WORLD – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has welcomed the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas evaņģēliski luteriskā Baznīca – LELB) into membership.

“We are honoured to welcome the Latvian church into membership in the International Lutheran Council,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt. “I have known Archbishop Jānis Vanags for many years, and I look forward to working more closely with him and the Latvian church in the ILC. May God bless the work of confessional Lutherans worldwide, as together we proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, united in our commitment to the Word of God and to the Lutheran Confessions.”

LELB Archbishop Jānis Vanags speaks during a January 2022 reception hosted by the International Lutheran Council at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

During its 28th Synod in August 2021, the LELB voted to seek membership in the ILC, with 210 votes in favour, 1 against, and 8 abstentions. After reviewing the church’s application, the ILC’s Board of Directors accepted the LELB as an Observer Member during its meeting on January 28, 2022. The LELB’s request for Full Membership in the ILC will be taken up in  Kenya in September 2022 at the ILC’s next World Conference, as decisions on Full Membership must be voted on by the World Conference.

“We thank our God for the partnership in the Gospel which we share as we preach and teach His Infallible Word and administer His sacraments,” said LELB Archbishop Jānis Vanags. “As we make our way together on our journey of faith, we commit ourselves to the love and care of our Heavenly Father.”

As early as the 1520s, the church in Riga, Latvia had begun to sympathize with the teachings of the Reformation. The Livonian Confederation would become the first region outside modern-day Germany to formally adopt Lutheranism. Some parts of Latvia reverted to Roman Catholicism during the Counter-Reformation but the rest remained Lutheran.

Christians in Latvia faced significant hardships during World War II and under Soviet rule. While the Lutheran church counted 200,000 members in 1948, that number dropped to 25,000 by 1991. Since then, the church has experienced a significant period of renewal and reformation. With approximately 700,000 people in Latvia identify as Lutheran, the LELB is the nation’s largest Protestant church body. The church has an official parish membership of 42,000 members and 289 congregations.

Rev. Dr. Andris Kraulins (LELB International Affairs), ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill, and LELB Archbishop Jānis Vanags during meetings in Fort Wayne, Indiana in January 2022.

The LELB has a strong relationship with several other members of the International Lutheran Council, including Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church as well as The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), with which it has enjoyed altar and pulpit fellowship since 2001.

The ILC hosted a reception with Archbishop Vanags on January 18, 2022 at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The event coincided with the seminary’s popular Symposia event, and featured numerous international guests. During his talk, Archbishop Vanags shared the history of his church and the events that led them to seek partnership with the ILC.

The International Lutheran Council is a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies which proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ on the basis of an unconditional commitment to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions.