A Light on the Hill
Hilldale Lutheran Church (ELCIC)
Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
Pastor Sirpa Tolppanen
A journey through our history, from our first location on Secord Street
to where we are located now on Hilldale Road.
The Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church (1950 – 1996)
On September 8, 1950 a group of Finnish people gathered for Bible study. During the course of that meeting, an idea was put forth by the group’s chairperson, Mr. Julius Luojus, about creating a congregation in the city of Port Arthur that would be based on the teachings of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
In their second meeting, they received news of a church being put up for sale at 70 Secord Street. They jumped at the chance immediately and so it was, that the old Swedish church was bought for $2,500.00.
On September 22, 1950, the third meeting was held in the newly bought church building. The church was also given its name at this meeting, the Independent Finnish Evangelical-Lutheran Church. The fledgling congregation had 58 members.
Almost immediately, the congregation began planning renovations for the church – the old church was moved to the back of the property and became the parsonage, and a new sanctuary was constructed in front of it. The downstairs would hold a meeting hall and kitchen. The dedication ceremony for the new church was held September 23, 1956. The congregation had grown immensely by now, due to new immigrants arriving from Finland almost weekly.
Over the years, there were numerous ministers attending and serving the congregation. There were also times when the congregation had to provide speakers from within their own ranks, as it was not very easy to get Finnish ministers to come to Canada. However, much was achieved during this time. The needs of the Finnish community were well served with Bible Circles, outreach programs, ladies’ groups, while young people received teaching through Sunday school, confirmation, and youth groups.
From the beginning, there were also many attempts to join the Manitoba Northwestern Ontario synod. However, there seemed to be a strong independent streak among the Finns, because it was always voted down. Finally, in 1983, during Sakari Nurmesviita’s tenure, and after numerous requests by the Church of Finland for us to join other Lutherans, the congregation voted 114 to 8 in favour of joining the synod. Thus, on April 15, 1983 we officially joined the MNO Synod.
Everything seemed to be going well. The congregation had bought a new parsonage on Evans Street, and in 1984 a summer camp was bought on One Island Lake. The latter served as a retreat for young and old, and also provided a location for Bible camp, confirmation camp, picnics, etc.
Hilldale Lutheran Church
(1996 – present)
As ideas are bounced around, they become more definite thoughts, and they become aspirations and goals; they take form and become real.
Early in 1992, a group sat down once again, this time with Pastor Leo Glad at the helm, to discuss the future of our congregation. How to serve better future generations, provide room for growth, and still take care of the aging Finnish population. The result of those ideas was a new church, a new name, and new ideas for reaching out to the community.
With tremendous preparation, volunteer effort, donations, and downright sisu (stubborn determination), we have before us this house of God. Enormous by previous standards, and beautiful in its simplicity. Reflecting our heritage, and at the same time reaching out to serve the needs of all who desire to hear the word of God. Our new name is Hilldale Lutheran Church. Construction of the new church began in 1995, and a dedication service was held on December 1, 1996. The move from the old church to the new was a heart-wrenching experience. We held a ceremony at the old church, and a procession led the way to the new church where another ceremony was held. It was like a mother releasing her child to the world never to see him again.
The new church also did not come without its problems. We were sometimes reminded that we were not the masters in this great project, and this rang especially true when the City of Thunder Bay closed the doors of the church. Before we could get an occupancy permit, we had to complete certain things – and so the pressure was on to get these done, so we could open the doors for Christmas. Despite all the problems and frustrations, the congregation persevered and we have now completed all of the construction projects and are occupying a beautiful facility. And now, with the new building comes a new spirit; new life, new challenges, and new hope.
The English mission is now a very important part of our church ministry. It was begun already in the last year at the old church. Our first English mission pastor was Brian Krushel. His dedication and hard work left the church with a core English congregation, and our new mission pastor Andrew Hinwood would continue to build on it and expand. This is, of course, where our future lies. Andrew stayed with us until 2003 and then left to accept a position at Trinity Lutheran in Wisconsin. Ed Long then became our English interim pastor until retirement in the Spring of 2006. In that year Arleen Berg accepted the position of Associate Pastor to serve the English congregation until her retirement in September 2013. Then in June 2014, we welcomed a new English pastor to our church family when Rev. Nancy Ringham accepted the position of Associate Pastor. She is enthusiastically devoting her time to the English congregation as well as endeavouring to get to know the Finnish congregation as well.
Presently, the Finnish side of the congregation has been ably taken care of by Pastor Jari Lahtinen but has retired as of July 31, 2022.
Pastor Sirpa Tolppanen is our full-time bilingual (Finnish and English) pastor. She accepted the call and her Installation Service was held on Sunday, November 13, 2022.
We would like to give thanks to all those who have made this dream a reality: the MNO Synod and ELCIC for believing in us enough to support us in this great endeavour; the planners and architects at Kuch & Stephenson; the numerous people who willingly gave their time and money to help us through to this end. Special thanks should be given to Aarne Mäkinen and Minna Koski, who were chairpersons during the most difficult and demanding phases of the building project. Also to Kari Jämsä and Arto Elonen, supervisor of construction and building committee chair respectively, both of whom carried the greatest responsibility for getting the work done. And our appreciation and thanks also go to Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church for giving us shelter while we had no church building, enabling us to provide worship services to our members. The final thanks we give to God for giving us this opportunity to work for Him.