Salem First Finnish Methodist Episcopal Church, located six-and-a-half miles west of Moose Lake, was founded in 1891—making it the first Finnish Methodist church in the United States.
The church burned down in 1918, but several groups are now trying to honor a piece of history by placing a memorial at the site where it was located.
The church’s founding minister, John H. Michaelson, became a Methodist in 1887. Having settled in Moose Lake and having previously been chosen as a local preacher, he gathered a group of people for worship. In 1891, they formed a Methodist congregation. Near Michaelson’s farm, the St. Paul and Duluth Railroad donated land for the church and cemetery.
In 1892, a log church was built. Over the course of several years, Finnish-speaking clergy were appointed. The building was updated and rededicated in 1904.
In a massive fire that swept across the area in 1918, the Finnish-style log church burned down. The cemetery remains.
In 2009, the Commission on Archives and History (which I am part of) began researching the story of this church and its ministry. After gathering history from many sources, the Commission recommended the church be named a Minnesota Conference historic site in 2011.
We also wanted to mark the site of the church, and we issued an invitation to groups in and around Moose Lake and to people with Finnish connections, encouraging them to join us. Thus began the First Finnish Fellowship, a group that includes the Commission, Moose Lake United Methodist Church, the Moose Lake Area Historical Society, the Moose Lake Star Gazette, representatives from FinnFestUSA and the Finnish American Historical Society, Finnish historian Dan Reed, and others.
The group has been meeting to create a marker at the site to remember its mission and ministry, and it decided to take a stone from the ground around Moose Lake and fashion it into a marker.
As Commission Chair Rev. David Werner said, “As the boulders are pulled out of the ground, so can we, by working together, pull out of this charred, stained soil the story of a forgotten history. As the stones stand to pay tribute to those who have gone before, so may we stand together to never let this story be lost again!”
A 10-ton boulder has been excavated and cut to provide a flat face for a brief inscription and a sketch of the original building. The hope is to have two other granite boulders surrounding the one that’s inscribed.
The First Finnish Fellowship is raising funds to pay for the stone and its inscription and installation. About $14,000 is needed to complete this work. Please read this letter (co-written by Werner) for additional details about this effort and how to support it. Moose Lake UMC has agreed to administer donations and expenses for this project.
A dedication is planned for July 6 at 1 p.m. at the site of the church. A reception will follow at 2 p.m. at the Moose Lake Area Historical Society, and a play by Dan Reed—“When We Go To Cut the Grass”—will be performed at the Moose Lake High School auditorium at 3p.m. Everyone is welcome, and I hope you’ll join us in preserving this important piece of Methodist history.
Kathy Johnson is the archivist for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church