The Latvian Archbishop who is... a woman!

Take note – story published 7 years ago

A decision by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCA) on June 3 to amend its constitution to explicitly deny ordination to women was greeted with strong reactions on both sides. In the wake of the decision, LSM asked two Archbishops for comment. One was Janis Vanags, head of ELCA for life, the other was Lauma Zusevica, Archbishop of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad (LELCA). So far we have only had a response from Archbishop Zusevica, which is reproduced below.

Did the decision taken by the Synod surprise you?

The way the vote was taken did, indeed, concern me. The votes of those abstaining were not counted, as indicated by the By-laws of ELCL. In other words, had they been included, the resolution would not have passed with the necessary 75% of the vote. Regardless, the leadership indicated that the procedural complaint had been submitted too late.

After listening to the presentations of many of the Synod's clergy against the ordination of females, and hearing the mixed reaction against those clergy members of ELCL that spoke in favor of not voting for the resolution that states that only male gender candidates need apply for ordination, the vote did not really surprise me. 

The reaction of the Synod, however, absolutely not only surprised me, but brought great sadness and deep concern... They shouted: 'We won!'  How in the world this coincides with their promise before God to serve as Christ served, who reached out to women in extraordinary and revolutionary ways? It shocked all of us. 

I addressed the Synod at the very end of the day - that was the only time I was allowed to officially speak. I shared that our Church is deeply saddened. They had totally disregarded the fact that it is God who calls one to ordination.

The Church tests and affirms that call, but by their action they had chosen to disregard Christ's role or the involvement of the Holy Spirit in the initial call to serve the Church with the total commitment ordination entails. 

I asked they do not forget the women who have received that call and those who have worked with female clergy members for many years as sister congregations.  

Do you think the fact that you became Archbishop played a role in the decision to explicitly ban women pastors?

I believe greater pressure was put on Archbishop Vanags to take a stand beyond the one he had always affirmed. He told me from the beginning that he would never ordain women. I met him in 1988, so we have had a long history. He did come to my Consecration on April 19, 2015. Bishop Einars Alpe also came. This required some effort. I was consecrated in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Archbishop Janis Vanags did, indeed, congratulate me. Publicly. He graciously gifted me a "Key to Doms", the Cathedral. In Latvia, however, no word of his being there was published.

He did have the Synod acknowledge my presence last week, and he did have them recognize me as the new Archbishop. He has always seemed to want to 'have it both ways', that is, to maintain some sort of relationship with LELCA and yet not recognize female ordination as valid. I truly do not know how he will be able to continue to do so with this official decision of the ELCL Synod.

Do you think the decision by the Synod may drive more people into your church?

Our own Church has a newly established deanery in Latvia.  Yes, we will have to change our name to reflect our presence in Latvia.  The decision of the Synod surely has grave implications for the possibility of eventual unification. I can't see how they would be willing to work with us, given that their decision ultimately reflects a lack of mutual respect. 

I am guessing they would view our presence in Latvia as another 'mistake' on our part. Since the ELCL changed their By-laws to state that no congregation owns any of its own property, the implications for pastors or congregations that would seek membership in our Church are huge. 

The ELCL has indicated that if a congregation seeks to leave ELCL and join us, they would have to give up all rights to their property.  They have already brought legal proceedings against two of our congregations in Latvia. They won one, we won the other (allowing the congregation to keep its sanctuary and property). 

ELCL has stated that they will continue to seek legal redress and take back what they think is theirs.  We have as much right to be co-heirs of the Lutheran Church in Latvia as they do. That is a matter of history, and history, unfortunately, is often a matter of interpretation.

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