From Latvia With Love

by Gerry Lynch last modified 20 Dec, 2016 11:03 AM

Riga Anglicans visit Sherborne sister church and wider Diocese

“The face of Anglicanism in continental Europe is changing. It is no longer a church only for expats, in some congregations a majority are now local people.”

That’s the view of Professor Dr Valdis Tēraudkalns, a Church Historian at the University of Latvia, and churchwarden at St Saviour’s, the Anglican parish in the Baltic country’s captial, Riga. Together with church administrator Nikita Andrejevs, who is a researcher at the same university, he is visiting their sister congregation at Sherborne Abbey, and exploring other aspects of Anglican spirituality and church life in the Diocese.

Sherborne has long held links with the Latvian church, which developed around the time of the country’s independence from the Soviet Union and transition to a democracy with full religious freedom in 1991. Those links were deepened when a young Latvian priest, the Revd Guntars Reboks, came to the Abbey as Assistant Curate earlier this year. The visitors from Riga are staying with Guntars and his wife, Enija.

As well as worshipping at the Abbey on Sunday, the Latvians have visited Salisbury Cathedral and Sarum College, and attended Diocesan Synod on Saturday.

“Anglicanism is a very small church in Latvia”, said Valdis, “but it is growing. As in many parts of continental Europe, Anglicans stand out in our country for being inclusive and allowing people space to think for themselves.

“One of the things that struck me on this visit to the Church of England is the prayer tradition, especially the praying of the Daily Office. I was struck how like the monastic tradition this is.”

Nikita added, “One of the things that strikes me is the coherence and depth of the Church of England’s tradition, and how it is interwoven into the fabric of society. St Saviour’s is one small parish on its own in a country of two million.”

Speaking after Valdis addressed Diocesan Synod, Bishop Nicholas said, “Their presence with us is a reminder that we are part of a world-wide family of Church, and also that although we are preparing to leave the EU, we remain Europeans.”

Principal of Sarum College, Canon Dr James Woodward, hosted the visitors to a lunch, saying afterwards, “It has been fascinating to explore our shared interest in theological education and learning. The Latvian group were also especially insightful about European politics and culture. I hope Sarum College and the University of Latvia can strengthen their links and partnership.”

Latvia is not an especially religious country - only around 7% of the population attends religious services regularly, a lower proportion than in the UK. The three main denominations are Lutheranism (identified with by 34% of the population), Roman Catholicism (24%) and Orthodoxy (17%). The Western part of the country, which was strongly influenced by Germany and Sweden, is the most strongly Lutheran. Most of the Orthodox community are Russian speakers and identify with the country’s large ethnically Russian minority.

As well as the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), there is also the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad, which was established by refugees who fled the country after the Second World War. The two churches developed in different directions. After doing so between 1975 and 1993, the ELCL no longer ordains women to the priesthood, while Latvian Church Abroad has a woman Archbishop.

Perhaps confusingly given the name, the Latvian Church Abroad also has parishes within Latvia, and recently a parish in Liepāja, the country’s third largest city, transferred from the ELCL to the Latvian Church Abroad because it supports the ordination of women and opposes what it perceives as ELCL’s strictly hierarchical structure.

The Church of England is in full communion with the Latvian Church Abroad through the Porvoo Communion, which unites 15 Anglican and Lutheran churches across Europe. At the same time, the Diocese of Salisbury has been twinned with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia since the late 1980s: learn more about our Diocesan link with ELCL here. ELCL holds full observer status within the Porvoo Communion.

The Church of England is in full communion with the Latvian Church Abroad through the Porvoo Communion, which unites 15 Anglican and Lutheran churches across Europe. At the same time, the Diocese of Salisbury has been twinned with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia since the late 1980s.

Awareness of Anglicanism among the secular majority in Latvia is low. Among more active churchgoers, Anglicans are known for being ‘countercultural’ with regards to the mainstream of Latvian Christianity.

“Most recently, we spoke out against hostility to refugees and immigrants”, Valdis added, “and we are known for positive stands on the status of women and LGBTI people. Of course, some people disagree with, us but many others appreciate what we are saying. The Church should discover in each age anew what it means to be countercultural.

“One of the things I value most about Anglicanism is its commitment to being in dialogue with the full range of Christian traditions. In ecumenical dialogue, I believe it is important to be honest to what you are.”

Lower photograph: St Saviour's Church, Riga.

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