Friendship Congregation in Latvia
The Lutheranian Church Tornakalna in Riga, Latvia is one of Abilgaards three friendship parishes. The contact has since 2008 first of all been annual visits by turns here and in Riga. Besides we exchange correspondence and church magazines in English versions.
In 2011 Gurli Moeller Andreasen and Ernst Hansen were in Riga for the 120th anniversary of the church. A travel letter from this you can find on www.abildgaardkirke.dk. In the spring of 2013 representatives from Tornakalns Church take part in the "Church Days 2013". Seven or eight years ago we tried to arrange a parish journey from here but the attendance was too little. Maybe we should try again.
The fact, that a friendship parish between Abildgaard and Tornakalna at that time was founded, is based in the part of the city, where the church is situated. Zemgale at that time was a distinct municipality, which was friendship town with Frederikshavn. Zemgale is no more a distinct municipality, and there is no more a friendship town to Frederikshavn.
Different groups in Frederikshavn and Strandby including church movements and the senior committee started the Help for Latvia about 20 years ago by organizing a collection of clothes. The Help for Latvia stopped 10 years ago because of environmentalâ€ and other requirements, whereby the financial circumstances got too difficult. Over years after 2000 and until the financial crisis the need for help was not so big but it has returned.
The Lutheran Church of Riga is a Free Church. There is no national Church in Latvia, as we know it. That means that the congregation must finance everything themselves, wages of the vicars, maintenance of the church and whatever you need to run a church.
The means for this are provided in form of certain church taxes from the about four thousands members of the parish. Compared to this there are about nine thousands members of the Church in Abildgaard Parish and beside that by collections in the church at every service. A somewhat bigger amount of money is given, than we are used to. Quite a lot of people, who are not members for some reason, come in the church so it is their way of contributing. For special purposes you collect directly. That could be a special repair, a piece of equipment or something else.
That also means that they once a while get donations that are targeted for special purposes, where we might think that the need is bigger for something else.
From our point of view it is a rather young church with a lot of weddings, christenings and few burials. Many adults have been baptized and confirmed over the last years. You must be confirmed to get married. It seems that many people seek the church to find a basis in very changed times. There have been many changes in Latvia since 1989.
Every Sunday there are two services, where the church with seats for five hundreds is filled up twice. Beside that many services are held during the year. That can be in connection with social â€ or cultural work, at hospitals etc. There is a rich life related to Tornakalna Church. It can be divided in what is going on in connection with services, with culture and with social life. You can see that in bible studies, seminars for couples to get married, praying, groups for meditation, Sunday schools, library work, groups preparing themselves for confirmation, seminars for Sunday school teachers (there are about 20 teachers for the Sunday school) and for deacon workers (there are about 75 of them) seminars for future parish voluntary workers, culture evenings with poetry and films, children and adult choir, music and song festival, with participants from Latvia and foreign countries, summer camps for children and young people, youth work, guitar lessons, advice in social matters, talks with anonymous alcoholics and mentally ill persons , pastoral care, talks at illnesses , disasters, deaths, divorce or where there is need for talking, home visits and visits at hospitals. More than two thousands get help through the social work every year. You get quite breathless by their commitment.
There is a medical clinic "Gratis" (as it is called in Latvian, too), connected with the church. Here more doctors are involved, using their spare time there in turns. That is done in a modest location, has always need of money because the need for medical treatment is big.
In Latvia there is there is no social safety net as we know it. Therefore there is need and that has become a big task for the church. That requires voluntary workers from the church to do the work. These more than hundred people do not get any money. Such social work we do not know to the same extends in the church in Denmark. Most tasks is managed by the public, except the voluntary visitors system and the the pastoral care.
In the church four vicars are employed. In addition to this an assistant is there to run the deacon work and there is an administrative assistant. The rest is done by voluntary workers.
Every third year you choose a church council, consisting of 25 members including the vicars. The church council is different from the typical Danish council what age is concerned. Only very few are more than 50 years old, which is a reflection of the age of persons in the congregation.
More than 20 years ago we met them as there was an obvious need for ecclesiastical and economical help. We have got to know one another and have seen how you run a church and experienced the ecclesiastical and social life in each country.
They are devoted to Christianity and their work in the church. We meet honest and committed persons, who dare acknowledge their God and they feel a great responsibility for other people and do something about it - not only talk.
Many of us Danes might be a little halfâ€hearted in our relation to God and somehow "cultural Christians" with Christmas, baptism, confirmation, wedding and burial as our big need for the church.
Therefore in Abildgaard we really need the friendship relation with Tornakalns Church.
We can help and get help from Tornakalns through mutual visits and exchange of knowledge and experience. Beyond this we still have the opportunity to help financially
Frederikshavn in 2013
Joergen Steen - Member of the International Committee of Abildgaard Church in Frederikshavn