Worship services are at the heart of life in the church. Christians gather together to hear God's word, celebrate the Lord's supper (Holy Communion), confess their sins and their faith, sing, pray and experience fellowship with others. God serves his people to give us strength to serve him.
Every congregation has at least one worship service every Sunday. (You can find the time and place of this main service on the page of each congregation; in the congregations of Vantaa the starting time is either 10 or 11 on Sunday morning.) In addition, there can be services at other times and in other places, not only on Sundays but sometimes on other days as well. Worship services in English are not held regularly in Vantaa, but you can find them in Helsinki (see Links).
Worship in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland follows the church year of western Christendom (similar to that of Anglicans and Roman Catholics). Specific Bible readings and prayers have been assigned to each Sunday and church holiday of the year. The order in which worship services are conducted also follows the basic pattern of western traditions of Christianity. A pastor leads the service.
For more information on the church year, see the Church year pages on this website. In the Internet you can also find English translations of Finnish orders of worship.
There was a time long ago in church history when Christians worshiped secretly, or that those who were not church members were only allowed to stay for a part of the service. Nowadays all worship services are public occasions, so that anyone can come and stay for the whole service. You are welcome to join us.
It is good to come to church a little before the starting time. Some church buildings have a room at the entrance where you can leave your coat or bag or umbrella – at your own risk. If there is no one at the door to greet you, you may enter on your own. If you do not have a hymnal (hymnbook, virsikirja in Finnish or psalmbok in Swedish), you can probably find one on a shelf near the entrance – take a hymnal and return it there after the service. You can choose a vacant seat anywhere in the pews of the church – on special occasions the front rows may be reserved, but in that case they're usually marked varattu. Long ago men and women sat on different sides of the main aisle, but now you may pick a seat on either side, and your family can sit together.
In addition to the hymnal, some churches have leaflets that help you follow the order of service. Finnish pronunciation and spelling are actually quite simple, so even if you don't know the language you can try to sing along. Hymn numbers (not page numbers!) are posted on the wall, but the service also includes liturgical singing that does not have hymn numbers. Words of the creed and the Lord's Prayer are printed on the back pages of the hymnal; the congregation says them in unison. During some parts of the service everyone stands, but mostly the congregation is seated. Usually Finns do not jump or shout spontaneously in church; behavior is quite reserved.
In the past, most Lutheran church services in Finland were ”services of the Word,” meaning that they did not include the Lord's supper. The practice has changed so that nowadays most services are communion services. Those who come to receive communion (the bread and wine) do not have to register for it. The rule that we have for our own members (Lutherans) is that confirmed members can participate in the Lord's supper at their own discretion whenever they like, and baptized children who have not been confirmed may participate if they come together with a parent or godparent. Parents can also choose to ask that their children are given a blessing instead of the bread and wine. Visitors in our communion services in Vantaa who are not Lutherans but who have been baptized may join us in Holy Communion in the same manner, so that a baptized child can come with a parent to receive communion. The practical way of distributing the bread and wine may vary in our services, but in any case people get up from their seats to go to receive communion; you can follow the example of local Christians.
Typically a Lutheran worship service in Finland lasts about an hour or a little more. If a service lasts more than an hour and a half it is probably because of some special ceremony that has been added to the service, such as a confirmation of young people or an installation of a new pastor. Sometimes Sunday services are arranged so that families with small children are especially kept in mind (perhemessu or perhekirkko in Finnish), and then the service can be shorter than an hour. Evening services can also be quite short. Pastors typically preach for about ten or fifteen minutes, seldom more than twenty.
The general word for a worship service is jumalanpalvelus in Finnish and gudstjänst in Swedish. Literally that means ”God's service,” which can be understood either as God's service to us or our service to God! More specifically, however, Holy Communion services are called messu (”Mass”) in Finnish and högmässa (”High Mass”) in Swedish, which can be confusing to foreigners because in many countries such terminology is only used for Roman Catholic services. In Finland, however, these words also apply to Lutheran ones.
Besides the name, some customs of worship among Lutherans in Finland also resemble Roman Catholicism. A Lutheran from Germany walking into one of our services might well think that Roman Catholics have come together for worship. The pastor wears an alb (a white robe) with a stole (a long strip of cloth) hanging around the neck, often with a chasuble (a cloak that resembles a poncho) on top. People make signs of the cross, and some of the liturgical melodies are similar to those sung by Catholics. Only the smell of incense seems to be missing. In part, this is because the Reformation in the sixteenth century was more moderate in Finland (and other Nordic countries) than what it was in Germany. Some customs, however, have only been reintroduced in liturgical renewals in recent years.
The church hymnal (more on the page Hymnal) includes many styles of music old and new. Occasionally special services are arranged in specific styles of music, and songs not included in the hymnal can be printed on leaflets that are distributed to people who come to worship. A special service can be a folk music service (kansanlaulumessu) or an African-style gospel music service (gospelmessu) or a worship service with jazz or rock music.
Lutheran congregations in Finland employ professional church musicians, and churches have pipe organs that these musicians play, but other musical instruments can also be used. Many congregations have their own choirs that sometimes sing in worship services, especially on major holidays. The singers are not professionals; if you can sing, you might consider joining the church choir!