Laestadianism in the United States

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Family tree of laestadianism in America.

The Laestadian (See also Laestadianism) church arrived in North America with Nordic (especially Finnish and Sami) immigrants in the latter half of the 19th century, many of whom arrived to work in the copper mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Some of these new immigrants found themselves in conflict with older, established immigrants from the same countries, being generally poorer and less established, and hewing to the new, fundamentalist teachings of Lars Levi Laestadius, a Swedish-Sami preacher and botanist born in Arjeplog, Sweden. Laestadian congregations separate from the extant Scandinavian Lutheran churches were formed in Cokato, Minnesota, in 1872 and in Calumet, Michigan, in 1873.

Groups in America in 2013[edit]

171 000 laestadians in total in world. 26 000 laestadians in total in America.[1][2]

  • 1. Firstborn laestadianism ("Esikoinens") 10 000 people in U.S.A. (Old Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 2. Little firstborn group (Rauhan Sana group) (Federation) ("Mickelsons"[3][4][5]) 6 000 people (in U.S.A.(Apostolic Lutheran Church of America), Canada(ALC) and Guatemala)
  • 3. Conservative laestadianism ("Heidemans") 5 000 people (in U.S.A.(Laestadian Lutheran Church), Canada(LLC) and Ecuador)
  • 4. Torola group 4 000 people in U.S.A. (First Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 5. Reedites (pollarites) 3,500 people in U.S.A (Independent Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 6. Aunesites 550 people in U.S.A. (The Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 7. Andersonites about 200 people in U.S.A. in South Carolina (Grace Apostolic Lutheran Church)
  • 8. Davidites 40 people in U.S.A.
  • 9. Melvinites 20 people in U.S.A.



Each congregation generally has a name they call themselves, which frequently differ from the names used in this article. In particular, First Apostolic adherents would recoil at being labelled "Laestadian"; for them, "Laestadians" are the opposing side of the 1973 schism. In the interest of editorial clarity, this article uses an internally consistent naming scheme which differs from the names congregations apply to themselves. The term "Laestadian" is used as an umbrella to refer to all churches with a clear succession of belief from the teachings of Lars Levi Laestadius. The respective branches of Laestadian churches recognize their roots with the teachings of Lars Levi Laestadius to varying degrees. The Old Apostolic Lutheran Church, for example, will read a postilla (sermon) of Laestadius along with a text from the Bible with every church service. In contrast, the Pollari congregations do not recognize Laestadius in any of their liturgy and he is not given any special emphasis in their teachings.

The term "Apostolic" does not refer to the doctrine of apostolic succession; rather, it denotes an effort to live as near as possible in the Laestadian view to the Apostle's doctrines and practices.

Congregations and Concentrations[edit]

As of 2017, significant concentrations of Laestadian adherents and churches which can trace their roots to Laestadianism exist in the following locales:



(additions welcome!) Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario which began in the home of Emil Tanninen who immigrated from Finland with his second wife and family in the 1950s. Leo Tanninen, son of Emil Tanninen, and his first wife who died went on to become lay pastor of the "Firstborn" congregation now located at the Old Apostolic Lutheran Church (OALC) on Fish Hatchery Road. For details on families that constituted the early OALC in Sault Ste. Marie see the History of Living Christianity in America.

Beliefs and Characteristics[edit]

American Laestadians practice varied degrees of fundamentalist Christian belief. Most Laestadians avoid alcohol; varying numbers of adherents avoid a number of "worldly" practices, including dancing, card-playing, cinema, television, popular music, and the performing arts (listed in approximate order of avoidance). However, caffeine is widely consumed and tobacco is generally tolerated, but preached against when under 18 as most states have laws against a minor from purchasing tobacco products. Family size tends to be large compared to the American average; most families in non-urban congregations have between 4 and 10 children, while most churches have a few families with 12 or 15 children. Birth control is generally not practiced; it is preached as sin unless after consideration and counsel with medical doctors it's determined to be necessary for the health of the mother. Birth control is not tolerated because it prevents a child from being born and each child is a gift from God.

Laestadian asceticism is distinguished from other American fundamentalist Christians in that none of the above-mentioned pastimes is officially proscribed; rather, Laestadians counsel each other and employ a reinforcing system of social feedback to encourage abstention. Active congregations provide social outlets in keeping with the beliefs of the church; nearly every weekend evening will find Laestadian teenagers congregating at one or another's home (get-togethers), preferably with adults present.

