A decade abroad

Ten years ago this month, I left the United States. I didn’t abscond with the church funds, run off with a senator’s wife, or kill a man. I explained my decision to move abroad in my first post at BCC:

I left the United States in August 2001 because of a serious case of restlessness. I was 31 and single; I had just finished my MA and thrived as a high school English and Media Studies teacher … but the restlessness haunted me. I considered several options, all of which left me with a stupor of thought. Then I heard about international schools and off I went to Finland, never having been here before. After two happy years I married a Finnish Mormon and we moved to London, planning to globe hop until our feet itched no more. The birth of twins and the ensuing chaos cured us, and when I was offered a job back here, it smelled like a blessing. And, dear reader, so it has been.

Four years and two more kids later, it’s still all good. As I’ve considered this moment and what it’s meant for me over the last ten years, I have no regrets. That’s not to say that life would have been miserable had I stayed in the US, but I like the life of an expat. I’ve found a balance between going native and remaining obstinately American, being connected to the various communities around me and yet apart from them at the same time. The interplay between culture and behavior, both in individuals and groups, still fascinates me as much as it did when I first went abroad as a missionary some 20 years ago, and as I’ve gained language skills and some cultural friction here, it becomes more intriguing and rewarding.

This is as true for my Mormon experience as it is generally. The casual visitor to a Helsinki ward would recognize the church as they know it most places in North America. The wards are large and stable with core families, many second and third generation members and return missionaries, unlike so many of the branches I’ve visited in other parts of Europe. Visiting on any given Sunday, one would be forgiven for repeating the familiar mantra, ‘The church is the same wherever you go!’

Except it’s not.

Some differences are true for Mormons everywhere but the United States: very few of my ward members have attended BYU or  a CES course, and even fewer have a relationship with any General Authority, past or present. We have no welfare farms, bishop’s storehouses, early morning seminary or church sports leagues. There is no Deseret Books or Meridian Magazine or food storage industry in Finnish. None of my fellow ward members have ancestors that crossed the plains or practiced polygamy. Pioneer Day passes without recognition. As a result, local Mormon culture has a different aspect, smaller and more compact in the lives of Mormons.

Other differences are more specific to the local culture. It would be almost unheard of for one ward member to criticize another, for the way they dress or how their children behave, for instance. This isn’t because our ward members are more virtuous, but because confrontation like that is anathema to Finnish culture. Likewise, politics and the more controversial elements of social criticism rarely come up in church, but they rarely come up socially anywhere. Member-missionary efforts are even more dire here than most places as discussing religion publicly  is nearly a taboo. Baby blessings are a very big deal as it ‘matches’ the Lutheran christening, a huge part of Finnish culture. I laughed when my wife told me that no men attended stake girl’s camp as chaperones: it just hadn’t occurred to anyone to do so, which I think is a byproduct of the status of Finnish women in society. People don’t shake hands when they meet. Every year, we sing a few hymns not in the hymnbook that are sung in churches on the same Sunday in churches across the country. And of course High Priest’s Sauna Night is the best church activity ever.

What is the relationship between Mormon culture and the wider culture? It’s complex. I don’t want to understate the very real cultural sacrifices members here make when they join the church and live its principles. If American Mormonism is lurching toward normality, in most of the world it remains completely marginal. But at the same time, the culture of the people does have an influence on how the doctrines of Mormonism play out on a Sunday and in the homes of the members.

President Hinkley once said, ‘[T]he lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of our worship.’ As a result, the broad cultural experiences of individual Mormons mixes with the Mormonism, creating a different experience, although sometimes slightly so, wherever one goes. And that, I think, is a good thing.


  1. nat kelly says:

    Thanks for pointing this out. I have always thought it’s just bizarre to say the church is the same wherever you go, because it varies so much even from stake to stake within the same area.

    And how lame and kinda creepy (in a Stepford Wife fashion) if it were just the same? As if we were all programmable? Nah. I’ll take some local flavor over predictability any day of the week.

  2. I see that you have gone native with your usage of quotation marks. You are no longer welcome in the land of the free and home of the brave.

    Still, this is a great post.

  3. Stapley, it is a result of the Finnish keyboard. The quotation mark is a little hard to find. However, Ö, Ä and Å are very convenient.

  4. The church in Finland sounds like a lovely place to be.

  5. jJulie M. Smith says:

    Nice post.

    Sidenote re seminary: do the kids do home study or skip it entirely?

