After a two-year struggle following the end of their rent contract at their temple of the past twenty years, Finnish devotees have secured a new temple for rent, a beautiful traditional Finnish log Manor in the Malmi district of Helsinki.
Now, they’re applying modern technology to realize an ever-elusive dream: they’re attempting to use crowdfunding to purchase the Manor and make it the first temple ISKCON Finland has ever owned outright.
ISKCON preachers, including Smita Krishna Swami, Janananda Swami and Devamrita Swami first came to the Nordic country from Sweden in the 1970s, and the first temple in Helsinki opened in 1982.
“It was a basement, and while I wasn’t there at the time, many say it was a bit gloomy and cramped,” says current vice president Avadhuta Chandra Das, who serves with temple president Tapo Divyam Das. “But it also attracted many people to Krishna consciousness, with about 200 people visiting daily for lunch in the ‘80s.”
Since then ISKCON has always operated in Helsinki from rented facilities, most notably the always packed city center flat it occupied for twenty years from the early 1990s onwards.
But when the flat’s rent contracted ended in 2012, devotees were launched into a series of painful negotiations with Helsinki City for a new place, which saw them promised a building only to have it illegally whisked out from under their noses by a group of businessmen.
The public and the media on its side, ISKCON was eventually offered a new place in Malmi by the City. The property is within the city of Helsinki but outside the city center, making it easily accessible by public transport yet peaceful and somewhat secluded, with no worry of neighbors being bothered by kirtans.
The 140-year-old main Manor on the property and its 300-year-old satellite building are both Finnish log houses, which are known for their durability. The courtyard is a protected Finnish traditional milieu, nestled amongst venerable old trees, that nurtures a peaceful atmosphere.
Since ISKCON began renting the Manor in February 2014, 70 to 100 people have been attending the weekly Sunday Feasts, including a number of newcomers. Only six devotees reside in the temple, but there’s an active 200-person congregation, with up to 500 attending on festival days.
As it always has in Finland, book distribution continues on steadily, while a bi-weekly Food For Life program began this summer, and school groups are visiting the Manor once a week. Meanwhile devotees have been invited to universities to speak in classes on education, psychology and philosophy.
“The atmosphere in the academic world is open, and they seem to welcome us not as a curiosity but rather as a valid alternative,” says Avadhuta Chandra.
With ISKCON officially registered as a religious community in Finland, devotees are also allowed to teach Krishna consciousness at schools to students whose parents are ISKCON members. Some – mainly of Indian background – have since become dedicated devotees, and there are currently 100 students taking these classes.
With all this, it’s clear that ISKCON Helsinki is a thriving outreach effort, with a lot of potential to build on. So it’s no surprise that devotees want to not only hold onto their new property, but make it a long term center for self-realization and God consciousness in Finland.
Already, they are working with Finnish log experts and interior designers to renovate the Malmi Manor while preserving its value as a traditional Finnish house. And although residents are currently staying in the main building, there are plans to renovate the satellite building to turn it into an ashram with space for forty celibate students.
In the meantime, with or without help, the devotees are moving ahead soon to buy the property. But with an income based on book distribution and a small modestly-earning congregation, the €260,000 price tag would mean taking loans and paying them back through years of endeavor, with a likely negative impact on preaching efforts.
That is, of course, if ISKCON Helsinki went it on its own. But instead, the community is trying a unique approach: it has launched a crowdfunding campaign at Indiegogo, which has already raised over €9,000 in just over a week.
“I feel crowdfunding is an innovative medium which can be used in ISKCON, in special projects or cases where a small yatra is in financial difficulty,” says Avadhuta. “In this way, we can come together as a Society to help out in a situation of actual need.”
Avadhuta hopes the worldwide ISKCON community as well as friends of ISKCON will rise to the occasion. At the Indiegogo campaign page, “A Place to Serve Everyone,” there are options for people of all income brackets to help, from €11, to €108, to €5,000, all the way up to €100,000. Each donation option has a different thank-you reward attached, from maha-prasadam and Deity pictures to free accommodation at the temple for seven days a year for the rest of your life.
“Crowdfunding is a good idea because a large number of people can participate in it very easily,” he says. “The idea is that many people donate a little and some a lot. In this way crowdfunding does not become a big burden for one individual, but together we can accomplish great things, like the Mosque in Joplin, USA, that recently collected over $411,000 USD to rebuild.”
Avadhuta also expresses that those who cannot help financially can be a great help by sharing a link to the campaign on Facebook and other social media sites.
Once the Manor in Malmi is purchased, the future is bright for ISKCON Helsinki. For the first time in thirty years, ISKCON Finland will have its own property, while Helsinki City has even agreed to sell another plot where a full-size Vedic-style temple can be built in the future.
“We appeal to all ISKCON devotees to help us in this project to purchase the Manor,” Avadhuta says. “From this place, Krishna consciousness can be preached all over Finland.”
To contribute, please visit www.igg.me/at/spiritualplace[ finland ]