LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas evaņģēliski luteriskā Baznīca – LELB) held its 28th synod on August 6, 2021, during which time the church voted to seek membership in the International Lutheran Council (ILC).
“We are delighted to learn that the Latvian church has voted to seek membership in the International Lutheran Council,” said ILC General Secretary Timothy Quill. “The LELB has a long, fruitful, and harmonious relationship with many of the churches who are members of the ILC. We know each other well and are of like mind and heart in Lutheran doctrine and practice.”
“At a time when many church bodies worldwide have rejected historic Christian teaching, the ILC has become a welcoming and loving home to those faithful to Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions,” he continued. “Many of our dear Latvian friends have already experienced this firsthand. The peace, concord, and love shared among ILC churches is indeed a beautiful thing.”
Delegates to the LELB’s synod met under the theme “We Will Serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15), gathering in an open-air facility in Roja. This was the first time a synod of the LELB has been held outside Riga. The synod had previously been scheduled to take place in June 2020 but was postponed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among other business during the synod, the LELB also voted to withdraw from membership in the Communion of Protestant Churches in Europe (CPCE), formerly known as the Leuenberg Church Fellowship. “When LELB joined the CPCE in 1975, we were behind the Iron Curtain,” noted Rev. Andris Kraulins (Riga), head of the LELB’s department for international affairs. “There was no discussion about it in the church; it was a decision of the archbishop at that time. The reason for joining was also not so much that we agreed with the content of the Leuenberg Agreement, but rather an attempt to protect the church from the arbitrariness of the Soviet state.” The first moves towards exiting the agreement began in the 1990s.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia is the largest church body in Latvia, with approximately 700,000 members. 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 the Holy Scriptures and to the Lutheran Confessions. The ILC exists to encourage, strengthen, and promote confessional Lutheran theology and practice centered in Jesus Christ both among its members and throughout the world.
LATVIA – Repairs to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Pinki, Latvia continue, thanks in part to a gift from the International Lutheran Council (ILC). St. John’s Church is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL).
On September 25, 2018 a fire caused significant damage to the historic church’s towers and roof. News of the fire emerged while the International Lutheran Council (ILC) was holding its 2018 World Conference in Antwerp, Belgium. ELCL Archbishop Jānis Vanags was at the ILC World Conference at the time.
The conference paused while ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt led prayers for the affected congregation. In response to the fire, the ILC offered a small gift of $5,000 USD to assist in repairs to the damaged building.
Since then, the church has completed some of the renovations to the tower and roof, but renovations to the church exterior and the installation of thermal insulation in the tower continue.
Other entities which have provided funds for repairs include Latvia’s government, the European Union, and individual donations. Additional funds are currently being sought to cover remaining expenses for the repairs.
LATVIA – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) has pledged a small gift to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) to assist with repairs following a fire September 25 at St. John’s church in the town of Pinki, just outside Riga.
News of the fire broke during the ILC’s World Conference in Belgium, at which two members of the ELCL are present as guests: Archbishop Janis Vanags and Rev. Andris Kraulins, who serves the ELCL in its international relations. Rev. Kraulins is pastor of the affected congregation, and had to depart the conference early to assess the situation.
The convention paused from its work as ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt led a prayer for the building and the people of the congregation.
“We are deeply moved to hear about the fire at this congregation,” said Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the International Lutheran Council. The ILC has offered a small gift in the amount of $5,000 to assist in repairing the damage.
Thanks to the work of firefighters, damage to the church was not as severe as it could have been.
The International Lutheran Council and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia enjoy a growing relationship, with Dr. Collver and the Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt recently visiting the Latvian church to address their General Pastors Conference on the work of the ILC.
LATVIA – The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski Luteriskā Baznīca – LELB/ELCL) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the consecration of Archbishop Jānis Vanags in a special jubilee service in the Cathedral of Riga, Latvia on August 29, 2018. The anniversary coincided with the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference as well as an international gathering of church leaders for the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops Conference.
During the service, Archbishop Vanags preached on John 1:35-39, reflecting on Jesus’ call for all people to follow Him. “Jesus words ‘come and see’ are the most beautiful thing,” Archbishop Vanags said. “God calls. Jesus calls. He called me in my early childhood, during the Soviet era,” he reflected. “In an incredible way, He called me out of the darkness to Himself, to faith, and to ministry. It happens that God called me to serve in a unique way. But He also calls to every person, and every call is just as important… God’s call is your opportunity.”