  6. I’ve seen our High Priest’s group fully clothed. I’m not sure I want to see them in a sauna….

  7. Glass Ceiling says:

    So does Finland itself.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    Whenever you post on your experiences there, I think we all get a bad case of sacred envy for being Mormon in Finland. Thanks for this reflection.

  9. Great post, Norbert. The girls camp anecdote reminded me or a Finnish ward I served in, whose bishop made the decision to go ahead with the ward Easter Sunday program even though it conflicted with the General Conference broadcast (the nearest dish-equipped building was an hour or two away).

    Skipping General Conference for a ward meeting?? My American companion and I had a minor freakout over it, and were told “the church is different here, elders.” It was a valuable lesson.

  10. I love going to church in a place where the Utah/Intermountain West/American strain of Mormonism is not dominant. The shared cultural Mormon history in my ward is mostly Filipino, so it’s we Americans/Canadians who are sitting clueless in Sunday School while the teacher tells stories about the Manila Temple (or whatever) that everyone in the room understands but us. Or the time I naively thought maybe we should sing a certain Primary song in honor of Pioneer Day and all I got from the kids were blank stares.

    Love it.

  11. Norbert,
    What you left out is the is the LARGE number of Scandinavians that settled Utah, and helped create the Utah Mormon culture. I think this is one of the reasons why the Finnish can ‘look/act’ so Mormon.

  12. Any chance there’s a ticket to Finland hidden within this post?

  13. I’m always interested in hearing these stories…obviously the day to day life in the church is going to vary from place to place, because we’re going to meld little bits of the local culture into the Mormon experience. I haven’t had the fortune of living abroad yet, but I can tell you my LDS experiences in Columbus, Washington DC, California, New Orleans and now Chicago have all been very different…as demographics and Utah influences wax and wane.

    I confess to saying the “church is the same everywhere” bit in public, because I do appreciate the theological sameness, which isn’t really as true in mainline protestant denominations. There are going to be wards where its more okay for me to out myself as a lib or whatever, but the church handbook doesn’t change.

  14. I’ve actually heard the same statement “It’s the same wherever you go” from Jews traveling around; because of the Parashot schedule, Jews all over the world are studying the same passages at the same time.

  15. My father served his mission to Finland in the 60’s. There is a photo, famous among our family, of he and several other Elders in the sauna with legs conveniently (and thankfully) crossed.

    He often spoke of Finland and always did so favorably.

  16. seminary: do the kids do home study or skip it entirely?

    Home study. Most wards have weekly seminary and YM/YW on the same evening.
    No Scouts.

  17. Please excuse me if this sounds like a cliche, but I have been to church in many parts of the word and I have had a feeling that “the church is the same everywhere.” What I mean by that is that I have found many good and faithful people who sacrifice to live the gospel. They are an inspiration to behold. As Matt says above, we have theological sameness. Of course I’ve seen a lot of cultural differences which have sometimes led me to reexamine some of our own (North American) cultural quirks.

  18. Kyle, that’s a great story.

    We had a Sunday School lesson on sexual morality, and the lesson manual had sections on abortion and homosexuality. The teacher, an elderly temple worker said, ‘Well, those are things the Americans get excited about,’ and skipped those sections of the lesson altogether.

  19. Such an excellent post. I cringe when I hear visitors in wards say how the “Church is the same everywhere” and how grateful they are that this is so. I can understand why “McChurch” is comforting to some travellers but unfortunately, this expression nearly always refers to a perception of Church culture, which the speaker almost always envisions as Wasatch Front Mormon culture, which is definitely not required or encoded in core Gospel principals.

    I would venture to guess that McCurch mentality is a result of the corporatization of so many aspects of life in the Church. As we members are treated more and more frequently like someone’s employees rather than worshipers on equal footing one with another, McChurch will only continue to gain in ascendancy.

    A potential problem occurs when management-heavy local leaders are called (meaning local leaders from the local management class, which is a typical source of local priesthood leaders in any area) who themselves idolize McChurch and try to implement unwritten order type policies that they think go toward maintaining McChurch. For instance, a ward way over in England might have a policy that no women can pray in Sacrament Meeting — contrary to the Church Handbook of Instruction (even in its old format). In this hypothetical, the sole reason for the policy ultimately derives from McChurch. A local priesthood leader, likely a stake president, learned at some point 30 years ago that certain wards in the US had the policy. In the interest of keeping McChurch uniform across the whole world, the policy is implemented in the locality.

    But we don’t have to be McChurch. Effort should be put into maintaining doctrinal uniformity on core doctrines (most importantly the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the center of the Gospel message) but there is no need for a cultural homogeneity that causes the Restored Gospel to be McChurch, thus reducing local vitality among Latter-day Saints who have never and will never set foot in Provo, Mesa or Rexburg.

  20. #18 – Awesome!!

    “And that, I think, is a good thing.”

    Amen. Thanks for this post, Norbert. I love my current ward, but I would love to visit yours.

  21. Chris Gordon says:

    Having visited and been a member of a unit in a fair number of countries outside the U.S., I don’t find the same negative connotation of the McChurch to be fair. I myself have made the claim of gratitude that the church is the same everywhere you go, cultural differences ranging from the significant to the idiosyncratic aside.

    If anything, it’s a good exercise in thinking through what the “church” is, what you want from it, what you think its intent is, and what its value is to you. I take comfort in even correlated manuals insofar as they reinforce the notion of “One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” I enjoy seeing the same Del Parson Jesus on meetinghouses throughout the world. I smile with pleasure and testimony as I hear humble ward leaders butcher the names of the GA’s in ward and stake conferences as they read them off to be sustained. I love that they’re using pretty much the same sacrament trays that we do.

    These, to me, are small details that make me feel united with the community of saints all over the world. The local flavor is enriching, but it’s sort of like eating bread or its equivalent elsewhere in the world. Sure, it tastes different, might have a different texture or whatever, but in the end, it’s still bread.

  22. Interesting post. Thanks for sharing. I’m curious, though, if there’s no bishop’s storehouse, how are the needs of those requiring assistance from the church met? Does the bishop use fast offering funds to purchase goods, do the members pitch in, or something else?

  23. #17 Agreed.
    I love that wherever I live or travel, I can find the Church and feel spiritually connected to the people. Sure, the Church does not operate in exactly the same way in every ward, but the services and worship are always very familiar and recognizable. It seems to me this is the sentiment people are getting at when they say the church is the same everywhere.

  24. Keri, a little of both, but usually fast offering money at the grocery store.

  25. “Sure, it tastes different, might have a different texture or whatever, but in the end, it’s still bread.”

    Unless it’s the Wonderfluff North Americans favor, which is not even related to bread.

  26. #19 – Maybe it’s because I’m not from the Mountain West, but I don’t see the connotation you attach to the church being the “same.” Of course, I can’t stand it when people call anywhere outside of Utah “the Mission Field.” And I almost threw up when I was living in Japan and an American bore her testimony on how blessed she was that she lived close to General Authorities and how how hard it must be for the poor people in Japan to be so far away. But I think it’s wonderful that we can be united across many cultures. In that sense, our sameness can be a great thing.

  27. Chris, the Del Parsons painting verges on McChurch (possibly falls squarely into the McChurch category together with the whole idea of correlated mandated artwork for Church buildings in an effort of rigid corporate branding), whereas the coordinated worldwide lesson schedule and the format of sacrament meetings does not. This is the distinction I am drawing in my observations. The latter, together with a correlated emphasis on true core Gospel principles such as the Atonement and the performance of ordinances by priesthood authority (and not on cultural elements like the Church’s derivative Boy Scouts program or correlated furniture for Church buildings), contribute to the feeling of the Church being “the same” everywhere in the world without becoming McChurch.

  28. I smile with pleasure and testimony as I hear humble ward leaders butcher the names of the GA’s in ward and stake conferences as they read them off to be sustained.

    I think you mean ‘pleasure, testimony and condescension.’

    Local members aren’t so filled with pleasure and testimony to have GAs confused about what country they are in when they visit, or to have American missionaries explain in a newspaper interview how weird the country is because there are so many naked statues, or …

  29. Chris Gordon says:

    @Kristine (25), I’ve got a soft spot for crappy Wonderbread. It’s got all sorts of nostalgia associated with it from my Aaronic Priesthood days of bringing a whole loaf of bread for the sacrament only to scarf the bulk of it down with the other kids during Sunday School. :)

    (I believe we were fond of Home Pride)

  30. Years ago I spent a few days on the Keweenaw Penisula, that appendage of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula which juts into Lake Superior. Among the features of the place was the small Finlandia University, formerly Suomi College, and I met several people with Finnish heritage, spouses, or time in Finland, though only one native of Finland. Lunch one day was in Calumet, a copper boom town that had 25,000 people a century ago, but fewer than a thousand now. I was curious that such a small town had so many significant-looking churches in its downtown. My host explained the influx of immigrants from across Europe, each needing to be ministered to by the particular Lutheran or Catholic strain they had known in the Old Country. I wouldn’t be too hard on American Mormons abroad looking for comfort in familiar religious trappings, and I can also see how the Mormons who aren’t Americans would relish any differences.

