Last night I went to the Tuomasmessu service at Mikael Agricola kirkko in Helsinki. It was quite an interesting experience.
I arrived early so I could take in the whole experience. I was greeted inside the door and found the English translation device.
The gentleman greeting me taught me how to use the device and welcomed me. I grabbed a hymnal…
and found a seat about halfway up the church. The church is rather large.
The choir was practicing, but also acting as a means of welcoming people in.
Before the service, the translator did something nice – told us english speakers a little bit about the service and some history about the service. I felt as though I was watching midnight mass on TV from the Vatican, but attending at the same time. This would stay with me throughout the service.
The service started with a hymn and entrance with a long procession – everyone that was involved in the service was part of the procession, except for the musicians.
It was neat to see so many people involved in the service. This is one of the hallmarks of the Tuomasmessu – many volunteers involved in putting the service together. I would imagine it one of the reasons that it is popular.
The music was interesting. There was a choir, which sounded nice. There was also contemporary instruments playing older hymns, but in a very contemporary way.
It livened up the hymns. In several songs there were improv and solos and rifts during the hymns. This was unique to hear. People really enjoyed the music. At several points I saw people raising hands to chest height and swaying to the music. People had smiles on their faces.
Before the procession, there was announcements. I was impressed by how full the church was.
There was a general introduction in which it was said that the service was intended to be approachable and enjoyable. This set the mood for everything. They live up to what they say they intended.
After the procession, there was confession and forgiveness. I noticed that there was approximately 20 people up by the altar – all assistants and other pastors helping with the service. They also knelt with the presiding minister during this time as he offered the confession of sins.
Then the service went to the intercession of prayer. This was unique. It was a time of free roaming prayer, as I’ll call it. There were pastor stations set up at the front and back and side stations with lay people at each window where you could write a prayer or take a prayer stone and put it in the bucket with your prayer. The pastors were available for prayer and to offer a blessing. About ¾ of the congregation got up at this point to do these prayers. During the prayer time, music was playing and there was singing. Some people traveled throughout the building. The ones that went to the front knelt at the communion rail and prayed with a pastor or received a blessing. This section took about 15 minutes.
At the end, the prayers in the baskets at each station were collected and lay people came to the front with the baskets and each read a prayer aloud. Halfway through and at the end of the prayers, the congregation sang Kyrie.
After the intercession was the readings. The communion rail was removed for this, not to return.
After the reading was the sermon. This was also very unique. It was announced that it would be a dialogue sermon. The theme of the readings was light of God. The focus of the week was about the UN declaration that religions should work together and better understand each other. In light of this, there were three women invited up to sit in front of the altar to each answer two questions – a Jewish woman, a Baha’I faith woman, and a woman who practices Hare Krishna. They each answered what the light of God meant to them and what they think we should do to expand this light. At the end the presiding minister spoke for a few minutes to answer the questions. He related his answers to baptism.
Then it was time for the Eucharistic liturgy. This was a typical Eucharistic liturgy. The only thing that was unique was that this was the first time worshiping in Finland that there was no communion rails for communion. I wonder if this has to do with the idea of making worship approachable.
After that was the blessing and dismissal. The announcements were next and the recessional.
Some observations. This messu was very Lutheran and not Lutheran at the same time. The liturgy is unavoidably Lutheran. The presiding minister made that clear when he spoke at the beginning. He said that the service was a focus on ecumenical belief coming from a Lutheran background. His focus was on a common Christian belief, even if most people there were Lutheran.
The music was interesting – it was the combination of singing hymns from the hymnbook with contemporary instruments.
The intercessory prayer time was unique. I hadn’t experienced the free roaming intercessory prayer time quite like this before with the wide variety of ways to offer prayers and receive blessings.
The Tuomasmessu was described to me beforehand as an appealing to older and aging hippies who put their own spin on the messu. I can see that. Most of the congregation looks like they were between 40-60 years old. There were very few young people and there is no emphasis on children at all – no mention of children or Sunday School. The messu caters to the middle-aged and older. But, as I am apt to say – it fits the context very well. This isn’t meant to be critical of the Tuomasmessu, just to point out who is there.
A few more observations – people were enjoying the service and having the free roaming prayer makes the service very approachable. It seems important that this happens at the very beginning of the service and sets the tone for the rest of the service.
Overall, this service works for this context. I’m not sure how many English-speaking people come each week, but I imagine it is difficult for an English speaker to feel a part of the service week after week. Having said that, I did appreciate having a translation during the service so I could understand what was being said. At the same time, I found myself focused on what was being said, as opposed to fully participating in the service myself. That’s my own fault though, not the service.
It really is quite amazing to experience such different worship styles here. The Tuomasmessu is unique in that it is the messu that started the advent different types of messus in Finland highlighted by more congregational participation. If you would like to learn more about the tuomasmessu, visit the website – http://www.tuomasmessu.fi/. There are several language options at the top, including english.
Correction and update – 10 Feb, 2015: I was wrong about there not being any focus on children with the Tuomasmessu – whoops! The good people affiliated with Tuomasmessu provide some great information about the children’s program in the comment section. Please read their comments to get a much fuller picture. And thank you to the people who did offer correct information. It’s greatly appreciated.