Jesus’ words to “come and see,” Archbishop Vanags noted, are an answer to the question of the disciples: “Teacher, where are you staying?” That matters, he said, because God is not to be found everywhere, but only where He has made His dwelling. “Our church is often accused of being too conservative,” Archbishop Vanags noted, and of holding too rigidly to its doctrinal stances. “But our church does nothing of the sort,” he said. Instead, it merely seeks to ask the same thing that the disciples asked: “Lord, where do you live?” The church is called to “come and see” Christ where He has revealed Himself to be.
“Where is this place where Jesus lives?” Archbishop Vanags asked in conclusion. “Find it by listening to His preaching. For there, where Christ preaches, there is the Holy Christian church…. Let us listen again and again to hear the call of Jesus: ‘Come and see!’”
The ILC brings greetings, addresses conferences
Bishop Hans-Jörg Voigt, the Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) and Chairman of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), was present for the event, bringing greetings and congratulations to Archbishop Vanags and the Latvian church. Rev. Dr. Albert Collver, Executive Secretary of the ILC, was also present, joining Bishop Voigt in bringing greetings on behalf of the International Lutheran Council. Both participated, along with numerous other church leaders, especially bishops from Eastern Europe, in the service of thanksgiving and prayer at the cathedral in Riga.
During the ELCL’s General Pastors Conference, Bishop Voigt gave a lecture on “International Relations and the International Lutheran Council.” He began by noting the distinction between “nation” and “nationalism”—something all too necessary today. Anytime one adds a sense of superiority to our understanding of “nation,” he warned, then we descend into nationalism.
Such “nationalism” must not govern church relationships, Bishop Voigt said. Instead, when it comes to the topic of international relations from the perspective of the International Lutheran Council, he said, we do better to focus on the theological concept of the “catholicity” of the Church. Bishop Voigt appealed to the definition of catholicity given by the church father Vincent of Lérins, as alluded to and supplemented by the Formula of Concord—namely, that “catholicity” means what has been believed at all times, in all places, and taught by all Scripture. Such an understanding of the church will not lead to confessional arrogance, Bishop Voigt noted, but rather to repentance and humility.
Together with Dr. Collver, Bishop Voigt fielded questions about the International Lutheran Council from the pastors and bishops present. Both Bishop Voigt and Dr. Collver affirmed that they consider churches with dual membership in the International Lutheran Council and the Lutheran World Federation to be a valuable bridge between the two world organizations.
Events continued the next day in Saldus, Latvia, with the Eastern European and Scandinavian Bishops’ Conference. A major focus of discussion was the future of theological education in Europe, and the possibility of combining resources to meet challenges in that area. Plans were discussed for future meetings in the coming year. Present this year were leaders from Latvia, Lithuania, Germany, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Norway, Finland, Sweden, and the United States.
During the Bishop’s Conference, Dr. Collver presented on the “Present and Future of the International Lutheran Council.” He began with a brief overview of the ILC’s history before describing some of the ILC’s plans for the future. Among other topics, he noted the development of the Lutheran Leadership Development Program, an educational program which aims to assist Lutheran church bodies around the world in developing leaders who are competent in both solid confessional Lutheran theology as well as practical leadership skills.
UKRAINE – The heads of several Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union recently met together in Ukraine for the Eastern European Bishops Conference, along with the heads of their North American partner churches.
The conference, held in Odessa in late February, was hosted by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) and its Bishop Sergey Maschewski. DELKU, long associated with the state (territorial) Lutheran churches of Germany, has in recent years begun aligning itself with more conservative bodies like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC). In addition to the presidents of LCC and LCMS, DELKU also hosted the bishops (or their representatives) from several other Lutheran church bodies in eastern Europe, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The conference also welcomed a number of ecumenical guests.
During the conference, the bishops reported on their respective churches and the challenges they face. A number of these churches have to do their work over long distances: SELC, for example, is stretched out over a vast territory spanning 7,000 kilometers. DELKU, as another example, struggles with a severe clergy shortage, currently operating 28 congregations with only nine pastors. Many of these congregations are distant from the nearest neighbouring pastor or parish.
The bishops also discussed opportunities for future cooperation between their churches. “United by much of our common history and—what is of more relevance today—by similar theological outlook, we felt that there was a need for closer cooperation in the future,” explained Rev. Alexey Strelstov, rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia. Rev. Strelstov presented on education in a confessional Lutheran context on the final day of the conference.
Part of that future cooperation may well take place on theological education. One evening of the conference, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine invited participants to visit their seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa. Representatives of the Siberian church expressed interest in forging closer ties with SELCU on seminary education. There were discussions on assisting the Ukrainian seminary in procuring more Russian-language theological books for its library, as well as the possibility of SELC seminary professors coming to teach short-term courses in Usatovo. “The interaction between these Russian speakers, all keenly interested in the faithful biblical training of pastors, was a real joy to watch,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee. LCC has long-supported SELCU’s seminary education program.
