Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia takes its own course towards male-only ordination

31. Oct, 2015

In October 28, 2015 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia held Pastors’ Conference on the question of women ordination. More particularly, the agenda was to vote “for” or “against” the proposal of some of the ultra-conservative pastors who have since 2009 sought to amend Article 133 of the ELCL Constitution in order to exclude women from seeking ordination. The ELCL Constitution is the governing document of the ELCL, and presently Article 133 states that “anyone who according to the regulations set by the ELCL is called by God and trained for ministry can seek ordination”. It had been proposed to the Pastors’ Conference to amend Article 133 and express it in the following way: “any male candidate, who according to the regulations set by the ELCL is called by God and trained for the ministry, can seek ordination”. This is the wording that was welcomed by the majority of the votes: 57 “for”, 6 “against” and 2 “refrained”. 

      While the ELCL acted on its own initiative, it ignored three significant actors involved: the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (LELCA) and the Association of Lutheran Women Theologians in Latvia (ALWTL).

      Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia enjoys its membership in the LWF global family. While not all of the LWF churches ordain women, majority of them (77%) do. ELCL has never sought to participate in the discussions on Women’s Ordination with the worldwide community it belongs to, neither has it translated or otherwise showed interest in any of the materials and documents issued by the LWF on the issues of gender and Biblical studies. 

      ELCL has also closed its heart to the voice and the existence of its own sister church – the LELCA (or – LELBāL in Latvian). The LELCA emerged as an exile Latvian church due to the consequences of World War II in Latvia and historically formed its own leadership. Yet the LELCA Latvians in exile and their descendants have been hoping to overcome the historically created obstacles and division, and reunite under one church and one leadership. The unity has not been possible formerly due to the fact that LELCA has ordained women pastors and does not plan to stop doing so, while the ELCL under the leadership of Archbishop Jānis Vanags opposes women ordination completely. Unfortunately, within the last two months the gap has widened and hopes have started painfully vanish away. The two churches have also been planning to issue a common Lutheran liturgical song book. Yet on September 19, 2015 the ELCL issued its own song book which includes the names of the saints and even devotions to Mary. The breaking point came on October 28 with the vote of the Pastors’ Conference to exclude women without any previous discussions with the LELCA sister church, which is contrary to the agreement made on February 17, 2012 between the ELCL Archibishop J. Vanags and the LELCA Archbishop (now Emeritus) E. E. Rozītis. Already in 2012 both archbishops formally agreed to hold theological discussions and studies about the women ordination issue. No official discussions have taken place between the two.

      The third party ignored is the Association of Lutheran Women Theologians in Latvia (ALWTL). Not only has the ALWTL never received any acknowledgment of its existence by the official Church in Latvia, despite being the only association in the country that advocates women ordination in the Lutheran church (ALWTL runs its own website www.sieviesuordinacija.lv ), but the ALWTL has experienced silence from the office of the Archbishop about the intention to discuss the Article 133 of the Constitution. In other words, the ALWTL was not officially informed about such Conference until the moment when it released its public Appeal to the Participants of the Pastors’ Conference upon the receipt of informal information about the planned Conference. 

      Rt Revd Jāna Jēruma-Grīnberga was the only ordained female pastor who addressed the Pastors’ Conference on a personal invitation from the office of the Archbishop Jānis Vanags. As a matter of fact, Jāna Jēruma-Grīnberga was giving her presentation under the topic in the Conference program as “Another Opinion” before the conservative pastor Aleksandrs Bite presented his, emotionally charged, paper that was called “From the Fall to Apostasy (the historical and theological aspects of women ordination issue)”. The third speaker before the debates took place was the Archbishop Jānis Vanags. There was no mention of the Appeal to the Participants of the Pastors’ Conference written by the President of the ALWTL, Rudīte Losāne, and distributed among the participants, as well as its publication in the media where Rudīte Losāne invited the LELC to open a theological discussion on the issue of Women’s Ordination before proposing any changes to the LELC Constitution. 

      ELCL has ignored all its partners. This is simply not the way to do things that might bring far reaching implications for the Latvian church. ELCL acts on its own behalf as an Island. The Synod which is the only body within the ELCL eligible to rewrite the Constitution has yet to be held in 2016.

Aļesja Lavrinoviča, editor

Foto: © Toms Grīnbergs http://foto.lu.lv/index.html