The article discusses the conflict between lived religion and the state control of poor relief in a modernizing society by analysing the case of Emma Mäkinen’s private orphanage. Emma Mäkinen’s philanthropic work among neglected children was motivated by her Evangelical Revivalist conviction. Because of her trust in the transformative power of faith, she considered it appropriate to establish an orphanage next to a shelter for ‘fallen’ women. This decision led her onto a collision course with the State Inspector of Poor Relief and the general public, who did not share her religious views but emphasized the legislative and moral aspects vis-à-vis organizing social work. The conflict demonstrates, firstly, how the ancien régime and the traditional religious authority of the Evangelical Lutheran state church in particular was challenged by individual agency in voluntary associations such as the Evangelical Revivalist Free Mission. Secondly, the case of Emma Mäkinen’s orphanage reflects how new kinds of boundaries were created by the encroaching of state control into the sphere of private philanthropy, followed by the strengthening role of scientific theories and nationalistic thinking in social work. Thirdly, the conflict opens up a view on border-crossings, thus emphasizing the undefined nature of a modernizing society.