By Adriane Dorr
Hearing the stories of Lutheran pastors caring for their flocks in the Baltic region has been “personally heartwarming,” says the Rev. Dr. Timothy C. Quill, director of theological education for The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and a professor at Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind.
Quill and the Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver III, LCMS director of church relations — assistant to the president, are traveling throughout the Baltic area, meeting with Lutheran church officials to bring encouragement on behalf of the LCMS and to receive updates on the work of the churches in Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus and the surrounding area.
The stories have not always been so optimistic. “It has been a difficult time for the faithful Lutherans [in the Baltics] trying to establish Lutheranism … where the church was totally destroyed by the Communists,” admits Quill.
Prior to the rise of Communism, “Lutheranism was the second-largest Christian confession in the Russian Empire after Orthodoxy,” says Collver. “There were 220,000 Lutherans in Lithuania. Today there are 20,000.”
Additionally, half of Lithuania’s Lutheran clergy were martyred at the hands of the Communists. This tragic history caused the Belarusian Evangelical Lutheran Church to issue a plea to the LCMS in 2001.
Their request was “for theological education [that would help] to build a strong clergy,” recalls Quill. “They inquired if the seminary of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Novosibirsk, Russia, could help train pastors.”
They were not disappointed. Professors from the seminary in Novosibirsk agreed to teach, and Concordia Theological Seminary deployed the Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson in 2000 to serve as a theological educator for the Baltic region.
Quill and Collver returned to Lithuania to discuss the effect of that theological education on Dec. 2 — nearly 10 years to the day after the initial call for pastoral education was issued.
They also traveled to Riga, Latvia, to meet with Archbishop Janis Vanags and leaders from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, who also are working to overcome the void left in the church after the fall of Communism.
“Many parish congregations are completely vacant,” Collver says, “because there are few or even no people left in some of the villages.”
Because of this, Vanags reiterated the need for theological education in Latvia, Collver adds, explaining that “with the near elimination of the church under Communism, few people remember or have direct experience with how pastors are to provide for their people.”
This need and continued call for theological education from Lutheran church leaders in the Baltics has not gone unnoticed by LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, who has been vocal about his “desire to open LCMS seminaries to international students for advanced training so that they can return to their own countries and provide high-quality theological education,” according to Collver.
Collver and Quill say they look forward to future work with the Lutheran pastors, churches and seminaries in the region, giving thanks that, “by the Lord’s grace, [the church in the Baltics] had been resurrected from death at the hands of Communism,” says Collver.
To read more about the 10-day trip, visit the “Witness, Mercy, Life Together” blog at http://www.wmltblog.org/. To see more photos, click here.
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Dec. 8, 2011/Updated Dec. 9, 2011