Press release 10 April 2015. Free for publication.
At its meeting on 8 April 2015, the Cathedral Chapter of the Archdiocese of Turku decided to defrock five pastors ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland (ELCF) for serving in the Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. The defrocking of five clergymen at once is an anomaly in Finnish church history.
According to legal assessor Matti Mäkinen, these men have acted against the responsibilities of the Office of the Ministry and broken their ordination vows by serving in the Mission Diocese, which ELCF bishops see de facto as another church body. The defrocked pastors assure that they will continue to work as pastors despite the decision.
Mission Diocese Bishop, ”For us their call remains.”
In service of the Mission Diocese, Rev Sakari Korpinen, Rev Miika Nieminen, Rev Dr Anssi Simojoki, Rev Markku Sumiala and Rev Dr Martti Vaahtoranta have preached the Gospel and have conducted Divine Services without permission from the ELCF Cathedral Chapter. They have done so in order to respond to calls from Christians who have been left displaced in the ELCF amidst the changes in its teaching and practice.
The defrocked pastors will continue this Ministry in service of the congregations of the Mission Diocese, Bishop Risto Soramies of the Mission Diocese states.
– They have not lost their Office in our congregations. For us, their call to serve in the Office of the Ministry remains even though they no longer have the right to act as pastors within the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
In its decision, the Cathedral Chapter states that the five pastors have turned out to be “manifestly unfit” for the Office of the Ministry in the ELCF. Additionally, they have “broken their ordination vows” by serving as pastors in the Mission Diocese. The vows are made in conjunction with ordination into the Ministry and bind the ordained to the Church’s doctrine and to ELCF Church Order.
According to ELCF Church Order paragraph 1:1.1,
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland confesses that Christian faith which is founded on God’s holy word, the prophetic and apostolic books of the Old and the New Testament and which has been expressed in the three creeds of the ancient Church and in the unaltered Augsburg Confession and other confessional writings included in the Book of Concord of the Lutheran Church. The Church holds as its highest norm that principle of the confessions according to which all doctrine in the Church must be studied and assessed in accordance with God’s holy word.
The Mission Diocese was formed to defend and live out this confessional basis that it finds that the ELCF has in many ways neglected in recent years.
Are they perjurers?
Rev Miika Nieminen comments on the decision amidst his many pastoral duties, on his way out to a discussion with a family that is considering membership in his congregation. He has already had to cancel a baptism because of the decision.
– I was expecting a ruling like this, but it still feels like a punch in the face, the 40-year-old pastor from the region of Satakunta states.
– Breaking ordination vows is a heavy accusation, since those vows are made before God and men. After all, I have wanted to build and serve that church, into whose service I was ordained. Even my parishioners have noticed how I pray for the national church [ELCF] including its local bishop by name. It feels extremely cold that the matter has now been resolved as a jurisdictional transgression.
According to Rev Nieminen, the accusation of breaking the ordination vows is “theologically an extremely burdensome” matter.
– I am being characterised as a perjurer. But have I broken my ordination vows? I surely stand guilty of many transgressions before my Holy God, even as a pastor, but in different matters and in a different way from that which the Cathedral Chapter implies.
– When I wrote my response to the Cathedral Chapter, I did so relying on the Scriptures. That is the supreme authority in the Lutheran Church, and to that I, too, have committed myself in my vows, Nieminen points out.
Legal jargon without theological dialogue
Despite theologically argued responses to the questioning of the Chapter written by each of the five pastors, ELCF administration has shown no interest in engaging in theological dialogue with them.
ELCF Bishop of Turku, Kaarlo Kalliala, stresses in a press release that the decision has to do with pastors “officiating in another church” and that it is “not a statement on the faith” of the newly defrocked pastors.
– It is a shame that the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland, as it is, is no good for them, Bishop Kalliala concludes.
Mission Diocese Bishop Soramies responds to this claim in his blog post.
– Kalliala’s statement is descriptive in all its unthoughtfulness: this is the church’s way of showing the opposite, that these pastors are no good for the church and that the flock that they serve is irrelevant to the church. Both our pastors and congregation members would gladly have stayed in the church [ELCF]. It is not they but the church that has gone astray.
What is the Mission Diocese?
The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland is an independent, confessional and non-geographical churchly organisation that lives out the Lutheran confession that the national church (ELCF) has largely abandoned.
The 1986 decision of the ELCF to accept women’s ordination led to an increasingly problematic co-existence of two theologies of the Office. Many Christians felt displaced trying to find services that they could attend with a clear conscience. In 1999, the Luther Foundation Finland was founded to respond to this problem. Its first pastor was ordained by the last traditionally-minded ELCF bishop. As its work within the structures of the ELCF became impossible, and as the ELCF was putting an end to ordaining men who openly held the traditional view of the Office, the Luther Foundation joined the Mission Province in Sweden in 2005. Joint ordinations took place in Sweden and the work began to grow rapidly. In 2010, Matti Väisänen was consecrated as its first Finnish bishop and was defrocked by the ELCF.
The independent Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland was founded in 2013. Rev Risto Soramies was elected as bishop and Rev Juhana Pohjola as dean. Both have been subsequently defrocked by the ELCF. From one congregation with a part-time pastor in Helsinki in 1999, the Mission Diocese has grown into a nationwide network of 28 congregations and several missions tended by a College of 22 paid and numerous non-stipendiary pastors. With ca. 1,700 members, the Diocese gathers ca. 1,300 people to Divine Services every week. Its work is funded by congregation members and it receives no money from the ELCF or the Finnish government.
The year 2014 was one of steady growth for the Mission Diocese: the number of Divine Services went up by 23 %, attendance and membership by 13 % and donations by 22 %.
Rev Esko Murto, Head Pastor, St Mark’s Lutheran Church, Helsinki
Rev Samuli Siikavirta, Associate Pastor, St Mark’s Lutheran Church, Helsinki
About the subject matter
Bishop of the Mission Diocese Risto Soramies: +358 (0)40 730 8519 or [email protected]
About technical questions
Public Relations Secretary Eeva Pitkäranta: +358 (0)50 522 5855 or [email protected]
For more information about the Mission Diocese in English: www.lhpk.fi/en