  31. Chris Gordon says:

    No condescension intended, Norbert, and I apologize for communicating it that way. I admire the heck out of church members who have testimonies of and sustain leaders with whom they could rightly struggle to identify. That admiration in no way justifies any of the undiplomatic-to-say-the-least actions you’re describing.

  32. If it weren’t for the avoidance of religious discussions, I think I would enjoy living in Finland. Alas, I am too opinionated to keep my mouth shut for very long.

  33. Love this post Norbert.

  34. Extra points for spotting the pop culture reference in the second sentence of the post.

  35. Sorry if I sound grumpy on this topic — I’m not a fan of either McDonalds or McNaughten so my response is in that vein. I can see why the McDonalds model would appear attractive for a way to structure the Church to men with corporate backgrounds because it is been a successful business international model for successful corporate branding and creating the sense in the customer that, amazingly, McDonalds is the same anywhere you go, whether in Red Square, Lima or Tokyo. The tension comes when one considers that the Church isn’t a business and members are seeking enlightenment, spiritual uplift and salvation through ordinances, particularly the Sacrament, when they attend. If the McChurch mentality creeps in, members can be made to feel like employees of a corporation and it is debatable whether that is ultimately a positive thing.

  36. Some strange word order in my comment — that’s what I get for commenting on my blackberry.

  37. John, do you see the current leadership model as an effort to break away from the McChurch model, or just a shift to make it more successful? After all, I can get a McFeast on dark rye bread in Finland.

  38. John F., thanks for having the good humor to follow up comment 35 with comment 36.

  39. john f, I get the feeling you’re projecting your dislike of the “correlated” or “corporate” church onto the individual members. Many of the the members I’ve heard testify of the sameness of the church everywhere have done so after visiting someplace where things were actually different. It’s the actual difference of their experience which highlighted the sameness, and they found the experience spiritually broadening and enriching.

  40. Norbert, are you saying that current general leadership is somewhat less enamored with McChurch or are you referring to your local Finnish leadership? In either case, I have no idea. All I know is that McChurch is particularly strong in my area of the UK where we are under a particular facilities management that is so focused on McChurch that they are sending letters and turning up to berate local members in person for having “uncorrelated” furniture or artwork in ward buildings, even when the uncorrelated furniture is an antique piano that a member of the ward has generously donated for the relief society room and the uncorrelated artwork are pieces that have appeared in conference issues of the Ensign that local leaders have purchased to hang in their own ward buildings but they don’t appear on a particular list of correlated artwork that someone has approved for not disrupting a particular rigid corporate branding scheme (again, these are pieces that have appeared on inside or back covers of the Ensign). The whole thing feels very hollow and legalistic and could threaten to disrupt the harmony that could otherwise be found among a group collectively striving to live the Restored Gospel, particularly when carried out through terse, even rude, business-type letters sent from “Facilities Services” or some such department rather than signed by a person.

  41. Martin, I don’t dislike the Church. To the contrary I consecrate all of my free time to it, which gives me standing to observe where the effort to achieve doctrinal sameness is perhaps inadvertently spilling over into McChurch as some people are measuring sameness everywhere based on cultural traits that inherently have nothing to do with Gospel Principles. If, for example, an impersonal “Facilities Management” oversight leaves members feeling like employees of a corporation and the opposite of uplifted through such interaction, it is worth pointing out and contemplating whether this is the sameness we want or whether we can become one in the Gospel as we are instructed to do by the Savior without creating McChurch in the process. I think we can and we often do. As you point out, members often pick up on the right aspects of uniformity that helpfully make the Church the same everywhere. These are usually focused in correlated Gospel Principles (correlated because they are core principles) and a uniform worship format. But my observation is that members are often seeking McChurch type elements as a source of comfort that the Church is the same everywhere and some particular aspect of Utah culture might be truly out of place and unnecessary in Kiev, Helsinki or Shanghai.

  42. “…Very few of my ward members have attended BYU…”

    Ahhh, Norbert, you’ve just described perfection.

  43. Northerner says:

    Nice post, Norbert. As your fellow ward member (although I’m not so much around!) I think that the church in Finland is better thanks to you and your perspective!

