High Priest Sauna Night

High Priest Sauna Night was last night, and it’s the best ward activity of the year.

The men of the ward have two sauna nights, each quorum responsible for one. We hire a beautiful sauna by the sea, where we can also swim and grill. The RS does one or two Enrichment night saunas as well. Oh, and there is ward family sauna, but it’s lame on three accounts: 1. You have to wear a swimsuit. 2. The sauna has to be set at child-friendly levels (below 80C). 3. One’s wife is likely to respond negatively when one reaches for that second or third sausage.

The EQ does a spring sauna which is good, but the HP autumn sauna is better. Brother V is a sauna nut; he gets there early and makes the fire extra hot, and he buys a big salmon which is smoked on the fire outside.

Every male comes to the sauna who can, including inactives we only see twice a year. It’s the one activity to which several people will bring non-member friends. A visiting Area Authority came once and had a good time.

I’m always amazed by the transformation in those who attend. These mild-mannered, stone-faced guys I usually only see in cheap suits and socks-and-sandals stand majestically naked on the rocks like Greek gods, then either frolic in the sea or strut back to the sauna. Brother V is especially free of his grey suit and bifocals, grinning like an imp, chest out and arms akimbo with his combover flopping in the breeze. (The fact that several tour cruises go by our sauna spot doesn’t seem to bother anyone — we all just wave.)

We sauna, swim, eat sausages and fish and junk food, talk and laugh. It is an excellent time, and true fellowshipping.

I think my favorite thing about it, though, is that in a church is sometimes deeply homogenous, sauna night is an authentically local activity. Culture should interact with church behavior and doctrines to create local variants which do not contradict central doctrines. It makes the church alive and truly international, not just an export of an American phenomenon. It would be difficult to come to High Priest Sauna Night and say, sitting naked in a small room heated to 95C hip-to-hip with the stake patriarch and a deacon, ‘You know, the church is the same wherever you go.’


  1. Mate,

    The church is truest in Finland. British equivalents are lame in comparison, although I’m told EQ vs. HP cricket is ok. At Christmas I intend to hold an EQ party at a local Indian: bragging rights to those who can handle the hot stuff.

    Still, saunas…ah! I’m moving to Finland.

    These mild-mannered, stone-faced guys I usually only see in cheap suits and socks-and-sandals stand majestically naked on the rocks like Greek gods


  2. At Christmas I intend to hold an EQ party at a local Indian.

    That sounds excellent. When I lived in London, I tried to get our ward to produce a Mormon panto. Blank stares all around. Instead we had the expletive roadshow (a homogenous import).

  3. All our EQ does is get together to play Madden on the wii…

  4. Sure beats “Mormon Night at Shea Stadium.”

    I’m going to suggest that my Japanese friends borrow the idea: Mormon Night at the Onsen sounds like a great way to bring all those thousands of Japanese back to the fold.

  5. Eliza Roxcy says:

    I have heard rumours that the singles ward in London is doing a panto this year…

    I think half the entertainment will come from seeing how the traditional format is handled, since the innuendo will probably have to be purged. And the cross-dressing — will we see women dressed as men dressed as women?

  6. We just had our third annual menrichment: all the baby back ribs you can eat, plus table tennis. Sounds like Saunafest might be Finnish menrichment.

  7. Sounds like a lot of fun! U gotta love finland!

  8. I guess you gotta love Finland. I wanna love the USA but I don’t think we would see Naked Sauna EQ Night on a ward bulletin anytime soon. This would be an excellent event. Excellent and freeing.

    Before I was a member I attended a nude beach. This would be common in other countries but in the US, depending on where you are, you could be arrested and have to register as a sex offender for the rest of your life.

    How is Finland this time of year? And does it take much to become a citizen? I don’t think the climate is any different than Alaska? Is it?

  9. Norbert, I’m green with envy.

    Guys from our EQ got together last Saturday night to eat hot wings and watch BYU football. How incredibly lame and boring that sounds now!