Morning and afternoon devotions at the bishops’ conference were held in DELKU’s Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in downtown Odessa, restored in recent years after having been destroyed by the Soviet regime decades ago. “Although this church was rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale, it once seated 1,200 worshippers and was the centre for spiritual life of the entire German community before the communist repression,” noted LCC President Bugbee. Lutheran churches were severely persecuted during the soviet era.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church are both members of the International Lutheran Council, as are Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is a partner church of LCC, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania are partner churches of the LCMS. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, meanwhile, has been seeking closer relations to the LCMS in recent years.
LATVIA – On June 3, 2016, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (Latvijas Evaņģēliski luteriskā baznīca – ELCL) officially adopted a policy allowing only males to be ordained as clergy. The decision came during a meeting of the church’s Synod held in the Cathedral of Riga from June 3-4, with the vast majority—77.3%—of those present voting to amend the church’s constitution in favour of returning to the historic practice of the Christian church.
Questions over the ordination of women have been an issue of concern in the ELCL for several decades. Archbishop Janis Vanags and the ELCL’s bishops ceased ordaining women in 1993, but the change in practice was never made official church policy until the 2016 Synod.
“We are an apostolic church, as confessed in the Creed,” explained one lay participant, speaking in favour of the change prior to the vote. “The apostles are our teachers, not the spirit of our time. I will vote in favour of the amendment.”
The change is expected to have a significant impact on the Latvian church’s ecumenical relationships. In advance of the synod, the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKiD) had warned that a return to a male-only clergy would force a change in church relations between the EKiD and the ELCL. Delegates from the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) had likewise met with ELCL officials in advance of the Synod to discourage the church from changing its constitution. The LWF has since expressed its disapproval of the Latvian church’s decision. Questions about the ELCL’s relationship with the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad, which is led by a female archbishop, have also been raised.
Archbishop Vanags addressed the Synod about these concerns, noting that the decision brings the ELCL closer to a number of other Lutheran churches that do not ordain women. In particular, he noted the need for the ELCL to draw closer to the International Lutheran Council (ILC) and its member churches, including The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS). The ILC’s member churches do not ordain women. Archbishop Vanags and several other bishops indicated a desire to meet with LCMS in the near future to discuss areas where the two church bodies may continue to walk together and proclaim the Gospel as partner churches.
In other business, the Synod adopted a new strategy plan for the next four years and elected a new bishop, Hanss Jensons, for the Liepajas diocese. A provision to allow for the formation of monasteries and convents, at the approval of the College of Bishops, was also adopted.
With nearly 300 congregations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia is the nation’s largest church. Approximately 700,000 Latvians identify as Lutheran, of which approximately 43,000 are active participants in the life of the church. The ELCL is a member church of the Lutheran World Federation. While not a member of the ILC, the ELCL is in fellowship with one of its member churches: the LCMS. It also holds close ties to the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany, another member church of the ILC.
GERMANY – From March 24-25, representatives of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCL) visited Hanover for meetings with Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK). Dean Andris Krauliņš of Latvia’s Jūrmala circuit and Romāns Ganiņš, Head of Administration at the Consistory in Riga, represented the ELCL. SELK was represented by its Bishop, Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt.
Discussions over the two days focused on church-congregational life in the two partner churches. Michael Schätzel of the German church’s council gave Romāns Ganiņš a detailed description of the financial systems of SELK, focusing on congregational budget-planning systems. Dean Andris Krauliņš and Bishop Voigt shared together the different structures of organization in the two church bodies, with the latter describing the meeting structure of the church’s council.
“Last year I visited the synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia,” Bishop Voigt noted. “Whenever I meet together with our brothers and sisters in Latvia, I appreciate our closeness in the liturgy of the Lutheran worship service and in our confessions. We need to support one another as we face our secularizing European culture.”
The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany has 187 churches, 124 active pastors, and approximately 35,000 members. Its bishop, Rev. Hans-Jörg Voigt, also serves as Chairman for the International Lutheran Council.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, a member of the Lutheran World Federation, is one of the largest Christian church bodies in Latvia, with nearly 300 churches throughout the nation served by 140 pastors and ten evangelists. Of Latvia’s 2.3 million population, approximately 430,000 identify as Lutheran, with about a tenth of these active in the life of the church.
The German and Latvian churches signed an “Agreement of Partnership” in 2002 on the grounds of common subscription to the Lutheran Confessions. The two churches are in the process of seeking full altar and pulpit fellowship. In addition to SELK, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia has ties to other ILC churches, including The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod with which it achieved altar and pulpit fellowship in 2001.