Thomas Paul Schirrmacher visited the largest evangelical church on Åland, an autonomous State between Sweden and Finland

Schirrmacher visited Joel Sternes, pastor of the largest evangelical church of the country, a Pentecostal church, and interviewed him for a “Thomas Paul’s Week”-video.

Central Lutheran Church in Mariehamn © WEA/Esther Schirrmacher

Schirrmacher also visited the Parliament, the seat of the government and two other churches, the central Lutheran church and the Missionykrykan in Mariehamn.

This is what the church writes about itself:

“Joel Sternes is pastor of the Pentecostal congregation in Mariehamn (Åland), which is part of both the worldwide Pentecostal movement and of the Finnish-Swedish Pentecostal movement FSP. The Pentecostal Church in Åland celebrates 88 years as a church in 2022. The Pentecostal message came to Åland in the 1930s through travelling preachers and evangelists. As a result, a small prayer group was formed in 1933. Eventually the idea of forming a local church matured, which was done on 19 April 1934 with 17 people.”

Åland is an autonomous and demilitarised region of Finland since 1920 by a decision of the League of Nations. It is the smallest region of Finland by area and population. Its only official language is Swedish and the capital city is Mariehamn. Åland’s autonomous status means that those provincial powers normally exercised by representatives of the central Finnish government are largely exercised by its own government. The current demilitarised, neutral position of Åland dates back to the days of the Paris Peace Treaty after the Åland War in the 1850s.

Åland is situated in an archipelago, called the Åland Islands, at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea belonging to Finland. It comprises Fasta Åland on which 90% of the population resides and about 6,500 skerries and islands to its east, of which 60–80 are inhabited. Fasta Åland is separated from the coast of Roslagen in Sweden by 38 kilometres of open water to the west. In the east, the Åland archipelago is contiguous with the Finnish archipelago.

The majority of the population, 70.5%, belongs to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland. Åland contains Finland’s oldest Christian churches, including St. Olaf’s Church, Jomala, which dating from the late 13th century is likely to be the oldest in Finland. The main church of Mariehamn is St. Georg, whose building was completed in 1927. It is the work of the well-known architect Lars Sonck, a native of Finström. He collaborated with Bruno Tuukkanen, who designed the interior. The two created a complete work in itself. The master builder was Frithjof Lindholm. The church was probably donated by August Troberg and his wife Johanna. The church was later rebuilt and enlarged and last renewed in 1972.

Thomas Paul’s week number 23

Transcripted, unedited text of Thomas Paul’s Week 23 from Aland:

This is Thomas Paul’s week number 23,

this time from Aland, which is an island or a group of many islands in the Baltic Sea between Sweden and Finland. The language spoken here is mainly Swedish. But historically they have belonged first to Russia and then Finland became independent. They became independent with Finland. But it’s an autonomous Democratic Republic on paper. It’s still somehow connected to Finland, not to Sweden, even though they speak Swedish. But they are very proud that now for 100 years they de facto govern themselves. And we are standing here in the Pentecostal Church “Pingstkyrkan” one of the largest evangelical churches here on the island. And I asked the pastor to introduce himself.

(Joel) My name is Joel Stenroos and I’ve been working here for a couple of years and on Aland for almost 20 years in different churches. And this is a large church compared to other churches on Aland. We are around 115 members and on Sunday we are between 60 to 80 or 90 people included children that come to see us. (Thomas) The language spoken is Swedish? (Joel) It’s always Swedish, yes. But we do have a lot of Finnish speaking people and we do have people from other countries as well. But the service is always in Swedish. Yeah, that’s true.

(Thomas) And you are part of the situation in Aland that you have the language of the one country and the connection to the other country. But in reality, how many islands are there possibly?

(Joel) I think if you count all the small ones, maybe around 6000, I don’t know. But this is a paradise. I mean, it’s a beautiful island and it’s beautiful people. And it’s the people that love to be independent and it shows always in everything. They don’t want to belong to anybody. They want their own independence.

(Thomas) I think this is very important to see in the World Evangelical Alliance, people worship in more than 1000 languages. You really have to see that your mother tongue, your ethnicity, the place where you feel at home, the people you feel you belong to. It shapes so much in everyday life that we as believers cannot bypass it.

(Joel) It’s true! Even God chose to come through specific people. So it’s important.

(Thomas) Okay, thank you very much and please pray for the churches in Aland for a spiritual resurrection, but also that they reach out to the people living here, to the tourists coming here. And I hope that the revival, the Pentecostal revival, that came here from the Scandinavian countries, comes back again.

(Joel) That’s all we pray for. Thank you very much.

(Thomas) Thank you.


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