PARIS – This Sunday, a Harrison reverend will give a sermon in Finnish at the Trinity Lutheran Church in Paris – a rare opportunity for those who speak the Scandinavian language to hear it, and moreover, hear it describe sacred matters.

The Rev. Henry Leino has been offering the sermon annually for 20 years, accompanied on the organ for all that time by his wife, Miriam.

Leino expects between 30 and 60 people at the sermon. They’ll come mostly from Harrison, Paris, West Paris and a few from the coastal area. Over the years, the number of Finnish speakers in the region has dwindled.

“Finnish language is dying in the area,” Leino said. “The Finnish community has pretty much become Americanized.”

Leino, who grew up with 13 siblings in Harrison, spoke Finnish as a child. Both his parents immigrated from Finland.

He said Scandinavians were attracted to this part of the country, where many settled in the early 20th century, partly because the landscape reminded them of home.

“They liked the lakes and forest,” he said. “It’s very much like Finland.”

Barbara Payne, an active member of the local Finnish-American Heritage Society of Maine, said the first Fin to settle here in 1890 was Jacob Mikkonen, who later anglicized his name to McKeen. Many more Fins followed him, with the heaviest migration ending before World War I.

While Payne is not sure how many people here have Finnish blood, she said the Heritage Society sends out 300 newsletters, with 61 going out of state to people who like to stay in touch with their roots.

The Finnish churches in the area used to conduct only-Finnish services, which then turned into Finnish and English services. Now all they offer are English.

“They have dropped the Finnish completely,” Payne said. “We are fortunate still to have Rev. Leino to do it once a year.”

Leino studied Finnish at a seminary in Hancock, Mich., in order to offer sermons in Finnish. He worked at a number of churches before retiring to Maine in 1986. Since then, he’s been offering his annual sermon here, which comes with Finnish hymns and Finnish treats, like nisu, a Finnish coffee bread made with cardamom.

The sermon will focus on St. John the Baptist, a particularly Finnish subject for this time of year.

“Every year about this time we have St. John’s Day, a midsummer festival in Finland,” he said. “We used to have them, just about every church held a St. John’s festival, a turning-into-summer festival.”

So, does he speak Finnish other than at his annual sermon?

When he greets those he knows have Finnish blood in them, Leino says, “”Hyvaa paivaa” or “good day.”

“And then we turn to English,” he said.


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