On July 17 the Association of Latvian Lutheran Women Theologians celebrated its quarter century!
A special service took place in the garden of Deacon Vija Klive, which is where the Association has its legal address. The very foundation of the Association is closely related to Vija, as 25 years ago the meeting that established ALLWT took place in her house.
The celebration started with worship in the garden. The Rev. Vaira Bitena and Dace Balode presided over the liturgy of the Eucharist. Vaira Bitena was among the first women ordained in Latvia in 1975; Dace Balode was ordained in summer of 2018, albeit not by the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church (LELC), but by the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (LELCA).
The Archbishop of LELCA, Lauma Zusevics joined the service online and congratulated the Association on the anniversary. Other Latvian female pastors overseas, the Rev. Indra Skuja – Grislis from Canada, the Rev. Sandra Rozenberga – Saavedra, who works in Chile, American Latvian Rev. Austra Reine, one of the initiators of ALLWT, and others joined the celebration as well by means of modern technologies. Karlis Zols, the Dean of LELCA in Latvia, was present in person.
Theologian Ieva Zeiferte moderated the evening’s presentation. She told the story of the beginning of the Association, the first years of activities, challenges, unfading hopes for the resumption of women’s ordination in Latvia (which had taken place between 1975 to 1993). These hopes were alive in 1995 when the Association was founded, though at times they faded due to opposition and lack of dialogue with opponents of the ordination of women within the church. Nevertheless, those trials pushed women theologians forward to more education and development, and to gain a voice in Latvian society in the person of the former president of the Association, Rev. Rudite Losane, who has been the most outspoken advocate for women’s ordination, and has been working as a Chaplain in Latvia’s female prison for nearly 20 years. Rudīte was ordained in autumn 2019 by LELCA, and continues to serve, both in prison chaplaincy and in parish ministry. Another voice is that of Rev. Dr. Dace Balode, the first female Dean of the Faculty of Theology at the University of Latvia. Dace Balode is a Professor of New Testament and was ordained in 2018.
Yet another outspoken person supporting the ordination of women is the former Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain Jana Jeruma – Grinberga, who since her return from the United Kingdom served as a Chaplain in the Church of England in Riga and who has chaired the work of the Association since the beginning of 2020.
Looking back at the past 25 years, it is obvious that the path has been difficult and thorny. Several women were hurt by the sudden theological shift of LECL and the non-ordination policy. The deepest scars were left by the attitude of the leadership and male colleagues. Many women had to leave Latvia and serve in other countries in order to follow their vocations. The deacons and evangelists who stayed in Latvia were pressed to change their specialization, as the doors of the church gradually closed; until 2016 when the LELC Synod voted for the exclusion of women to ordained ministry in the Church Constitution.
Since 2014, however, three ordinations of women to pastoral ministry have taken place in Latvia. Ieva Purina was ordained in 2014, Dace Balode in 2015 and Rudīte Losane in 2019.
How is that possible? If one door closes, God opens another. God makes a way where there is no way. The three pastors were ordained by LELCA, a founder member of LWF, which now also has a presence in Latvia through a Deanery formed in 2017. LELCA is the continuation of the pre-WWII Latvian church, whose leadership, Archbishop Grinbergs with his crozier, was forced to flee from Latvia when Soviet forces invaded.
When in 1991 Latvia gained back its independence from Soviet rule, both churches hoped for reunification into one Latvian Lutheran church. That never happened. In 1993, with the election of the new Archbishop to lead LELC, the issue of women’s ordination became the main stumbling block in dialogue.
LELCA, on the other hand, is led by a female Archbishop – the American Latvian Lauma Zusevica – who supports the vision and activities of the ALLWT. Whenever the Archbishop Zusevica visits Latvia, she meets with women theologians and encourages them to remain true to their calling.
The Anniversary celebration was an event that will stay in the memory for a long time; it was a story that speaks, inspires, looks to the future.
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