  44. #34 – Is that a reference to Coupland’s Player One? If so, bravo.

  45. #40, john f: “All I know is that McChurch is particularly strong in my area of the UK where we are under a particular facilities management that is so focused on McChurch that they are sending letters and turning up to berate local members in person for having “uncorrelated” furniture or artwork in ward buildings …”

    I’m sorry to hear that. Are those managers not familiar with the principles of common consent (D&C 26:2) and persuasion (D&C 121:41)?

  46. StillConfused says:

    Finnish Mormonism sounds awesome.

    I don’t have a sauna but I do have a hottub. What are the chances of a church hot tub party in Provo Utah. Then again… maybe I wouldn’t want to see that much of people.

    What kind of bread do you use for sacrament there? I personally prefer a whole wheat jesus.

  47. Nice post. I got the feeling there was to it. I at least would like to hear more.

  48. More to it…..

  49. I agree with most of this post, with the exception of the comment from the member in 18, which would seem to indicate that the church’s stances on abortion and homosexuality are nothing more than American cultural expectations.

  50. I do recognize my Belgian ward minus the sauna!

  51. The thing that most surprised me was that you said there is girls camp in Finland. When I was growing up, I attended girls camp while in Utah, but not while living in England or Maryland.
    The church IS the same everywhere. Except it also isn’t.
    It is good to have exposure to the church in other areas. I try to have my children have experiences in the church elsewhere since we don’t move around. There is a maturity that comes with being able to recognize the way people are the same, the way people are different, the way culture influences us, etc.

  52. Velikiye Kniaz says:

    john f.; It sounds as if you have some over zealous leadership in the UK. My ward in Salt Lake is less than a half mile from Temple Square and Church headquarters and we have “uncorrelated furniture and artwork” in our ward building. In fact, there is a Craftsman style oak table in our elder’s Quorum room that I would pay a month’s worth of triple tithing to have. There doesn’t seem to be much of a problem with keeping vesitages of the old ward buildings furnishings and artwork and including them in the newer structure. American interior designers call such mixing “eclectic”, a term that could easily apply to our ward members, myself included. Britain is a treasure house of wonderful furniture and excellent art and unless there is a doctrinal or theological reason, i.e. inappropriate symbolism carved in the wood or woven in the fabric, or a burning ‘sacred heart’ in the middle of the Saviour’s chest, then I can see no rational or logical reason why such things should be excluded from a meetinghouse. Of course, there are some folk who just don’t care for anything ‘old’. Having worked for a real cutthroat corporation for many years, I would take issue with you that the Church is headed in the same direction. I will say this, however, it is getting increasingly harder to find members who are willing to do the work necessary to keep a ward functioning as it should. More and more people are seeing any effort to get them involved as an imposition on their personal time and freedom. I know that doesn’t apply to yourself, but this is a general observation of mine. Here in the USA we are beginning to see the “mainline Christianity” concept of, “we’ll give you 55 minutes on Sunday then don’t bother us for the rest of the week”, creeping in. This is a far greater threat to the Church than any anti-Mormon campaign
    because it will sap the very strength and vigor from our people.

  53. I have to comment here. I was born and raised mostly in Finland. I’ve actually ended up spending most of my already a fairly long life in the country. I have never felt Finnish, but I’ve always felt welcome, because I know the language and happily do not look too different from the majority (mustn’t rock the boat and look different!).

    I want to say that there is little to envy in being a Mormon in Finland. You are such a small minority that nobody ever thinks to accommodate you. On the contrary, it’s traditionally been detrimental to career paths and relationships in the extended family to be a Mormon. One can easily be ostracised for opening one’s mouth. Faith as a topic of discussion is almost anathema, as Norbert says. Being a small, homogeneous and sparse population (only 5+ mill. in the fourth-largest country in Europe) has created a culture where the pressure to conform can be oppressive, and being different in any obvious way is usually a burden.

    Somewhat predictably, a populist party got 20% in Parliamentary election in spring 2011 on a nativist/fascist/racist platform egged on by tabloid “news” that still keep giving special mention to every criminal of immigrant/refugee background. The party representatives were “shocked” to find themselves classified as a far-right party, but their platform is so similar to other such parties that it’s impossible to not see the similarities.

    And saying the above will likely be taken as proof positive that I’m a traitor, “elitist” and whatnot along such lines. Luckily most adults keep to Finnish-language sites.

