Sunday, April 18, 2004

Latvia Continued (with a disclaimer)

I've assembled from a few informal sources a description of the Latvia situation as regards womens ordination in that country and the current bishop. The people who I've spoken with admittedly have a bias, and so the description probably reflects that. Anyway, here's my attempt at a summary, borrowing the words of others much of the time.

The scandal is that the Latvian Lutheran Church has the dubious distinction of being the only church in the world that has rescinded women's ordination.  In 1990, the seminary had just gotten started again in a very small building, with only two classrooms.  (The Finnish church gave a substantial amount to finish the attic for a chapel and added classrooms, and the Lutheran World Federation gave $8000 for a new roof.)  Dr. Akmentins was the Dean ("rector," "president, "headmaster" ....take your pick).  Already half the students were women, and planned to be ordained. 

In 1994, the seminary was housed in a new location, on church property that had been reappropriated from the Russians (who for 50 years used it as a private bar/club for transit workers).  Again, half the students were women, but now they were uncertain about their future.  The new Archbishop, Janis Vanags, had just been elected and had stated that he would not ordain women.  Since then he has made it official church policy.  Concurrent with that (and maybe, in part, because of it) the Missouri Synod gave a great deal of money and support to the fledgling church.  The ELCA had the opportunity, but they pretty much ignored Latvia. 

According to those with whom I've spoken (much of the following is quotations), Archbishop Vanags was elected illegally.  When the Lutheran Church had its constituting convention in 1991 (or 1992?), it was the first national assembly since 1944.  Since they had nothing else to go on, they agreed to abide by the last constitution (of 1922?) for starters.  This defined the qualifications for Bishop and Archbishop.  Vanags did not meet any of the requirements.  (His college degree was in chemistry, I believe.  And he had nearly no parish experience.)  It also defined who were legal delegates.  But Vanags had a bunch of his cronies there who voted, even though they did not represent any congregation or district of the church.  They were just a bunch of his seminary friends.  The Western delegates tried to put a stop to this, but they were voted and shouted down. 

Originally it was hoped that there would be one Archbishop (or Presiding Bishop) over the entire Latvian Lutheran Church in the world.  But the Western delegates were not about to let this young upstart who had never been outside of the country, and had no knowledge of the West, have control over its hundreds of churches and millions of dollars of property!  So they elected their own Bishop, Elmars Rozitis, who is still Archbishop of the Western Latvian Church (and lives in Germany).  This church DOES ordain women.  So there are quite a number of young Latvian women pastors, but they can only serve in the West.  So there has been a schism in the Latvian Lutheran Church for over ten years now.  It seems like everyone has accommodated themselves to it, and have joint assemblies from time to time.  The Western church follows a constitution similar to the ELCA.  But the Latvian Lutheran Church is forced to abide by a constitution Vanags put together, giving him autocratic rule.  The Western Church will eventually die out, so the church in Latvia will win in the end.  Vanags is just over 40 years old, and has put himself in office for life. 

It is a situation that has made many sad. So we can include this Lutheran church in Latvia, and the expat church of Latvia, in our prayers.

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