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International worship, Helsinki

I took the picture above on Saturday.  This was a worship service in the Cathedral in Helsinki, Finland during the Finnish Independence Day celebrations.

First understand that in Finland, Independence Day is a serious and solemn day.  Imagine if you can – all stores are closed on Finnish Independence Day…In the beginning of December…a few weeks before the madness of Christmas.  That would never happen in the US.  We can’t even have stores close on Thanksgiving Day anymore, and that’s a month before Christmas.  You’d think stores would go out of business if they closed for one day.  Finns hear speeches, go to grave sites and watch the presidential couple shake hands with dignitaries for something like 17 hours on TV.  Some watch war movies burn blue and white candles in their windows.  It’s a pretty dignified day that would combine the national spirit of American Independence Day with the somber recollection of Memorial Day.

At any rate, the worship service was organized by several churches that are associated with the Lutheran Church of Finland.  It’s complicated to explain, but here’s the best way I can try to explain it – There are worshiping bodies that are “independent” of the Lutheran Church but work with the Lutheran church and some are supported by the Lutheran church.  The Lutheran Church work with these bodies to service different worshiping needs – i.e. language, ethnic support structures, etc.

The churches that organized the service were the:

  • Arabic Fellowship
  • Chinese Evangelical Church
  • Ethiopian Evangelical Church
  • Finland Korean Church
  • Hungarian Fellowship
  • Andreaskyrkan
  • Suhe Latino Fellowship
  • Vantaa International Christian Fellowship
  • Nordic Chinese Christian Church in Helsinki
  • Saalam
  • International Evangelical Church

That’s a lot of churches with varying backgrounds, ethnic groups, languages, styles, etc.  The service focused on praying for the nation of Finland, for broken people and relationships, for immigrants in Finland, for peace in war-torn areas, etc.  There was singing, preaching, and a testimony.  The service was conducted in English, because that’s the pretty much the most international language there is, at least in this part of Europe.

So during this service on Saturday, I sat with my family in the service. I looked around and saw an array of people.  I thought about recent events in the US – skin color causing division.  I didn’t call it racial differences because, well, that sounds too sanitized.  It’s skin color differences.  Honestly, it boggles my mind that we spend so much time, energy and effort judging people based on what they look like.  That makes about as much sense as judging people based on what color their phone is.

I heard a variety of languages.  Someone on the left side was quietly interpreting the sermon for another worshiper into either Chinese or Korean.  And yet in many places, we get concerned when we hear broken English, let alone a foreign language – as if some “foreigner” is going to come and take over the country, or something like that.  Guess what, broken English is the most common language there is.

And yet, in all this diversity and differences during this service, I didn’t see people focus on the differences.  I didn’t hear people ask us to focus on how different we are as people.  What I heard was a unified message – we are God’s children, let us pray and worship together as best we can.

See, for me, what I see is that Christianity has a unique message in a world of division.  Christianity is a message of community in which we see that there are differences, and yet at the same time, we are able to come together – looking different, sounding different, being different.  We are able to do this because the core and the focus is not on us.  It is on God.  That is the core of Christianity – God.  And because the focus isn’t on is, we can stop looking at ourselves and others in judgement.  Because God is the focus, we can stop focusing on the differences as if they matter.  Because God is the focus, we can start to see people as just that – people, children of God just like us.  Because of what God has done for us mercifully, we can see suffering where ever it may be and show mercy.

So there we were, participating in worship – united in God.  A verse of Scripture came to mind – Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

I left a bit exhausted from all the prayer, but full of hope.  If so many people could come together and worship God, regardless of what they looked like or sounded like here, gosh, I wonder what something like this would be back home in the US.  It might actually look and sound like healing of a broken people.