Ahti Hirvonen

Ahti Hirvonen’s mission

Ahti Hirvonen, President of the Union Bank of Finland (86), was the Chairman of the Executive Board of Mission Helsinki. He describes the 18-member main board as one of the best teams of his life.

– I would have been ready to take over almost any big company with that team,  Hirvonen says.

That certainly means something, coming from a man with decades of leadership experience. And the rest went down in church history.

Banking Director’s Process

Ahti Hirvonen committed his life to Christ at the age of 49. The process took several years in the 1980’s.

– I was Vice President of SYP at the time and I wondered how to tell the story and take it to the workplace. In the family circles I had already told everyone about it, Hirvonen remembers.

– In the autumn of 1981 Mika Tiivola invited me into his office. He was chairman and CEO of SYP’s Board of Directors. Mr. Tiivola said he had decided to leave the position of the CEO and offered it to me.

Ahti Hirvonen thought that the matter of having become a Christian needed to be clarified before accepting the position and asked for a week’s thinking time.

– After a week I told Tiivola that before going forward with other things he needed to know that I had become a Christian. To my surprise, Tiivola responded immediately. He said it was a great thing and that it was my private matter, not the bank’s.

After the meeting, Ahti Hirvonen wondered how he should continue telling about his faith at work. He asked the Bank’s Head of Public Relations to join him.

– I said to him that we will not communicate it actively, but that I wanted to tell him in person so that he would not deny it if asked.

When the appointment of the CEO was announced, Ahti Hirvonen told his management team about his faith.

– You could have heard a pin drop, but nobody had any questions.

As a result of the nomination, Hirvonen was interviewed by Talouselämä Magazine. In that interview he also talked about his faith. After the interview was published, there was no longer any need to think about telling about his faith. Everyone knew after that.

– After that many people that I would have never expected started talking to me about spiritual things and about their faith.

Would you have anything to do with me?

When Ahti Hirvonen moved from Espoo to Helsinki in the summer of 1981, he decided to become an active member of his new home parish. Hirvonen asked for an appointment with the vicar of his new church, Taivallahti.

– I told him that I had moved into the neighborhood and asked if he had anything for me to do, Hirvonen says smiling at this memory.

He was nominated as a candidate for the next church elections, and elected with the highest number of votes.

– So I started both in the church council and as SYP’s Managing Director all on the same day!

Later Veikko Pöyhönen from SKSK and Harri Heino from Church Research Center came to meet Ahti Hirvonen. They asked him to stand for election at the SKSK, whose delegation was chaired by bishop Samuel Lehtonen. Hirvonen agreed and became the chairman of the Board of Directors of SKSK. Later, he was also elected to the Executive Committee of the Finnish Missionary Society.

Maybe you should take it

Mission Helsinki President Bishop Samuel Lehtonen asked Ahti Hirvonen to be Chairman of Mission Helsinki’s Executive Board.

– Samuel Lehtonen and Erik Vikström actively stood behind Mission Helsinki, other bishops did not. I did not respond positively at first because I had so many other responsibilities at work and at church. A couple of weeks later Lehtonen called again. I talked with Mika Tiivola, told him what I had been asked to do and why I had refused. He was silent for a moment. Then he said: maybe you should take it anyway. I think the bishop had talked to him in advance.

Ahti Hirvonen says there was not much to say after that.

It was almost a mandate, and there was no need to think about whether I could or couldn’t do it.

Hirvonen met Billy Graham’s team representatives at the Lahti Church Days and in Amsterdam at the Congress of Evangelism. Things developed in Amsterdam. There were many people from Finland, including Juhani Peltonen, who later served as Secretary General of the Mission.

– Amsterdam was a good congress. We spent wonderful evenings together with the other Finns talking about reforming the Church. Many of the ideas that we had then are still ongoing.

It’s question of survival

– The situation after Mission Helsinki was delicate because the crusade was so successful. The common opinion was that something else should be done. Then, for example, a committee for Finnish missions was found, Ahti Hirvonen remembers.

At that time Tuomasmessu was born.

– I believe Mission Helsinki had a great impact on the birth of Tuomasmessu. Mission Helsinki had many other effects too. For myself, I told Miikka Ruokanen and Olli Valtonen that it is nonsense that large parishes organize worship services for audiences of no more than 35 people. I asked them if the services could be arranged in any other way to attract more interest.

Hirvonen adds that the spirit was high for a few years after the mission.

– After that it has been going down. But if Mission Helsinki had not taken place, then this sort of spiritual recession would have come much earlier, he believes. But Agricola Church’s Tuomasmessu is still Finland’s most popular worship service.

Shortly before the Kuopio Church Day in 1991, Samuel Lehtonen abandoned his bishop’s duties. Eero Huovinen was elected as the successor to the SKSK board in Kuopio in place of Lehtonen.

– I invited Huovinen to the bank for a visit and told him about my spiritual duties, where the focus had been on Mission Helsinki and the promotion of evangelism. Huovinen said that these things have never been close to him. But he also visited the Tuomasmessu often and often also preached there.

Ahti Hirvonen is sad that evangelism is not present in the Church in the same way as it was before. A few years ago it was planned to invite Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham, to Finland, and Hirvonen was involved in the process.

– There was not enough wide interest behind the event. The Lutheran parishes did not take part.

Hirvonen states that now it is a question of the survival and future of the Church.

– The disputes about equal marriage and many other things are much smaller issues. Evangelization has disappeared completely from the Church. But it is exactly evangelism that should be at the heart of Church activity, Ahti Hirvonen sums up.