  10. “One’s wife is likely to respond negatively when one reaches for that second or third sausage.”


  11. Aaron Brown says:

    Nudity is of the Devil.


  12. If there’s no nude saunas and sunbathing between the sexes everywhere, from time to time, in the Celestial Kingdom – maybe it’s just not the place for me.

  13. Steve, I was going to make a similar wisecrack, but decided not to go after the low-hanging fruit.

  14. but decided not to go after the low-hanging fruit.

    That wasn’t a wisecrack?

  15. Did you swat one another with birch branches?

    At an encampment in Finland, the Scouts decided I should know how to sauna. Finns heat their saunas to 170 or 180 degrees. President Olli Roto, the stake president who was teaching me, along with the Scouts, who were experts, made a small bundle of birch branches. When we really began to perspire, he took the bundle of birch leaves and swatted me all over my back, chest, and legs, and said, “That brings the blood to the surface.” I said, “It works.” Then we ran down and dove into the Baltic Sea, then went back into the sauna. It’s amazing what we learn when we’re working with youth.

    A Champion of Youth

  16. Steve Evans says:

    MAC, with the level of experience, Church service and collegiate study present at High Priest Sauna Night, all cracks were undoubtedly wise.

  17. So Norbert is having men’s naked sauna night and Matt Evans is playing with some guys Wii…

    Who says the church is anti-gay?

  18. Ryan, while I’m sure everybody here realizes your comment about Norbert’s sauna night is tongue-in-cheek, I can’t help noting that it’s ironic precisely because so many Americans–particularly the under 40’s crowd–would actually agree with that description of the sauna night. Very ignorant (in the dictionary sense of the word).

  19. We just had a Stake Picnic, complete with the obligatory cornhole tournament. Yes, lame by Finnish standards, but local / regional titles and customs can be interesting.

  20. I have a friend who speaks fondly of the ward sauna parties from when he served his mission in Finland.

    Ray, what kind of tournament? Talk about regional customs, I don’t get you midwesterners. Flyover country indeed.

  21. Justin — no birch branches this time. I have used them, though. My wife’s grandfather, a very noble-in-stature Winter War veteran, spends his summers making vihtat — the bunches of birch branches used in saunas.

    re #18 — It’s interesting to see the missionaries at these things. They come for the food and the contacts even though they’re no longer allowed to sauna. They are visibly uncomfortable but well-behaved. When I first arrived, I was less surprised by the nudity than I was by the presence of boys. But once you desexualize samesex nudity (and nudity generally), the paranoia about pedaphiles lurking around every corner dissapates as well.

  22. Norbert – why aren’t the missionaries allowed to sauna? I’ve heard that for years in some Asian countries missionaries went to the public bathhouses there routinely like everybody else. I don’t know if this is still true though.

  23. Wait–missionaries in Finland are not allowed to sauna? No saunas ever, period? What about in the sauna in their own building in the time slotted for their apartment? If no saunas ever are allowed, when was this implemented? A Finland rm (1982-83) wants to know. In my day a sauna at the mission president’s house (with the APs but not the Pres) during initial orientation and then the night before departure home after the mission were central rituals.

  24. Personally I prefer my menrichment to involve lots of food, sports, video games, etc. I prefer bball actually. We play 2-3 times a week in my building.

    To be honest the idea of horseplaying around with old dudes in the nude seems a little to saggy for my taste.

    It could give me nightmares actually now that I think of it

  25. Steve Evans says:

    bbell, that’s because you’re a redneck homophobe, obviously.

  26. Michaëlle Jean's Hair says:

    Behave, Steve. Perhaps b has good reasons for his naked-sauna aversion. It may be better that way.

  27. Steve,

    Obviously. What is up with all the pro nudist type posts on BCC recently?

    Nekkid old dudes yikes. It bad enough at the YMCA.

  28. Missionaries used to sauna, until about 2001 or 02, I think. Why it changed I don’t know, although there were stories of missionary photos of saunas being seen by shocked mothers, who passed it on, etc. Missionaries are quick to point out that the ban came from the first presidency itself!

