Monument commemorates roots of Finnish Methodists in America
A gasp was heard from the nearly 100 people who attended the unveiling and dedication of the monument to mark the site of the Salem First Finnish Methodist Episcopal Church on Sunday, July 6.
The monument is striking in its beauty, and it is worth a drive to the site at the intersection of Highway 27 and Walczak Road, west of Moose Lake.
The inscription states, "Muistoksi (In Remembrance). The first Finnish Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States was founded here in 1891 under the leadership of pioneer John Michaelson. The congregation erected a Finnish-style log church that was destroyed in the 1918 Fire. Surviving members joined other area churches. Historic Site of the Minnesota Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church, Commemorated 2014."
Those words mark the short 27-year life of a small congregation, led by Michaelson. His grave marker lies in the cemetery not far from the monument.
We can only imagine how the members of the congregation gathered in that small log church on Sunday mornings to practice their faith. It had been built in the Finnish style, with dovetail corners, said Dan Reed, who is familiar with the style of building.
"The Finnish Mission struggled," it was stated in the written history in the program that was distributed before the ceremony. "Michaelson could not always maintain regular worship services but kept a Sunday school much of the time. By 1900, lacking adequate assistance from the denomination's General Missionary Committee, Michaelson asked his Duluth District Presiding Elder to be relieved of the appointment. Michaelson served the mission as a 'local pastor,' rather than as a Methodist 'traveling preacher.'
"All was lost in the 1918 Great Fire. Everything on the property was destroyed. Although the survivors proposed using insurance money to build a new school or build a church in Kettle River, nothing came of either plan. Finnish Methodist work ceased in Moose Lake."
And yet, the site of the small log church and remembering its congregation was important to the Methodist church, as are all historic Methodist sites. A plaque attached to the front of the seating stone in front of the monument with the inscription proclaims this to be the 485th historical site.
The Rev. Rick Edwards, pastor of the Methodist church in Moose Lake, has told the story of how he heard about the site of the first Finnish Methodist church when he was living in New York. In speaking to someone there and telling where he would be coming to pastor the church, the other person stated it was close to where the first Finnish Methodist church in the United States had been.
Kathy Johnson, secretary for the Minnesota conference, told at the ceremony how she had contacted the conference in Finland and was able to obtain a picture - a drawing - of the church. That picture is now engraved in the monument, to commemorate and remember the roots of the Finnish Methodist faith in America.
The memory of that little church and its congregation is now preserved for all time.