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250th anniversary of Nedervetil parish congregation


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Picture courtesy GSF
A landmark which has stood in the middle of Nedervetil parish for many years is the church. From its place on Church Hill (Kyrkbacken) it is an eye-catcher for the people living there as well as for those passing by. In early times the people in the countryside of Nedervetil wanted to have their own church, mainly because the distance to Karleby church was too far, but there was also the need for independence.

The congregation began as a chapel to Karleby mother congregation. The first request for permission to build their own chapel was made in 1750, and approval was given in 1752. The church was built by church builder Matts Honga and was paid for by the nearly 500 people who belonged to the parish congregation. By 1896 Nedervetil had become an independent congregation and they had made two renovations and enlarged the church.

The first pastor of the congregation was Anders Chydenius. During his term in Nedervetil the parish became prosperous. He was anxious to bring Christianity to the parish. He was an innovative pioneer who brought information, initiative and ideas such as agriculture, cattle breeding, cultivation and healthy living. His many contributions to politics were significant in the Parliament, such as guaranteeing freedom of the press in the country.

The first church was built during 1751-54. The bell tower is from the 1760s and the poor box that is located in the wall of the bell tower is representative of the Ostrobothnian poor boxes. An enlargement of the first church was begun in 1817. There is no further information about the church except for an inventory list which states the church interior was white-limed and the exterior was covered with boards and painted red.

The largest renovation was carried out in 1889-91 when the organ loft was built, the floor and seats were renewed, the cupola was enlarged and the columns were moved outward. The stately pulpit, built for the first church, remained in its old place and a new altarpiece was acquired. The latest renovation was completed in 1967. Over the years the church has been furnished with textiles to enrich the worship service and provide a setting for church functions.

In olden times it was customary to bury the dead under the church floor, and this was also done in Nedervetil. Eventually the ground around the church was put to use as a cemetery, and in 1875 they began to sell grave plots. In 1907 more ground was acquired for a new cemetery and in 1950 a grave cellar was built. In 1948 a monument was provided for graves of soldiers killed in action.

The parsonage which was built by the river in Tast is also part of parish history. It was important to Nedervetil residents that Chydenius and his wife should live in the beautifully situated parsonage. It was built of pine and consisted of three rooms, a kitchen and entrance hall, as well as a cellar with a granite vault. Around the house were farm buildings, a combination baking and bath cottage, a grain shed, an animal barn, and wood shed. The parsonage and other buildings have gone through many changes over the years, and the biggest change was in 2001 when the use of the parsonage was discontinued and the house and buildings were sold.

Among notable people who have a connection the early history of the church is church painter Johan Backman (1709-1765). He built and painted the pulpit as well as he painted the first altarpiece representing Holy Communion. The mid-renaissance pulpit is regarded as a very valuable work of art. Since the time of Chydenius the parish pastors have enjoyed complete confidence among parishioners. The congregations have treated them with respect, humor and esteem. The performance of the pastors during difficult times has helped to establish a spiritual base in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Nedervetil parish.

Rev. F. W. Neunstedt served in Nedervetil parish in the early 1900s when the Åkerblom movement in Gamlakarleby was of current interest. Thanks to Neunstedt’s repudiation of the movement and the parish confidence in its pastor, the movement never achieved a large foothold here. Neunstedt followed traditions from the time of Chydenius to gather parishioners in the parsonage on Sunday afternoons for Bible study. During these occasions Sunday school was held and the children were taught about the Bible. Later pastors, e.g. C. A. Vester, also arranged for Bible teaching in the Sunday school. During the 1900s there were about 10 active Sunday schools in the parish.

At the beginning of Finland’s independence, there was a need for organized activities within the community and the parish. The search for identity and the need to belong to a group was expressed in various forms of organized activities. Rev. Alarik Forsblom served at the time in Nedervetil and he was interested in forming a young people’s group. In 1919 the parish established a youth group that became the Förbundet Kyrkans Ungdom (Church Youth Union) in 1922. To become a member of this group, one had to be a confirmed member of the congregation. There were 60 active members at the beginning and the number rose to over 100 in the 1930s. There was a spiritual awakening across the area in the 1950s and the membership doubled. In 2002 there were 188 members.

In 1926-27 the members of the organization built their own parish building and it was consecrated in 1927. It became a true home for the parish residents for 45 years and was in active use until the new parish home was acquired by the church in 1972. Thanks to the youth group, the traditional activities of the parish were extended. Through campaigns, festivals and meetings a new forum for spiritual deepening was created.

Worship service has always been the cornerstone in parish life. During the 250th anniversary of the history of the parish, development in the community has been very turbulent and Finland has gone through great changes and difficult war times. The reactions to culture and tradition, and the spiritual dimensions in the lives of the people have changed. It is still remarkable how small the actual changes have been in the performance of church services through these years. The people want stability and safety in life to remain the same despite turbulence in the world. This stability was sought by parishioners in the church service. The Nedervetil congregation actively takes part in renewal through the church service. During recent years one can say that the changes are marginal in the light of history. A modernizing of the language and an increased participation by laymen in the church has brought a revival into the lives of people. The church stands open and welcomes us to meet the Saviour during the good times of life as well as during sorrow. It is the same today as it has been for a quarter of a century.

Nedervetil parish has always been a bilingual parish. The Finnish-speaking population is about 20% of the total population. Part of the official duties of the church such as baptism and funeral services are carried out, when necessary, in two languages. The parish also has activites that pertain only to the Finnish-speaking. As a rule, one Finnish-speaking service is held per month.

Throughout history music has held a great significance in the church. The mission of instrumental and vocal music is to enrich the service. The church organ was acquired in 1975. Through hymn singing the congregation has taken part in songs of praise and prayer. Nedervetil parish has a church choir that was started by Elsa Forsblom with the youth group in the 1920s. A string band was developed over a 20-year period, but this stopped for several years and was revived in the 1950s. At the end of the 1960s the youth of the church started a brass band and a youth choir which became an entrance for the young people to the youth circle of the congregation.

A congregation is a forum for the needs of the people for a holy room and a place for religious meetings. Nedervetil parish has a spiritual foundation which has built up from the time of Chydenius. During times of great need and turbulence the church in Nedervetil has worked to contribute to the spiritual needs of the congregation. The congregation has become what it is through the activites that are pursued there. The mother congregation in Nedervetil has a versatile operation where nearly everyone is older. Sunday school, communion class and reading sessions can be classed as historical forms of activity while the sewing group, retiree’s meeting, day club for children, scouting and “open house” are newer activities.

The most important parish building is the church that is dedicated to man’s meeting with God. A meeting with God implies not a physical building, but a need for structure in the lives of people. The primary form of organizing one’s life and development can be found in the family. Family life and parish life have many common contacts. Perhaps active participation by the family can give the parish of the 2000s the challenge to stimulate activities so the church will have a living function in one’s real life?

Siv Vähämäki-Sundman

English translation by June Pelo

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