In comparison with Lutheran Churches in Germany and Scandinavia, the Lutheran Churches in the Baltic States have become more conservative, and those in Latvia and Lithuania moved closer to the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), writes Priit Rohtmets (University of Tartu, Estonia) in Religion & Gesellschaft in Ost und West (January).
Both in Estonia and Latvia, Lutheranism used to be the majority churches before the Soviet period. They lost that status during the years of Communist rule due to Russian immigration. There are now more Orthodox than Lutherans in Estonia, while this was not the case in 2000. Lutherans have decreased in absolute numbers (152,000 above age 15 in year 2000, 108,500 in 2011), according to another article by Toomas Schvak (University of Tartu). In Latvia, the Lutheran Church claimed to have more than 700,000 faithful in 2012, but only 40,000 had paid their yearly contribution. At the end of the Communist regime, Lutheran churches first experienced a short period of growth, with thousands of people asking for baptism. But very soon, they found themselves in a confrontational encounter with trends in the wider society. Conflicts started in the Latvian Church based around internal reforms, according to Rohtmets.
After the former Latvian Lutheran archbishop passed away in 1993, 35-year-old Janis Vanags was consecrated to succeed him. He undertook several changes, the first one being the abolition of female ordination, and another one the creation of three dioceses (beside deaneries), as a way to reinforce the episcopal structure of the church rather than to maintain an episcopal-synodal balance. In Lithuania, following the election of Bishop Jonas Kalvanas in 1995, female ordination was also put into question, but at first with reluctance, due to fears of thus losing the support of German Lutherans.
No female has been ordained since. In order to compensate for the loss of German support, cooperation has developed with the LCMS. Since 2001, the LCMS has entered into full communion with the Lithuanian and Latvian Lutheran Churches. There are, however, some congregations in Latvia that have seceded, either because they are even more conservative or more liberal.
Until now, the Estonian Lutheran Church has managed to remain united. Along with the Latvian and Lithuanian Churches, it has signed a declaration sent to the Swedish Church against the blessing of homosexual couples. In Estonia, the Church has initiated efforts to promote traditional Christian values in public life. In all three Churches, however, there is a minority that does not agree with such stance.
At this point, there are unresolved issues between different streams within the Estonian church. Women continue to be ordained. No agreement has been signed with the LCMS as of yet. A new archbishop, Urmas Viilma, was elected in November 2014 and his intent seems to be continuing to keep a balance between different trends within his church, according to Rohtmets.
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