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LCMS Supports Witness Projects in Latvia

Mon, Oct 17, 2011

Latvia, News

This is the first post in a three-part series sharing different projects the LCMS has helped fund in Latvia. 

Rev. Elijs Godins, dean of Riga Cathedral

Rev. Elijs Godins of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia is dean of Riga Cathedral. This photo was taken from the bell tower of the cathedral overlooking Riga and the Daugava River.

Rev. Janis Vanags, archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), recently spoke with LCMS missionaries in Eurasia about the history of the Lutheran church in Latvia. The national Latvian church began in the beginning of the 20th century and survived “50 years of Communist occupation and persecution of the church.” Vanags shared that during this time, “we learned how faithful our Lord is and He would never let His church down.” Vanags continued to share about how the ELCL and LCMS have worked to build up the church after Communism and are working to connect the country to Jesus after 50 years of massive atheism. The church now has 300 congregations with more than 300,000 members and 150 pastors.

The LCMS’ emphasis of Witness, Mercy, Life Together extends into working with our partner churches, including the ELCL. The LCMS has provided funds for several witness projects within the country.

St. Gregor’s Mission Center

When St. Gregor’s opened more than 10 years, it was intended as a school for training lay people in the congregation. After the opening of the Luther Academy, St. Gregor’s shifted its emphasis to mission and outreach. After all, St. Gregory the Illuminator, who the center is named for, is known as an educator and missionary in Armenia. The center has sent mission teams to Uganda and India and a full-time missionary to Ireland. Many may wonder how Latvia and Ireland are connected. After Latvia joined the European Union, Ireland became a destination for many Latvian workers. Rev. Artis Druvietis, the Latvian missionary to Ireland, connects Latvian Lutherans back with the ELCL and also provides outreach to non-church members of the Latvian community. The Latvian ambassador in Dublin has shared that since Rev. Druvietis has been working there, the suicide rate among Latvians immigrants has dropped 50 percent.

Riga Cathedral

Riga Cathedral recently celebrated their 800th anniversary. Rev. Elijs Godins, dean and senior pastor of the cathedral, said they celebrated by opening the cathedral to children. Through different workshops, children were able to explore and actively learn about the cathedral. Godins mentions two specific workshops. He shared, “There was a special workshop, a workshop of prayer. A member who is a well-known children’s poet helped the children to write their own prayers so they could express themselves to God.” There was also the “Play of the Dragon,” which used different characters from the cathedral’s paintings, stained glass windows and sculptures to tell the story of the dragon meeting the Good Shepherd.

Music is also an important part of ministry at the cathedral. Godins shared that they use three standards in their music outreach: only Christian music is performed so that when people come there they hear the Good News; the music is of a quality that any music lover would appreciate and come to listen to; and the music is used as a way to encourage people to continue their spiritual journey.

The cathedral, through partnership with LCMS missionaries, has an English-speaking ministry with regular Sunday worship at the cathedral. Godins said that “many English-speaking expatriates found their spiritual home for the period they’re in Latvia here in our cathedral.” Godins especially thanks Rev. Mark and Rose Krause, LCMS missionaries in the Baltics, for their contribution to the ELCL as a whole and for their initiative in starting the English-speaking ministry. The church is working to advertise their English services so they can connect to more of the English-speaking community in Riga.

ELCL Publishing House

The LCMS has also supported the work of the publishing house in Latvia. The company publishes a monthly newspaper, a book of sermons by the archbishop and books to help pastors teach confirmation classes. There are plans to produce culturally relevant stewardship materials, Sunday school materials and adult Bible studies in the native tongue.

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