Apart from the historic nature of the first Mission Province ordination by Matti Väisänen in itself (see previous posts), history was being made in another sense as well.
One of the ordinands was Eero Pihlava, who has the distinction of being the first-ever graduate of Westfield House, Cambridge, to be ordained as pastor in Finland.
Several years ago, Eero took the courageous step of becoming a guinea pig for an alternative route for ordination by enrolling as a student at Westfield House, the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England. He did this in order to receive biblical and confessional pastoral training rather than the liberal academic training available in the Finnish universities.
The move was courageous because it was full of uncertainties — there was no guarantee that his training would ever be recognised in Finland. Yet God has blessed his sacrifice and Eero, a very gifted preacher as well as a fine singer, will now begin work as assistant pastor of St. Mark’s, the Helsinki congregation of Luther Foundation Finland.
Here are some thoughts Eero penned just before his ordination:
When I started my seminary studies in England, my parents gave me Bible as a present with the following verse written on the first page of it: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” (1 Tim 4:16) Eternity is at hand in the office, salvation, that of the pastor and his hearers.
A few days before my ordination the verse makes me grateful as it reminds me of all my good teachers and pastors who have taught me the Gospel. I am grateful for my parents, fellow christians, seminary colleagues and the faculty of Westfield House (ELCE, Cambridge) who have nurtured and supported me thus far on my call to study God’s word for the eternal benefit of His congregation. I am also in great debt for brothers and sisters in US (LCMS, Friends of Westfield House) who have supported generously my studies and our church in Finland. I have been kept on close watch and good teaching.
The verse reminds me also of the coming weight of responsibility on my shoulders. Teaching and living the gospel of Christ is more easily said than done. When our neighbours eternal salvation is said to be connected with our activities a fear starts to creep in. Am I fit for the office? Our personal abilities may be measured in money, achievements, long working hours, diligent study etc. However, when we are dealing with eternity and once in a life time events like death, baptism and for some ordination, measures for our worthiness become secondary or even useless. It is here where Christ’s work begins. It is he who gives eternal hope for the dying. It is he who sealed us in baptism with his name for eternity. It is he and he only who is “the teaching” of ordained ministers. “Persist in this,” Paul says and “you will save both yourself and your hearers”.
Persisting on apostolic faith has not received public popularity in our Finnish context. However Christ has continued to serve his congregations in Finland through “the teaching” despite of these opinions. It is this reality of the church’s faith which gives me courage to enter the office with joy and excitement. Living Jesus Christ will save me and my hearers.