Ethnography Exercise: Finnish Lutheran Church, Los Angeles 4/20/1988
The Finnish Lutheran Church of Los Angeles is situated at 1345 South Burlington Avenue. The modest Gothic Revival frame serves several congregations, actually. Although the sides and rear of the church have ebbed into shabbiness, the facade is well-kept. Its tasteful brick exterior testifies to the wealthier days of this part of Los Angeles. In typically Angeleno style, a rather different interior has been grafted onto the church. The tinted stucco interior no doubt better suits the Hispanic congregation that celebrates their Mass prior to the Finns. It is certainly a long way from Helsinki.
A harmonious arrangement seems to have been reached as regards the use of the adjoining preschool and social rooms. When will. After the service, the majority of the congregation filed into a functional midsized room for coffee and pulla. I gather that on this date, things were a bit more than business as usual. A delegation of Finnish-Canadians from Thunder Bay, Ontario were paying a visit, congregants were getting their pictures taken for the directory, and a member of the congregation was to celebrate his 75th birthday. In short order, the pastor exhorted people to their feet to sing "Happy Birthday", two verses, the second punctuated by a "God bless you!". There was a sporadic stream of people to the head of the room whether the refreshments table was located. As one proceeded right to left, one encountered disposable plates and silverware, cookies, pulla (a Finnish sweetbread), and fixings for the coffee dispensed adjacent to the table. After receiving your cup of coffee from the gracious woman who dispensed it, you could pour in some cream from a dispenser of obviously Finnish influence. A carton of half-and-half was nestled in a wooden holder bearing a resemblance to traditional wooden buckets with the exception that it was square, the better to hold the carton.
Although the room was cozy, it was able accommodate the 30 or so people who were seated in it. There were five or six round tables covered with vinyl tablecloths with the appearance of fine linen and lace. Groups of 3-6 people were seated at these tables to enjoy coffee and conversation. Others were seated at the side or head of the room. There was a dull roar of private conversation that was occasionally interrupted by announcements of the pastor and a musical presentation from the Thunder Bay visitors. The majority of the conversation took place in Finnish. Everyone had very good manners; I struggled to be as dainty as I could. The man next to me seemed to have some disability. He often gesticulated that he desired more cake or coffee and some caring person would visit the head of the room on his behalf. The younger people (I would say only 10% of the congregation was younger than 40) would often oblige the older members by helping with the serving in managing the cleanup.
There was unhurried atmosphere. Later on, people drifted into the preschool room in order to view a nostalgic slideshow and partake of a pea soup lunch. A former pastor was running a slideshow that consisted of individual and group portraits of former and present members of the congregation. He had a startling memory and even when he had the throw an identification question out to his audience, he was generally able to answer it himself given a minute or two. Many of the slide subjects were deceased but the general attitude was respectful one rather than somber. Heading out into the hallway one could see a bookshelf which had pamphlets and children's books in several languages. There was a booklet on the Kalevala (the Finnish folk epic) but I cannot recall whether it was in English or Finnish. One could bounce between the preschool room, the hallways and the coffee room; Conversations were going on throughout. There seemed to be a few happy reunions; People who had not stopped by in a while were lured back by the photo-taking sessions.
When I went out again, I could see the Korean congregation socializing in the large auditorium. It seemed as well. The smaller room better suited to tea-at-home atmosphere that I encountered at the Finnish Lutheran Church.