    OTOH, members here don’t suffer from the insufferable feeling of entitlement, that I’ve sometimes detected in the Mormon Corridor (sorry about that, I know it’s usually a sure way to invite the righteous ire of the same people; you see what you mean, I guess). That’s definitely a plus, as religion is discussed much more humbly, when the occasion arrives.

    Otherwise socially, it’s faux pas to step on anyone’s toes, rock the boat in any way etc.. Or even to look too different. This, again, means one is forced to tiptoe around social situations, and for a socially clumsy person like me, it can be quite terrible.

    The LDS services in Finland, however, are more like those of any other LDS ward in any “Western” country than the Lutheran, Anglican or Catholic ones. The gulf could hardly be wider at first sight, and I’m at pains to explain to myself the obsession some have to sing the same classic Lutheran Hymns on the same Sundays as the Lutherans do (including standing up quite awkwardly while singing some verses, which looks positively weird–imagine the twenty-odd folks standing up among a hundred other attendees); are they holding on to a strand of Lutheranism to make sure they’ll be accepted in Lutheran cemeteries.

    The practical monopoly that the Lutherans have on cemetaries (some Jewish and Russian Orthodox congregations have their own) has made me tell my wife and kids that I want to be cremated and my ashes scattered in the wind. As you can tell, I’m a contrarian, although I usually try not to be stridently so.

    All taken toghether, I do not feel quite at home anywhere in the World. I have some favourite places, like London, Devon, Rockies, Oceans, anyplace with lots of islands. I’m always a stranger in my own hometown, but happily quite welcome in my own home. But having kids grow up has forced me to grow some roots, at least. I love my grandchildren, and want to remain close to them despite the call of the wild.

    Parting shot: Our Branch in Northern Finland had early-morning seminary last year, but I’m not sure this year, as I’m not involved at all.

  54. Velska, thanks for those comments.

    I’ve seen our High Priest’s group fully clothed. I’m not sure I want to see them in a sauna…. amen.

  55. I keep writing more and more and it just doesn’t seem right…

    Norbert and I have lived in the same ward in Finland, I’m back there nearly every year, and I do business with Finns every day (I work as a literary translator). Anyway, I feel perfectly comfortable with the assertion that the church is the same wherever I go. The core elements of fellowship and doctrine are the same. When my wife and I were in Finland this summer with our three kids, we were welcomed with absolutely open arms at every ward we popped up at and felt the same spirit. We’ve had similar experiences in Paris, Indiana, Idaho, California, and here in Utah. It’s hard to put much weight on differences when I’ve experienced such identical love from such different people in such different places. I guess that is usually as a visitor…

    However, when I’m in Finland or Utah, I do usually miss things from the other place. Usually more Finland than Utah. On balance, being in Utah is probably harder because of the veneer of cultural crapitude layered over the wonderful things about the church. But in Finland I’m always an outsider, and always will be, so I don’t experience some of the downsides there. For example, if a kid in Finland gets shunned by the “in crowd” at church, that can last a lifetime because everybody knows everybody (almost). My wife was pretty taken aback by some examples we saw of this when living in Finland. It’s just such a small community, which comes with pluses and minuses. In Utah we have crazy politics and folk doctrinal baggage and in Finland there are branches shutting down because everyone is moving away to the larger cities, which strands the people who aren’t moving. Choose your poison.

    I definitely have closer friendships with people I’ve met through church in Finland, although much of that is still residual from my mission (13 years ago!). Church relationships here in Utah seem more disposable, for obvious reasons.

    Still haven’t decided whom from the ward I’ll be inviting over when I finish my sauna. I’m thinking I’ll be keeping it pretty hush hush.

  56. It is my dream to go to Finland one day. I have been attracted to that country since I was a little girl without knowing anything about it. Weird.

    About the Church being the same everywhere, I never understood that one. I traveled and experienced the Church in a few countries and ALL the experiences related to Church have been very different.

  57. Owen, you must’ve missed myself and Scott B. in Finland by only a few months. And I loved your comment.

  58. Just make sure you either go in July/August or in the middle of the winter, Suz. The intervening months are not fun, even for those with a melancholy streak. They literally have a month named “mud month”–October.

    Man, Kyle, we missed so many people. I literally have Finnish friends who were my friends (like, friends in the serious non-Facebook way) before I ever met them because I was friends with their family or friends. Add close business contacts I’ve been working with for almost ten years and all the people from the States who go over, and it’s just impossible. I would have left Facebook ages ago except that it helps me keep the Finnish part of my life (spirit?) alive.