    Here is a thread that starts by talking about banyas and missionaries and quickly shifts to MTC hijinks and the evils of nudity.

  29. Re #24 through #26, with all respect, it’s probably just because bbell like countless others was raised with standard (not “normal”) American LDS prudishness and has never experienced a sauna like the one Norbert described or has been able to “desexualize samesex nudity and nudity generally” in his own mind, like Norbert said. And his comment about being “saggy” and causing “nightmares’ shows that he thinks settings like the sauna are about looking at other people (another American attitude). They’re not.

    Don’t misunderstand, this is not personal criticism. I am just noting that these beliefs tend to prevail in the U.S. and particularly among Church members. But that doesn’t mean they’re healthy or there isn’t a better way. Norbert is spot on to say that once a person overcomes these attitudes, all the discomfort and paranoia goes away too. Why wouldn’t that be a good thing?

  30. Bell,

    BCC = Blog for Clothing Choice.

  31. I made a comment that I am not an advocate for nudism among mormons with a cheeky comment, and I realized the cheeky comment encouraged those who are advocates for mormon nudism. Sauna is an important part of Finnish culture and social bonding. The nudity is incidental and more related to a sense of cleanliness than anything else.

  32. Norbert, re your #31, I’m not advocating any particular position on this, I just pointed out some current American and LDS attitudes which are not shared by other countries, and suggested that the Americans may not have a monopoly on truth or “best practices”.

    Bbell, I don’t see any “pro-nudist posts” here. Lighten up! Swimming and the outdoors seems a lot more in line with the WoW to me than sitting around eating and playing video games.

  33. Norbert,

    What do members in Finland think about this ban? Just more American Mormon weirdness, I suppose. Somehow I don’t buy the mothers seeing pictures story–LDS missionaries had been going to sauna only ever since missionaries arrived in Finland a half-century ago. Nordic-style skiing was banned at some point (before 1982), apparently due to the problem of injuries. Had one of the FP (or whoever put the ban in place) been a returned Finnish missionary there would have been no ban.

    Aina saunaa kaipaen,


  34. Steve Evans says:

    This thread is not about promoting a nudist lifestyle. Further comments along those lines will be deleted summarily.

  35. JC —

    You’re cool, and I totally agree. I was referring to a few posts which I deleted.

  36. Eric Russell says:

    “The nudity is incidental and more related to a sense of cleanliness than anything else.”

    Knowing nothing of the sauna, what does nudity have to do with cleanliness? Do swimming trunks soil the sauna?

  37. Revelets —

    When it first came out, some members were actually quite angry as they felt it represented a lack of understanding about something central to their culture. Which is probably true.

    It’s funny about Nordic skiing. A few years ago some bright missionaries got an idea about inviting young adults and reenagers to go ice skating with them. They found an iced-up football pitch, brought out the mission van and grilled sauasages and cooked up some warm chocolate. It was quite successful, and they would get 20-30 nonmembers there, plus half the institute, but there were so many missionary injuries they had to ban that, too. (When my friend was called as ward mission leader, he jokingly said no because he didn’t know how to skate.)

  38. Perhaps the BCC crowd is more sophisticated than your average Joe, but I would hazard a guess that most Americans do not understand the real Finnish sauna experience.

    I’ve never been to Finland but was fortunate to have a friend arrange for a few of us to participate in an authentic sauna. This was about 20 years ago, but I remember it vividly as it was such an envigorating experience. It is impossible to describe but was very enjoyable. I only wish the facilities and practice were more common in the US….After 20 years, I could use a good, authentic sauna night!

  39. As a Missionary, I remember going to a sauna in Germany (Central German Mission) and having a great time. As there were only Elders in our District, there was no problem about what to wear. It was winter and after sitting in the sauna for about 15 minutes, we went out on a secluded deck and rolled in some newly fallen snow. Then back into the sauna to warm back up.
    It has now been 41 years and I still remember that as one of my fondest mission memories.

%d bloggers like this: