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Latvian women theologians in the year 2000.

In the 18 years during which the ordination of women had been practiced in the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church (LELC) ten or so women had been ordained. When the church ceased to ordain women in 1993, those women who were already serving in parishes were permitted to continue in their parish ministry, though at times in a less than hospitable and less than collegial environment. Other women, however, including women theological students, some of whom were already serving in parishes as unordained student assistants, were suddenly forced to seek vocations other than the pastorate.


How did things turn out for these women?

In early September 2000, I had the opportunity to visit Latvia and to meet with some of them. I found them coping with the new situation in diverse and creative ways. Of the eight ordained women pastors listed in the Church Yearbook for 1993, four were still serving parishes in Latvia. A few more had resigned from parish ministry to pursue vocations in the academic world. A surprisingly large number of women who were still students in 1993 had been called and ordained to serve Latvian churches in diaspora, outside Latvia. But a good many had also left church vocations to seek employment outside the church.

I met with the Rev. Aida Predele during a break in the weekly Plenary Session of the Latvian Parliament. Aida was originally elected in 1993 as a deputy to the first Latvian parliament after independence from the Soviet Union, and has been reelected twice. She presently serves on three parliamentary committees: the Committee on the Rights of Children, the Committe on Education, and the Committee on the Implementation of the Citizenship Law. Parallel to her work in the Saeima, Aida has been serving the Lutheran congregation in Salaspils, a community just outside Riga, where she travels twice a month to hold worship services.

The Rev. Sarmite Fishere has served the Latvian church as an ordained pastor for ten years or so, most recently ministering to the parishes of Tervete-Kalnamuizha and Augstkalne-Mezhamuizha. Parallel to her parish ministry, Sarmite has for the past two years been working 36 hours a week as a religion teacher in various public schools. Together with other teachers she has just published a school textbook in religion for grades 1-4. I was surprised to learn that Sarmite was planning on September 15, 2000 to embark on a nine-month stint of missionary service as pastor to Latvian Lutherans in the Russian republic of Bashkortistan, thousands of miles away from Latvia. (A substantial number of Latvians migrated to Bashkortistan from Latvia in the late 19th century in response to promises of free farmland from the Russian Czar.) After these nine months Sarmite intends--with the endorsement of the archbishop--to return to her present congregations.

Like Sarmite Fishere, the Rev. Raela Rozite has also been ordained for approximately a decade. She was ordained to the office of assisting pastor and assigned to parish service while still studying theology. I visited her at home in the provincial town of Talsi, where she is raising two daughters, ages 9 and 15 respectively, taking care of an ailing mother, and serving two Lutheran parishes in the small rural communities of Puze and Spare. Her parishes are too poor to pay for more than her bus fare. Thus Raela and her dependents live on her mother's tiny pension, her governmental child-support payments, and occasional small subsidies from the salary support fund of the LELC Consistory. Raela's poor health prevents her from seeking other employment to supplement her income. Nevertheless, Raela continues to serve her parishes and to raise her children with love and devotion.

The Rev. Dace Rublevska until very recently was pastor at St. Anne's Lutheran Congregation in the provincial town of Kuldiga. In September 1998, Dace was asked to give a lecture course on pastoral theology at the independent Latvian Christian Academy in the seaside town of Bulduri outside Riga. Soon Dace found herself being asked to take on more responsibilities at the Christian Academy. Finally she understood that she had to make a choice between parish ministry and the academy. She also came to realize for a long time she felt called to be a theologian and a teacher, but had put that call aside to be a parish pastor. Now it seemed that the time was ripe to opt for the academy. Presently she is working on developing courses in practical theology, particularly in pastoral care. Dace told me that archbishop Vanags had supported her decision. He had also subsequently asked her to be pastor of Bulduri Lutheran parish; which she was unable to take up.

Marika Vidina's path from ministry to the academy has been fraught with more obstacles than has Dace's path. Marika had been offered ordination years ago while she was still studying and simultaneously serving a parish. At the time Marika had not felt prepared to take this step, and had accepted ordination as a deacon instead. Then the door closed to pastoral ordination for women. Furthermore, the new consititution of the church did not provide for an order of the deacons. Thus Marika resigned from her parish position. For a while she worked at the Theological Faculty of the University of Latvia as a coordinator of the Religion Teacher Training Program, but subsequently resigned. Along the way, she had earned, in addition to her Bachelor of Theology, a Master of Education degree. Presently she is working a few hours a week as a religion teacher in a public high school, but is making her living as an administrator in a translation company. Her dream is still too have a full-time employment either as a Christian educator or as a pastor.

Ieva Klavina was a student in the Bachelor of Theology program when they closed the door to the parish ministry was closed for her. Ieva nevertheless completed her Bachelor of Theology degree, whereupon the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America offered her a one-year job in the church archives in Chicago. When she returned from America, she earned a Master of Theology degree in Riga, writing her thesis on the history of the Latvian church in exile after World War II. She is presently seeking a government job, perhaps in the navy or in the department of defense, where she has worked in the past.

A career in government service has also been the choice of the Rev. Sandra Rozenberga. After finishing her Bacheolor of Theology degree in Riga in 1994, Sandra was ordained by the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to serve as a pastor to the Latvian community in Caracas, Venezuela. Sandra spent two years in Caracas, during which time she also learned Spanish and worked for the Latvian Honorary Consul in Venezuela. Upon returning to Latvia, she has found employment in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where she is currently Acting Head of the Division for the United States, the Americas and Australia.

Sandra is only one of a number of Latvian women theologians to have been ordained by the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church outside of Latvia. Since I did not meet with any of these other women in Latvia, I will only mention some of them briefly. The Revs. Zane Blaumane and Zilgme Eglite served Latvian communities in England and Germany, respectively, but have since returned to Latvia. Like Sandra, they are not working for the LELC. The Rev. Kristine Suna, having earned both a Bachelor of Theololgy and a Master of Theology in Riga, and having studied for a year at the Oxford University, she has been serving since 1997 as pastor of the Latvian congregation in Philadelphia. The Rev. Indra Skuja served the Latvian congregations in Manchester and Willimantic, Connecticut for a number of years before marrying and moving to Canada. The Rev. Dace Jaunzeme is serving the Latvian community in Sao Paulo, Brazil. More recently, the Revs. Gundega Puidza, Ieva Pusmucane and Ilze Ezerniece have been ordained and are serving Latvian congregations in Detroit, Michigan, Brooklyn, New York, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, respectively.

These women pastors are a blessing to the Latvian communities outside Latvia, where Latvian pastors are increasingly in short supply. These women are able to develop their talents while pursuing their vocations. But living outside Latvia has its downside as well. At times to be away from their family and friends could be quite lonely. Furthermore, after having served for some years, these women have a difficult decision to make: To continue life outside of Latvia as pastors ? Or return to live with family and friends, but give up their pastoral vocation?

One can only hope and pray that Lutheran congregations in Latvia--many of them still without pastors--soon will recognize the unused talents of well trained women theologians both inside Latvia and outside, and will invite them to serve as pastors in their homeland.

The Rev. Austra Reinis is an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. She served parishes in Latvia from 1991 to 1995, then taught church history at the Faculty of Theology in Riga from 1995 to 1997. She is working on a Ph.D. degree in Church History--Reformation at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, USA, and is currently doing dissertation research in Wittenberg, Germany.
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Author:Reinis, Austra
Publication:Women Magazine
Geographic Code:4EXLA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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