Laestadian churches, in keeping with the Holy Bible, teach that every human is a sinner and that every sin can be forgiven; forgiveness stems from the hearts of Laestadians, not from ceremony or hierarchy. Some Laestadians practice lay confession whereby a member confesses to another member; in the Heidemanian tradition, some vestige of this practice remains in the liturgy but confession is not widely practiced.

Some Laestadian congregations consider themselves the one, true Christian church, and preach that all other Christian churches (including other branches of the Laestadian tradition) are not true Christians.

Ceremony and Service in the Heidemanian tradition[edit]

American Laestadian churches provide services in Finnish to varying degrees; in some churches circa 2000, every service is bilingual, while in others only special occasions merit translation, and in yet others all preaching is done in English. In any case, a Laestadian may request to receive Communion in Finnish; another lay member of the congregation can deliver Communion if the pastor is not fluent. Communion is the only regularly practiced ceremony (performed once or twice a month, or every week, depending on congregation), and consists of unleavened wafers and wine (sometimes grape juice), delivered assembly-line fashion at a communion rail at the conclusion of Sunday services.

Teenagers undergo Confirmation around age 13 to 15, after which they are eligible for communion. Other significant life ceremonies are baptism (performed during the first months of life, and rarely for adult converts) and marriage.

The Old Apostolic Lutheran congregations hold annual Elder's Meetings, often combined with St. John's summer services, several days to one week long, with guest preachers delivering evening sermons each weekday and two or more church services on the bracketing Sundays. Elders (senior preachers) from Lapland are invited to teach. Many church members follow the elders as they travel across America visiting different congregations. Other Apostolic Lutheran bodies hold similar "big services," in which members of multiple congregations gather in one location to hear speakers from the United States and from Scandinavia (if they have a cooperating European counterpart).

External links[edit]

  • [1]Video archives. Laestadius-seminar 4.-5. October 2012 in Oulu in Finland(in Finnish)
  • [2] provided most of the chronology information.
  • [3] attempts a comprehensive listing of historical and current Finnish churches in North America
  • [4] attempts a comprehensive listing of active congregations of all churches calling themselves "Apostolic".
  • [5] is the official website for the Laestadian Lutheran Church (LLC)
  • [6] History of how a Botanist became the founder of a church. Story of Lars Levi Laestadius
  • [7] History and books about the history of the movement in Lapland and the effect on the immigrants to the US.
  • [8] Thesis regarding social problems within the church from Department of Psychology University of Joensuu, Finland
  • [9] Laestadius sermons in text and audio files free of Charge in English, Swedish and Finnish
  • [10] A history of the Laestadian Lutheran Church including its various beliefs and practices.


  • Talonen, Jouko (2001). Iustitia 14, STI-aikakauskirja, Lestadiolaisuuden monet kasvot. Lestadiolaisuuden hajaannukset (pdf) (PDF). Suomen teologinen instituutti (STI). ISBN 952-9857-11-X. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-01-16.
  • Talonen, Jouko (October 7, 2012). "Lestadiolaisuuden synty, leviäminen ja hajaannukset. Lestadiolaisuuden tutkija, kirkkohistorian professori Jouko Talosen luento (Virtuaalikirkko has videos from seminar, and they are archived in Internet. Laestadiuksen perintö ja perilliset - seminaari Oulussa 4.-5.10.2012)". Oulun hiippakunta, Pohjoinen kulttuuri-instituutti and Oulun ev.-lut. seurakunnat.
  • Cradle to Grave: Life, Work and Death at the Lake Superior Copper Mines, Larry Lankton (Oxford University Press, 1991) ISBN 0-19-506263-9


  1. ^ a b Talonen 2001. s. 25
  2. ^ a b Talonen 2012. Lecture (in finnish) in Laestadius-seminar in Oulu 5. october 2012. Virtuaalikirkko has videos from seminar, and they are archived in Internet: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2014-08-05. Retrieved 2012-10-17.
  3. ^ "Sports, a Good Thing".
  4. ^ "Rev Andrew Mickelsen (1897-1983) - Find A Grave..."
  5. ^ "The Apostolic Lutheran Church of Kingston, Minnesota".