As church grows, Lithuanians, Latvians take the pulpit
July 18, 2005
A UMNS file photo by Mike DuBose
The Rev. William K. Quick of the World Methodist Council
A UMNS Feature
By Vicki Brown*
Viktorija Jablonskiene was so shocked by the sight of a woman pastor
that she ran out of the first United Methodist church she visited.
Nearly a decade later, she is making history as one of five Lithuanians
leading churches in their own land.
After that first visit to a church in the mid-1990s, Jablonskiene
could not get the "lady minister" out of her mind, so she sought her
"I told her this is Lithuania, a Catholic country, how can a woman be
a priest? So she explained that in Europe and America it is normal to
have woman priests," Jablonskiene says, recalling how the minister
reassured her the United Methodist Church was not some kind of sect.
As the United Methodist Church in Lithuania celebrates the 10th
anniversary of the re-opening of United Methodism with ceremonies on
Aug. 27 in the Sanciai Church in Kaunas, churches there are moving from
missionary-led houses of worships to churches led by indigenous pastors
like Jablonskiene and her husband, Giedrius Jablonskis.
"We love and appreciate the dedication of missionaries because there
wouldn't be a United Methodist Church in Lithuania today if it were not
for them," Jablonskiene says. Now, missionaries are training Lithuanians
to take over the leadership of the church.
Bishop Řystein Olsen
"Today, there are five Lithuanian pastors. Three are probationary
pastors and two are local pastors. ... We Lithuanians know and
understand each other. We can talk and share the gospel so that all
people can understand. People respond best to their own language," says
Jablonskiene, one of the three Lithuanian probationary pastors.
Bishop Oystein Olsen, whose northern European area includes the
Baltics, agrees indigenous pastors will relate best, since they share a
common language, roots and culture.
"Now indigenous Lithuanians will have a chance to model what they
have seen in the life of missionaries to other Lithuanians. We hope, and
expect to see, a continued growth in the church, continued depth,"
Methodist churches in Latvia and Lithuania were closed and properties
confiscated during the years of Soviet occupation, says the Rev.
William K. Quick, coordinator of Partner Church Ministry for Latvia and
Lithuania and a member of the World Methodist Council Executive
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the United Methodist
Church was restored in Latvia in 1991 and in Lithuania in 1995. At the
end of 2004, almost 4,000 people were connected to 24 churches in the
two countries. Neighboring Estonia, the only country where the United
Methodist Church continued during occupation, has 28 local churches.
Quick says the appointment of indigenous pastors is historic, as is the
acceptance of Grazina B. Ielousova at United Methodist-related Duke
Divinity School in Durham, N.C. She is the first Lithuanian United
Methodist called to ministry to attend a U.S. seminary.
Photo courtesy of The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
Sanciai Church in Kaunas opened ten years ago in Lithuania.
The new churches still face many challenges, including the need for
books and resources, setting up a mentoring process, and salary support.
The last has become more crucial since the cost of living has risen
with the nations' entry into the European Union, Olsen says. Pastors in
Lithuania earn the equivalent of $400 a month and even less in Latvia.
The Northern Europe Central Conference adopted a petition urging
annual conferences in the Nordic and Baltic areas to find ways to
support the Baltic salary fund. And United Methodists around the world
can support salaries through Advance Special donations.
The Rev. Anita Wood, director of Professional Ministry Development at
the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry, will
provide training for clergy who are mentoring the new probationary
elders and deacons.
"We'll be working with them to develop the mentoring process. One of
the difficulties is that the missionaries and clergy who are going to
have to mentor are also supervising in some cases," Wood said. While not
ideal, she said that countries where the faith is new simply don't have
many ordained elders and deacons who can mentor.
"This is the first modern generation of United Methodist clergy for
Lithuania. We need to give them the very best foundation we can for
being in ministry," Wood said. The board is also seeking funds for books
that new pastors can use to prepare sermons and simply learn about
their faith, particularly Methodism, since most attended a Lutheran
Evelyn Erbele, a missionary in Lithuania, is responsible for the
Course of Study for probationary pastors. "I'm having to teach Methodist
polity, Methodist history and doctrine, and I don't have a Book of Discipline translated into Lithuanian," says Erbele.
Spending $5,000 to translate and print books in Lithuanian is not
feasible for so few Lithuanian United Methodists, Erbele said. So she
improvises by holding seminars and translating as funds are available.
However, the new pastors are coming up with a list of 20 books that the
Board of Higher Education and Ministry hopes to purchase for them in
their native language.
"For instance, a general church history book is available in Lithuanian," Erbele said.
Jablonskiene bought a washing machine for the church (with funds
donated by her partner church) because most of the homes in her village
of Kazlu Ruda get water from wells. She says the United Methodist Church
is important to the country because all people are welcome.
"In Kazlu Ruda we reach out into the community, and there is no
barrier between us. We eat, we pray, we sing and we wash our clothes
To make a donation for books, call (615) 340-7375. To donate for salary support, log on to http://gbgm-umc.org/advance or call (888) 252-6174. The Advance Special number for Lithuania salaries is 14715A; for Latvia salaries, it is 14706A.
*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of
Interpretation at the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and
News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.