September 19, 2013 | Volume 118, Issue No. 38

Search initiated for church history

Former Kettle River church believed to have been first Finnish Methodist church in United States

Searching for the history of the first Finnish Methodist church, which was located near Kettle River, is the task set forth by The Commission on Archives and History for The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

The first Finnish Methodist church in the United States was located near Kettle River. It burned in the 1918 fire.

The group from the commission met on Tuesday, September 10, at the Moose Lake United Methodist Church. Commission members included representatives of the Moose Lake United Methodist Church, the Moose Lake Area Historical Society, the Carlton County Historical Society, Finnfest, as well as other Finnish American historical societies and United Methodist historical societies.

“Our task is to watch over the story of the Methodist Christian archives in Minnesota,” said David Werner, the chair of the commission. “It was a practicing faith 100 years ago near Kettle River. It was snuffed out in the Fires of 1918. They did their ministry, and now we are coming. They are encouraging us to run our race so that we do not lose heart. They are encouraging us in our walks, our lives and our ministry.”

The church had been located just off of Highway 27, near the current site of the West Side Church. It stood near a cemetery, which still exists.

Half of the cemetery was for the Methodists, and the other half was for the National Polish Catholic Church, it was said.

That original church, believed to be the first Finnish Methodist church in the United States, was built of logs hewn into square logs. The dimensions were 24 feet by 12 feet. A drawing of the church was found in Finland.

An archivist said that the records have been checked, including Finnish settlements in Michigan, and no one else can claim to have the first Finnish Methodist church.

Clayton Ohlin of the Moose Lake United Methodist Church said that he had found the incorporation papers for the church at the Carlton County Historical Society.

Rev. Rick Edwards, pastor of the church, said that he had heard about the first Finnish church being established near Kettle River from a colleague in New York.

“It’s been interesting how it came together,” he said. “After I heard about it, I sent an email to the Finnish conference in Finland. They believed that it was the first Finnish Methodist church in the United States. They had the picture of it.”

Werner said that the commission has permission to do something with the original site of the church.

The church site was on the Michaelson farm. John and Anna Michaelson once owned the property and deeded five acres to the church and for the cemetery, it was said. John served as the first minister.

The church was started in 1891 but the lack of growth of the congregation and lack of funds were problems for the fledging church by 1900, according to the Minnesota Methodist History, “Our Fathers Built.”

The church was officially named the “Salem First Finnish Methodist Episcopal Church of the Duluth District, Northern Minnesota Conference, United States of America” in 1903.

“In 1904, the church was dedicated,” it stated in the Methodist history book. “The old church had been enlarged and remodeled.”

Anna lost her life in the 1918 fire. John and several sons were away at the time and survived.

At the meeting, a team was appointed to find out more about the history of the church and its people.

“How can we further recover the story?” asked Werner. “How can we preserve this story? How can we mark this site so it can be promoted and shared?”

Ideas to erect a marker were suggested. It was said that a stone monument with English and Finnish words engraved or printed on a plaque would mark the site and symbolize the hardship of the Finnish people, who came from a land of stumps and rocks to a land of stumps and rocks.

There was a suggestion to rebuild the log church, but that would be something that could be done in the future, it was said.

Barbara Elison Dunkel, who grew up between Moose Lake and Kettle River, and who is involved with planning for Finnfest, said that main events for the 2014 Finnfest takes place in Minneapolis in August but that it actually begins in April and runs through October. Events for Finnfest take place throughout the state during that time.

“Maybe we can celebrate this during this opportune time,” said Dunkel. “We can add this to the calendar.”

It was said that, once the site is marked and registered, it would be turned over to another entity, such as the Carlton County Historical Society, for upkeep. The Methodist conference would maintain an interest for promotion and records.

The next meeting of the commission was set for November 12 at 1 p.m. in the Moose Lake area. The location of the meeting will be announced at a later date.

To submit information about the church history, call or send an email to Kathy Spence Johnson, Archivist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, at Kathy.johnson@minnesotaumc.org, or call her at (612) 230-6149. The address is 122 W. Franklin Ave, Suite 400, Minneapolis, MN 55404-2453.

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