples, as most women were trained and worked professionally, although married women are not counted in the official statistics.

  4. G.A. Lindsay, “Protokoll S.D.A. Östnordiska Unionskonferens tredje ordinarie möte, Stockholm July 23-26,1946, under åren 1935-1946,” Missionären, 1946, 138.

  5. 5 Ibid.

  6. Hannele Ottschofski, “The Church in Finland led the Way,” AdventistToday.org, December 1, 2019, 1.

  7. Lindsay, “Protokoll S.D.A.,” 138.

  8. Ibid.; Ben Greggas, the Ministry of Education in Helsinki, email message to the author, January 31, 2022.

  9. Hultafor and Nyhyttan sanitariums in Sweden and Silverudden-Hopaniemi sanitarium in Finland.

  10. V. Sucksdoff, “Report of Health work in the ENU,” Missionären, 1946, 144.

  11. David Carlsson and Lisa Söderberg, “Proposals voted at the ENU union conference as well as North and South Swedish conference annual meetings in 1946,” Missionären, 1946, 158.

  12. Ibid., 159.

  13. Aimo Orpana, interview by author, August 2020.

  14. The net increase in members was 1773 between 1946-1951 (Protokoll S.D.A., “Östnordiska Unionskonferensen, Helsingfors, Oscar Grundberg secretary-treasurer,” Missionären, 1951, 123).

  15. Protokoll East Nordic Union Board, February 8-11, 1955 and June 7, 1955, in Stockholm.

  16. Protokoll S.D.A., “Östnordiska Unionskonferensen, Stockholm, June 14-19; Unto Rouhe secretary-treasurer,” Missionären, 1955, 6, 9.

  17. G.A. Wiklander, I vår Herres Tjänst: Missionsarbetare inom Adventistsamfundet i Sverige 1880-1997 [In Our Lord’s Service: Workers in the Adventist Church in Sweden 1880-1997] (Göteborg: Adventistsamfundets Svenska Union, 2001), 160.

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Öster, Yvonne Johansson. "East Nordic Union (1932–1955)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 14, 2021. Accessed May 20, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BIE8.

Öster, Yvonne Johansson. "East Nordic Union (1932–1955)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. November 14, 2021. Date of access May 20, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BIE8.

Öster, Yvonne Johansson (2021, November 14). East Nordic Union (1932–1955). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved May 20, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=BIE8.