    On the subject of having an alternate personality for my second homeland, my taste in Finnish music led me to be the only straight male not with a girlfriend dragging him along at concert in Helsinki last fall. Haven’t quite processed that one yet!

  59. Casablanca!

    Bonus points for me. Norbert, this was a lovely post. Thank you.

  60. john f.’s beef with facilities management sounds pretty familiar here in Utah. Our ward still talks about the FM guy they had ten years ago who was a real hard case. Like most things that bug members, you can hope it’s just one person who lacks tact and things will change when the person changes. Maybe next you’ll get someone who knows when to bend. As for all the talk of “branding” and homogenization and all that, sure, yeah, and it also makes everyone’s lives so, so, so much easier because there are so many crazy, stupid, crazy, ugly, crazy, dangerous, crazy things members would do if they could just do whatever they wanted with things like decorating the buildings. Stake Presidents have enough headaches already. Drop the correlated curriculum and you get people making up their own rituals and casting people with the wrong color skin out of the building and drop the FM rules and you get Jesus dressed as Elvis riding a Harley painted on black velvet. High five a tiger!

  61. #60 Owen,
    We had wards long before correlation and none of these things happened.

  62. And if anyone does go to Helsinki, I highly recommend the Arla sauna in Kallio. You might want to watch an Aki Kaurismäki film first to get in the right frame of mind (along those lines, the Alku Baari in Kruununhaka is another experience–go for cheap lunch). However, although Arla is in fact simply a legitimate public sauna and a great place to meet the common working man (in a talk-about-the-hockey-match sort of way, not the other way, because you’d probably end up losing teeth), the “Thai massage” parlors in the neighborhood are not places anyone reading this should go.

  63. Well done, Petra.

    Velska, you’re right about the place of Mormons in the society, absolutely. I think that the desire to sing those songs has to do with owning Mormonism to some degree, putting a cultural stamp on it. Those who advocate for it in our ward are not the old-timers, but young people who grew up in the church. I also recognize that my experience has been limited to the big cities.

    Owen, the size of the community is a big issue, both positive and negative. Hope to see you again soon.

  64. What a fascinating post! Finland is now on my list of cool places to visit.

    One of the things I love about being an expat is how it helps me to see which parts of the Church are true essentials, and which just grew out of Utah/Mormon culture. I did a blog post earlier this month about my experiences attending Church in various countries, and started it out with that same mantra: “the Church is the same wherever you go.” So true, and yet so untrue. http://casteluzzo.com/2011/08/09/mormons-abroad/

  65. Geoff - A says:

    Norbert, The church in Finland sounds wonderful though Velska’s experience with the culture of Finland sounds less happy.
    John F I have a similar problem with Facilities Management, we have members do the chapel cleaning and FM have just introduced a rating system so thay will quartely inspect the building and rate our cleaning efforts. I certainly won’t be the one to tell a member their toilet cleaning has only been rated 3 out of 5.
    On a different front we lived in a tourist/arty area called the Blue Mountains and someone had a non member Architect design a new chapel when we were entitled to one (they have a good one in Yellowstone) ours has the Baptismal font in the corner of the foyer (because baptism by immersion is central to our beliefs), and we had troughs of water that reflected water patterns onto the chapel ceiling. We also had louvers on the side the wind came from in a very cold climate, which we blocked off.
    There are definitely differences in the church depending on the culture there. The Blue mountains was a very welcoming and inclusive ward where for example deacons in turtle neck sweaters passed the sacrament. I now live in a more conservative area of Australia, and this week recieved some propaganda from my HP leader asking us to contact politicians with anti same sex marriage ideas. He refused to discuss it when I asked him to justify/explain his stand. Over 60% of citizens aprove same sex marriages so I expect it will pass anyway.

  66. Geoff, I’m aware of the Blue Mountains chapel to which you are referring and have seen pictures of it, etc. It does look like a breath of fresh air compared to normal correlated LDS ward buildings. My own ward building is an urban chapel with a refreshing look that draws in people from the community because of its prime location in an urban center.

  67. As to having a facilities management person inspect and rate the members’ job in cleaning the building on a quarterly basis, that is exactly what I am talking about with my observations about McChurch making members who come for religious reasons feel like employees of a corporation. This should not be happening.

    By the way, to respond to an earlier commenter, in my view facilities management people are not “local leaders” or even priesthood leaders in any meaningful sense. If I am not mistaken, they are Church employees, not lay ecclesiastical leaders. But just because they happen to be Church employees does not mean that they should be treating members of the wards for which they are responsible like employees of a corporation.

