St. John’s Evangelical Free Lutheran Church formed a new church in April 1900 affiliated with the Suomi Lutheran Synod1.
The new church site was on a 100-foot square plot on Fish Lake in Finlayson. Mrs. Margaret Kallio donated the plot for the new church. Construction of the new building began on October 12, 1901. Services were held (in both Finnish and English) in the Ekola home, on the unfinished upper floor. These services continued until the church’s completion and dedication in May 1902.
The founding families of the congregation included; Peitso, Miller, Hannu, Kari, Lahti, Kortes, Brandstrom, Martin, Korvela (Mack), and Oksanen. These families were early settlers of the area.
The first pastor was Heikki Sarvela2 of West Duluth. Servala had a large area to cover and had to travel by train to Finlayson. Because of the pastor’s travel schedule, church services were held on an irregular basis. When held, services were usually on a weekday afternoon. Despite the inconvenient time, attendance was good.
The original church by the lake had no basement. In 1917, the church was raised on jacks and an excavation was made to construct a basement underneath. A windstorm lifted the building, causing it to fall into the unfinished basement below. Eventually, a basement was built and the building was restored. This was just the first of many trials for the church.
In November 18, 1918, the church and all its contents mysteriously burned. Once again the congregation rallied and a new church was built and dedicated August 20, 1920. In 1920 there was discussion about adding electricity for lighting, but it was decided to continue with only gaslights.
April 29, 1970, a terrific hailstorm destroyed all the windows on the south side of the church. The church was able to immediately repair the windows.
Just a month later, on May 20, 1970, a severe thunderstorm occurred. Lightning struck the church and burned the building to ashes.
The Finnish “sisu”3 again brought the congregation (and community) to action. Services continued at the Pine Lake Town Hall with Lyle Twite as lay-pastor, until the “Miracle Church” was rebuilt with almost all volunteer help. A 32’ x 60’ church was built on the same site as the previous church. Nestor Korpi served as advisor to the building committee and volunteers. All things seemed to come together smoothly. Even the local trucker, Leonard Johnson, volunteered his services. St. Joseph’s Catholic Church very generously held a benefit dinner with the proceeds going to St. John’s for the new building.
After carpeting was laid, word was received that a church in Carlton had replaced their pews and were willing to donate their old ones (which, miraculously were the exact measurements and quantity needed for St. John’s). The local trucker picked them up and they were installed the day before the dedication of the new church on November 11, 1970.
St. John’s truly was a “Miracle Church” built in barely six months and through many contributions, was completely paid for at the time of completion at a cost of $16,500.00.
St. John’s celebrated its 100th Anniversary in 2000 with several former pastors and past members in attendance.
Many improvements have been made over the years. An addition to the church, including a ramp and elevator making the church accessible to more members of the community, was completed in 2008.
For over 100 years, an active Ladies Aid group and Sunday School have been a vital part of the church life.
The work of St. John’s Ladies Aid has made possible the floor tile in the church fellowship hall, the tables and chairs, and a fully equipped kitchen. The Ladies Aid continues to assist the church and local community where needed most.
Several talented musicians provide the joyful sound at services and special occasions.
St. John’s present Pastor, Gary Zikan, conducts Sunday services at 10:00 AM and Weekly Bible Study on Wednesday at 10:00 AM. Former Pastor, Merv Pelto assists as needed.
Through many trials the congregation of St. John’s by the Lake continues with joy to serve the Lord in their community.
- 1.When the Suomi Synod united with other synods to form the Lutheran Church of America, request was made and granted to join the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations. St. John’s became part of this Association in 1965 and its part of this organization today.
- 2.Many pastors and laymen have served St. John’s. Among them are: Heikki (Henry) Sarvela, Jacob Mannta, Pekka Keronen, Matti Pesonen, D.A. Samanen, Otto Maki, Anti Karlin, T. A. Kantonen, Wilho Ranta, William Tervo, Antti Lepisto Sr. , Mathias Ruohoniemi, Antti Kononen, Onni Kononen, Antero Riiten, Waino Ylonen, Karrlo Wiikman, Oliver Hallberg, Carl Tamminen, Tauno W. Jarvinen, Armas Korhonen, Clifford E. Johnson, Lyle Twite, Rodger D. Olson, John Koski, Lynn Wilson, Richard Larson, Jim Haga, Scott Gray, Ted Hansen, Mervin Pelto and Gary Zikan.
*Some of the original records have been lost due to the two fires the church sustained.
- 3.Sisu is a special strength and persistent determination and resolve to continue and overcome in the moment of adversity. A combination of stamina, perseverance, courage, and determination held in reserve for hard times.