When we think of church planting we often think about something brand new. But there is a movement across Europe to ‘replant’ the church. Recently, I was in in Helsinki where a ‘new/old’ church had its first service in more than 30 years.
The story goes like this. The Lutheran church in the center of the city had brought revival three times in the history of Finland. It was eventually sold as the denomination needed the money since many members were leaving the mainline church and taking their money elsewhere. The church became a restaurant, then a disco, then a bar, another restaurant, etc.
The owner finally came back to the Lutheran leadership and asked them to lease the property for the next 50 years. He said obviously God must want this building back as no business could ever make it work. The strange thing is that an office building had been built around the church, including the steeple, with only the doors still visible. When the story broke the secular media began to write stories about this ‘new thing’ in the center of Helsinki. A man from another city called the offices of the Lutheran church in Helsinki. He said he had been walking by the church when the doors were closed 30 years ago and saw the old cross lying in a garbage pile in the street. He took it home to his town, 136 kilometers away. When he heard on the news that the church would reopen in May of 2016 he said he had the original cross from the 1800s when the church had first been built. The news media picked up on this and there was a decision to walk the cross back to Helsinki and place it back on the stage.
When we went to the opening ceremonies on Saturday where we were blessed with beautiful music. First the praise band played a mix of violin, sax, drums and electric guitars that blended to be both contemporary and historic hymns. Then a lady who is known across Finland gave her testimony. She recounted how when she was a teenager and young twenty-something she would go to this church that had become a bar. She would drink and dance with her friends. Now, she told us, that she is singing for Jesus in the same place where once she was lost. Her voice was beautiful and the hundreds there were touched as many were crying.