The Finnish Church grew out of The Finnish Seamen’s Mission – Suomen Merimieskirkko ry – which was established in 1875 to help and support Finns (mostly seafarers and migrant workers) who were experiencing problems during their time abroad. The first UK missionary was Elis Bergroth, who was posted to Grimsby and Hull in 1880, but soon moved to London on account of the greater volume of workers in the capital. The present church building – the only Merimieskirkko in the UK – dates from 1958 and is Grade-II listed.
The architect, Cyrill Mardall-Sjöström, first designed the building before the Second World War; however, by the time it could be built the original site – a plot in Southwark Park – was no longer available, so a new location was found in Rotherhithe, an area with existing Scandinavian and Nordic connections. The architecture is distinctively mid-century Modern, with none of the usual embellishments one might expect on an ecclesiastical structure. It is also unusual also for having a free-standing bell-tower, completely apart from the main building. Inside, the nave is a bright, airy space with unfussy décor, including a wood-lined ceiling and large, clear glass windows. Serving as a secular as much as a religious hub for Finnish expatriates, the building also features a shop, café and – most essentially for Finns – a sauna.