Baltic Lutheran Pastoral Theological Conference

October 16-18, 2012

Lutheran Church and Diaconic Center in Palunga, Lithuania

The first Baltic Lutheran Pastoral Theological Conference was organized five years ago by Dr. Darius Petkunas (a member of the Consistory of the Lithuanian Evangelical Lutheran Church) and Dr. Charles Evanson (Theological Education Advisor to the Baltic Lutheran Churches on behalf of the Office of International Mission). It was the first time parish pastors from the Baltic countries met together for mutual study and fellowship.

Dr. Petkunas & Dr. Evanson formulating the conference program.

The conferences were sponsored by Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne and the LELC. Due to the lack of funds, the conference was suspended in 2010. Thanks to financial support from the LCMS Office of Church Relations, Dr. Albert Collver and Office of International Mission, the conference was resumed in October of 2012.

On July 14 of this year Lutherans from Lithuania and also St. Louis, Missouri and the Iowa East District of the LCMS gathered in the coastal city of Palunga for the consecration of the new the church and diaconal/conference center. The Baltic Lutheran Pastoral Conference was the first major conference to use the new facilities. The conference attracted forty participants from the Baltics, including three bishops, and guest speakers from the USA and Russia.

In his introductory comments, Bishop Pavils Bruvers of Latvia said “When we polled the Latvia Lutheran Church for what is needed most, the first response was ‘continuing theological education,’ and, second request was ‘fellowship among the pastors.’ This conference meets both of these needs.” The conference intentionally blended academic and practical themes on theological education and pastoral practice.

Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson led the Daily Offices of Matins and Vespers during the conference.

“Oratio, Mediatatio, tentatio faciunt Theologicum.”

The first speaker was the Rev. Dr. Charles Evanson who addressed Luther’s well known adage, “Oratio, Meditatio, Tentatio faciunt Theologicum.” In his opening comments he told the story of a seminarian who once said to him, “I must preach my first sermon; tell me, what am I to do with the text?” Pastor Evanson responded, “The correct question is rather, ‘What is the text doing to you?” He went on to explain how Oratio (prayer), which is a conversation with God, always begins with God speaking first to us through his Word. We then say back to God what He has said to us.” This is opposite of what was being practiced in medieval mysticism. Luther made the statement that he prayed four hours a day. How was this possible? His prayer arose out of his encounter with the Scriptural text

During Q and A, Dr. Evanson was asked what tentatio means and how he would translate the word. Dr. Evanson stated that tentatio goes into German as “Anfechtung,” an attack and the crisis which then ensues. It is an attack on faith and confidence in God. It holds out some other source of confidence as more reliable and ridicules faith in God’s Word and work. The biblical notion of shame is the sad realization that one has pinned his hopes on something or someone unable to carry the weight. Adam and Eve were ashamed of their nakedness – i.e., they had cast aside their trust in God for trust in a lesser help. The Psalmist and others constantly pray that they may never be put to shame in their hope: “In You, O Lord, have I trusted; let me never be confounded.”

The Rev. Dr. Guntis Kalme spoke about Rev. Dr. Roberts Feldmanis (1920-2002), one of great spiritual fathers of the Latvian Lutheran Church as it survived the Soviet repression and entered the turn of the century with the rise of religious freedom. As foreign missionary to India, parish pastor, church historian, liturgist and prisoner for the faith, he had a profound influence upon today’s generation of Latvian pastors, including Archbishop Janis Vanags.

Rev. Dr. Roberts Feldmanis

Dr. Sandra Gintere spoke about “Luther and the Care of Souls” emphasizing that pastors are not psychotherapists or secular counselors, but use the Word of God and sacraments to give consolation, admonition and comfort to people.

Pastor Arvydas Malinauskas from central Lithuania talked about pastoral care in the local women’s prison. Pr.Malinauskas said, “To this day I do not know why I visit criminals in prison, but I am called by God to do this.” I do not feel worthy to be a priest as I was once in prison myself before I became a Lutheran and then a Lutheran priest. After several years serving a parish, I realized “I cannot live without prison.” Since 2004 I started visiting the local prison which holds about 300 women. I go to prison after Sunday divine service to hold worship in prison for about 30 women. Once or twice a week I visit them to speak about everyday matters. Last year I was asked by the prison director to visit the worst offenders, the repeat offenders behind three steel doors separated from all the other inmates. The ladies told me they didn’t need me, so I left. At Christmas I returned with gifts for them—traditional Christmas cookies. Two or three took the presents and thank me. After Christmas I visited them once a week and asked not to be accompanied by any prison guards, but to go alone. I now have conversations that last up to one hour on questions of faith and studying the Bible. One lady asked me to share coffee with her. I was concerned because this would be dangerous because they carried diseases. But I drank their coffee and this seemed like a miracle to them. We need to accept people behind bars with compassion and mercy.

