Peabody was once a major leather processing center In 1739 a leather tanning business was started in then South Danvers. An abundant supply of pure water and closeness to trading ports led to the opening of other firms. By 1835, the town had 3500 vats being used for tanning leather. Peabody became a new home for people from around the world. They experienced the hardships of moving to a strange place, and struggled with transplanting their own cultures while learning to become Americans. When immigrants from Finland began arriving in the Salem-Peabody area in 1893, many of them found work in the leather factories of Peabody. By 1870, Peabody had emerged as a vital industrial center. Technological advances made tanning more efficient and profitable. By 1914, Peabody and Philadelphia were the largest producers of leather on the East Coast.
Finnish immigrants established a church Many of the Finnish settlers lived on a hill above the tanneries. The nearest Finnish congregations were on Cape Ann. There were few pastors available, those who served coming occasionally from as far away as New York. Seamen’s Mission pastors came to Cape Ann to perform ministerial duties on occasion. Dreams of establishing a congregation finally came true at a meeting in January 1904. The first officers elected at the first congregation meeting in January 1904 were Antii Hiltunen as chairman, Kustaa Kleemola as secretary, and Antii Venalainen as treasurer. The members of the council were Vihtori Make, Johan Martiila, Werner Peura and Victor Laakso. St John was chartered by the Commonwealth and the congregation was accepted into the Suomi Synod in 1909. Services were conducted in Finnish until 1972. Beginning in 1955, services were also conducted in English.
The leather industry dominated Peabody for over a half century, peaking in the 1960s followed by a steady decline. With the enforcement of environmental regulations and the closing of single-owner shops, the leather industry has disappeared from the city. But descendants of the early Finnish immigrants remain.
Our Church Building
After being formed in 1904 the new congregation had many difficulties, one of its greatest being the need of a meeting place of its own. Meetings were held at the temperance hall and sometimes in rented church buildings.
At a congregation meeting in October 1908, it was voted to purchase property on King Street. In June 1914 the congregation voted unanimously to begin construction of the present church building. The dedication was held in April 1915.
The curved communion rail was constructed by Antii Sormunen, grandfather of one of our current members.
In 1936, a committee looked into the possibility of building a parsonage and the congregation voted to begin construction.
Our Previous Pastors
Our previous pastor was Rev. Phyles. Raymond Phyles served as pastor at Triumphant Cross Lutheran in Armouk, NY, Before coming to Peabody to serve Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Beverly and finally St John in 1977. After serving our church for 31 years, he continued as pastor emeritus until his death in 2015.
Previous pastors and their tenure with St John:
Prior to 1977, David Halmers, First Lutheran Church, Lynn, and David Gran, Gordon-Conwell student, had served as interim pastor and assistant pastor since 1974.
1973-1974 Daniel Leslie, Prince of Peace, Beverly, was our pastor a short time.
1969-1973 Donovan Hommen began serving while attending Boston University. Finnish language services were discontinued.
Prior to 1969, Rev. Westfield had served as our pastor. Duane Westfield (Aho) was very involved with the youth and while he was here, a boys’ basketball team was formed.
1960-1963 Toivo Rosenberg. The merger which formed the Lutheran Church in America happened soon after he arrived.
1955-1960 Olaf Rankinen. English language services were begun.
1934-1955 Antii Kuusisto was called by three churches – our church and two Cape Ann churches.
1913-1934 Samuel Ronka served until his death in 1934.
1905-1913 Gabriel Lipsanen also served the Cape Ann congregations and the churches in Quincy and Allston.