A Renaissance for ALWTL
Nearly sixteen years have passed that changed the fate of those women who, heeding God’s call, had been begun or completed theological studies. Some, who were not able to work as pastors in the ELCL, were forced to quit service in the Church and changed professions, some emigrated. But for the women who had been previously ordained and remained faithful to their oath to God, began a time of trial, like the women whose calling is doubted due to their gender. The first president of the Association pastor Vaira Bitēna said: “We are locked out of the fellowship of our male colleagues and each one works alone in her parish; we need our own feeling of community and fellowship.”
During the history of the ALWTL, the presidents have changed for various reasons. Sometimes they emigrated from Latvia, sometimes they left due to psychological pressure they received from male colleagues, and for other reasons. Within the ELCL a hostile attitude was generated towards our Association and its members, the effects of which are still felt today. Ten years ago the ELCL even suspended theological discussions within the Church as far as women serving in the ordained ministry. Thus began a time of silent unknowing, during which young pastors were taught to believe that women could not be ordained, and this attitude sometimes was sowed into society, using the mass media. Therefore it seems fateful that during the seven years of passive existence, the Association was led and maintained by diakone Vija Klive, who had returned to Latvia from exile, when our country regained independence. Her experience in issues of human rights and years of lobbying at the UN gave us spiritual strength to survive in our difficult conditions.
V.Klive as president led the Association and its members up to the events of 11 Nov. 2009, when in a pastors’ conference it was decided to push forth for voting at the 25th Synod the issue of changes in the Constitution that would stipulate that only males could be ordained as pastors.
Our male colleagues had miscalculated, thinking the time was ripe to prohibit women’s ordination by law. However, another time was indeed ripe – to stimulate the renewal of the ALWTL.
It’s worthwhile to mention an interesting incident that shows how this renewal started – in a very humble way. During the Nov. 2009 conference evangelist Ieva Zeiferte came to me – chaplain Rudite Losane – and asked me to come and stand next to her in front of the audience, for she had something to say. Ieva wanted to read from an LWF statement about why a woman could serve as an ordained pastor, but she was afraid to stand alone in front of the male pastors. Although at first this seemed strange to me, I nevertheless obeyed her request. While she read, I got a chance to view the audience. Some listened politely, some ignored Ieva by doing other things, but some followed with great interest. At the end of the conference some brave [male] pastors came to us and suggested that we inform them and the parishes about women serving as ordained pastors, because they simply did not know about this. This was an apparent sign that the church leadership knowingly had kept silent on this topic. The Spirit of God was lighting the spark of renewal.
Right after the conference, our Association held elections of the new Board. Many members attended. We all felt an uplifting, creative spirit. It was clear that it was time to get going. We talked over several ideas how to work in the future, e.g., we should open a Web page, and others. The newly elected Board consisted of Vija Klive, Ieva Zeiferte and me Rudite Losane.
In the year since the new Board began work, we have begun correspondence with the ELCL leadership: we have sent three letters where we expressed our attitude toward women’s ordination and offered our suggestions for further discussions. From ELCL we have received only one letter of reply. Together with the help of our supportive male colleagues, we have succeeded in getting the vote on women’s ordination changed from the 2010 Synod until the next Synod in 2013. We have organized two seminars for our theological continuing education and to strengthen our self-confidence. We have given interviews in various mass media, in order to develop a positive attitude in society towards women’s ordination. We maintain contacts with our members who live and serve outside Latvia. We have met with female and male colleagues and attended conferences in Norway, Germany, Netherlands, Finland and Great Britain, thus maintaining our ties with churches that ordain women. Thanks to the North Elbien Church, two ALWTL members were able to participate as visitors in the LWF 11th Assembly in Stuttgart. We have written up our activities in two Newsletters that are translated also into English and sent to our friends outside Latvia.
One very significant step we have taken is the opening of our Web page www.sieviesuordinacija.lv 18 January of this year. Our main editor Ieva Zeiferte, by involving theologians, translators and other sympathizers, has for the past 12 months collected a sizeable amount of material about the issues connected to women’s ordination. The ALWTL Webpage is unique because at present it is the only webpage in Latvian on this particular topic. In the future, where possible, it will be translated into English.
Our most important effort this year, among other activities that we do and will continue to do, will be to try to start up again bilateral discussions of women’s ordination within the ELCL.
Rudite Losane, President, ALWTL
(Transl. by V. Klive, Foreign Secretary of ALWTL)