Pastor Malinauskas (right)

Rt. Rev. Einars Alpe from Latvia addressed “Episcopal visitation in Latgale.” Latgale in western Latvia is different from the rest of Latvia since Lutheranism is in the minority where the Roman Catholic Church is predominant. Alpe said, “In all my years as a parish pastor, I never experienced an episcopal visitation. But episcopal visits are important. How can a bishop learn what is going on in the church if he doesn’t visit. The pastor, parish council and bishop prepare a program or guidelines for the visit. Visitation takes three days. Day 1, (usually Friday) involves everything that surrounds congregation such as the relation to the local municipality. Here pastor can thank the municipality and municipal leaders can thank the pastor and congregation. I also meet with social workers, for example an orphanage, hospital, old folk’s home and chools. On day 2 I meet with the congregation including home visits—anyone from congregation can come and talk to me. A couple of hours are devoted to conversations with parish council—talk about how worship is organized, confirmation classes, mission, diaconal work and budget, and ways to support the pastor and make the church better. We evaluate how pastor and congregation work together, how he is working in congregation, ecumenical sphere and local community. One question takes a lot of courage to ask, but I do: I ask the people to write one but not more than two strong sides of their pastor and to write one but not more than two weak sides of pastor. If I were to summarize three years of visitations, what the people desire in pastors: being truthful to Christ, good hearted, cares for the people, openness, long suffering, patience, able to make responsible decisions, is a good family man/father and good theologian. What they do not want in a pastor is one who is: negligent, impulsive in relations, in poor health, who lives far from congregation, is hard to understand, can’t cope with opposite views from his, wants to control everything because he thinks he knows everything, doesn’t’ listen, doesn’t’ resolve conflict, and doesn’t involve youth.

Rt. Rev. Einars Alpe, Bishop of Daugavpis. Latvia speaking on Episcopal visitations.

Bishop Alpe said, “ I would like to learn more about congregations in order to improve and strengthen the relationship between pastor and congregation and to encourage and make congregational life better. I hope to encourage each congregation to be more open and visible to the local society. Episcopal visitations also provide a good opportunity to visit worship services on the final day. They also provide an opportunity to encourage the people to give adequate financial support for their pastors.”

 

Dr. Timothy Quill

The Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill, “Theological Education in International Mission.” Quill offered the historic definition of the term “theological education” and how it was carried out by missionaries from Europe and North America in residential seminaries. He then gave an overview of profound changes in theological education introduced at the beginning of the 1960s. He went on to describe the major challenges and opportunities in theological education. This include both external challenges, e.g. Pentecostal threats to the liturgy, Islam, secularism & liberalism, relapse into paganism etc. and internal challenges such as library science, financial needs, qualified faculty, registration and accreditation, etc. An ongoing challenge for all seminaries involves pastoral formation that is both academically rigorous and shapes the pastoral, spiritual character and life of the students. Drawing on Wilhelm Sihler, Quill continued, “Otherwise future pastors become merely a Lehr-Machine” (doctrinal machine) rather than a shepherd who possess a “joyous earnestness” for their work which is manifest especially with others and in public.”

The Rev. Gints Kronbergs (pastor in Grobina, Latvia) spoke on “Pastoral Ministry in the Smaller Parish.” He described at how the congregation went from 20 members to a growing and active congregation of 200 members which has also helped renew a congregation in a nearby village and even assist with mission work in Norway. It is interesting that all of this was accomplished and enhanced by the retention of the historic liturgy.

The Rev. Bishop Pāvils Brūvers. “The Church and the Mandate for Mission: The Courlandian Perspective.” Brūvers explained that was not until 2012 that our church began to talk about a mission vision. Under Soviet times we were preoccupied with survival. We had the attitude that we were in a refugee camp, but not we are soldiers ready to go out. However, we had no soldiers, so we had to train our people. Since then Bishop Bruvers has worked tirelessly to encourage his parishes to become active in outreach in the local community.

Bishop Pavils Bruvers of Liepaja Diocese, Latvia

The Rev. Alexey Streltsov, Rector of Lutheran Theological Seminary, Novosibirsk – “Lutheran Education in the 21 Century in View of Modern Technologies. Streltsov strongly supports traditional forms of residential education and yet demonstrated a sophisticated grasp of modern technology and how it can be used to supplement theological education.

 

The Rev. Alexey Streltsov, Novosibirsk, Russia

Dr. Didzis Stilve showed how much of the modern contextualization movement undermines Christian doctrine and practice in his presentation, “Pastoral Ministry and Contextualization.” He noted that “Relativism seems to be inevitable if one focuses on context.” He encouraged us to ask, “What does ‘context’ mean? How big is it? How long does it last. What are its main marks? Could context just be in our heads and not out there?”

Dr. Didzis Stilve of Luther Academy, Riga, Lativa

On Friday morning, the Rev. Dr. Darius Petkunis lecture on “Center and Periphery in the Lutheran Liturgy: Confessional Identity and Ecumenical Perspective.” Dr. Charles Evanson delivered a second lecture title “The Ministry of the Word of god and the Lutheran Confessions.”

Pastor Virginijus Kelertas gave a moving account of the work his congregation is doing among the orphaned and homeless