  68. Owen, are you a Waterford alum?

  69. john f. when paid employment intersects with magnifying your calling bad things can happen. Facilities management exhibit A, CES exhibit B.

  70. #68 Joanne: as in I worked there, yes!

    #61 Bob: Yes they did. The litany of apostasy, misuse of funds, and dangerous, criminal nonsense is endless. I won’t repeat the things I know publicly because they could literally damage the standing of the church in some places.

  71. I’ll second #69 though.

  72. @ Owen, “veneer of cultural crapitude” = awesome.

    A lifelong family friend built an authentic Finnish sauna in his basement. (I’ve never been to Finland, so I don’t know for sure, but I’m told it’s authentic. Finns in the area would hear of him and ask to come use his sauna, so I guess that’s something.) I grew up with a sauna several times a year. Good steam. (At one point I knew how to say that in Finnish.) Rolling in the snow. Sausages. Finnish mustard. A nap before we headed home. Mmmm :)

    Thanks for this post. It reminded me of how much I miss the sauna and want to go to Finland now. It’s nice every once in a while to be reminded that there is much good under the veneer of cultural crapitude, much that I love dearly. I could go on and on about what bugs me and what’s worth keeping, but much of that has already been said, so I won’t. Just thanks. This post and comments made my day.

  73. #65 – Geoff “I have a similar problem with Facilities Management, we have members do the chapel cleaning and FM have just introduced a rating system so thay will quartely inspect the building and rate our cleaning efforts.”

    If they are THAT fussy, they should pay to have it cleaned. Members are not professional maintenance crew.

  74. Sharee Hughes says:

    On a visit to England, my friends and I attended the Hyde Park Ward in London. In Relief Society, the RS President got up and said, “I know that you are used to having visitors introduce themselves at the beginning of the meeting. We don’t do that in this ward. So that you visitors won’t have your feelings hurt, I’ll demonstrate why. How many of you are visitors?” About half of the over 100 sisters there raised their hands. “So you see,” she continued. “If you all introduced yourselves, we wouldn’t have time for the lesson.” I rather ejoyed that departure from normal, as I have never seen the point of people you will never see again standing and introducing themselves. You forget their names 30 secons later, anyway. Now, new members in the ward, yes. We need to get to know them. But visitors on vacation, no. We should, of course, welcome them, and I have certainly been welcomed very warmly in wards I have visited in various parts of the country, whether or not I have had to publicly introduce myself.

    The church is the same, doctrinally, everywhere, but it is nice to have cultural differences from place to place.

  75. Sharee, I lived in that ward for 2 years. We ended up having special classes for visitors during the third hour –covering the history of the church in Britain — so they didn’t overwhelm quorum and relief society meetings.

  76. very cool idea Norbert.

  77. That is great.

  78. I was born in Finland, I joined the church in England while studying there, then moved back to Finland after my mission in Sweden (where I served with all-American companions and other missionaries). Now being back I find myself in a strange process, that I am still in the middle of, of trying to figure out all the unique local things of this Church experience (are they ever going to make me a Visiting Teacher? Am I supposed to tell them I could be one, or do they just think that because I live so far that I shouldn’t do it? How do you pay fast offering here? And why doesn’t anyone use the title ‘elder’ for the missionaries?)

    I’m really interested in how non-Finnish mormons describe the Finnish mormon thing (though I don’t consider myself a Finnish mormon) and I’m constantly bugging the missionaries to tell me about their perception of the Church in Finland. So it is a great delight to find this post by you, Norbert, and it seems that there are 10 years worth of more postings, so I’ll go back to lurking-mode now and go find them :)

  79. The idea of whether the church is the same everywhere or not, seems to be part of the old problem of being able to distinguish between the church and the people. To me, the church is the same everywhere I go, for this one simple reason: I feel the same Spirit. And that, to me, is another very strong proof that the church is true. Then, of course, cultural behaviour among people differs all over the world, and will colour your church experience. But that is not part of the church! :) So, for the church to feel the same, bring the Spirit in that same manner, *despite* the cultural differences – this is quite an accomplishment, which, as I said before, to me is a proof of how true it is.

  80. I found the talk about FM entertaining. I’ve seen FM people act like they’re the ones really running this Church. Well, I know some have been also reminded by an Apostle, that they are supposed to serve the Priesthood and other leaders of local units, not boss them around.

    I find cultural differences a very good thing. I’d be very bored and disappointed, if there weren’t any.

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