Longtime readers may remember an interview that William Tighe conducted with the Archbishop of the Latvian Lutheran church (published May 2001). From the interview:
Janis Vanags: I was born on May 25, 1958, during Soviet rule. My father taught German in the Pedagogical Academy in Liepaja, and my mother taught music in the school that I attended there.
I was trained in chemistry and became a schoolteacher, but because of my religious belief I was fired. Then I worked as a window-washer in the railroad station and also as an operator in the City of Riga sewage system. In the railroad station I washed windows together with a Baptist, and in the sewage system there were many Christians and students of theology.
During this time I began to study theology in the seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL). It was more like a correspondence course, because it was not allowed to meet full-time. So we came together for just three days a month for lectures and exams. Otherwise, we mostly read books or compendiums that had been prepared by the teachers—typewritten and copied.
Eventually ordained, he later became Archbishop of the Lutheran Church at 34 (!) This ENI story today caught my attention, as I wondered how he has fared:
Riga, 21 December (ENInews)–Archbishop Janis Vanags, widely known for his strong stand against the ordination of women and opposition to homosexuality, is to remain as the leader of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia.
Vanags, a dissident activist when the Baltic country was under Soviet rule, was chosen to lead the Lutheran church in his country after his predecessor died in a car accident in 1992.
Seventy percent of the synod cast votes of confidence in Vanags, who told ENInews that he called the election because of his concern over the difficult situation in the church.
"The decline of salaries caused much stress," Vanags said in an interview at his office near St. Mary‚s cathedral in Riga. "Another issue where I have received a lot of critique is in the ecumenical field."
The restitution of property to pre-communist era owners turned the LELB into one of the largest property owners in Latvia, allowing the church to finance a centralised salary increase for clergy.
Salaries were tripled, but one of the biggest real estate crashes in the world followed, slashing income.
A 1994 law paved the way for the return of church property.
"There were, of course, some not pleasant situations, when our church had to retrieve or get back some properties where the owners, those people who used this property, didn't agree, and there were court cases, and it's always damaging for the church, somehow to be involved in things like this," Vanags said.
There is resistance to the return of St. Peter's Church in Riga and in another case, the church has applied for the restitution of property on which a maternity hospital now stands. He said that the LELB might drop the claim.
"It is better to lose some money or some property than to lose your image," Vanags told ENInews.
Relations with the Roman Catholic Church have raised eyebrows, he said, following a report on Latvian television that the LELB would be incorporated into the Catholic Church.
"About a year ago, a little bit more, we started also a theological dialogue with the Catholic Church," said Vanags.
The television report raised concerns that the LELB was engaged in secret talks to join Rome.
"This brought some unrest here," said the archbishop. "Part of our clergy asked whether our ecumenical contacts are not too close."
Vanags noted, "It took some time to explain that there are no secret agreements or secret talks between the churches, just what everyone can see."
Under Vanags, the LELB has pursued liturgical renewal, moving away from the local liturgical forms that had taken root in 19th century Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The reforms are marked by a return to the Western canon, and the replacement of the black suit and white collar brought by the Prussians with albs and chasubles.
Vanags has drawn international attention for his stand on the ordination of women and homosexuality, which he said LELB clergy support.
"Part of our clergy proposed, in a legal way, to include in the church constitution a paragraph defining the candidates for ordination as males only," he said of actions taken in 2009. The final decision on including that stipulation will be made in three years.
Vanags has spoken out against gay pride parades in Riga, which he said have shocked Latvia.
The blessing of same-sex unions is not on the LELB‚s agenda. "Here in Latvia we do not see how we can bless same-sex wedlock. It's not an issue among our clergy," he said.
"What we could actually say to our brothers and sisters who are in this homosexual orientation, is that they're welcome to receive all that the Gospel means for the church, but we cannot accept their homosexual relationships as a normal alternative to marriage."
Latvian society, said Vanags, continues to struggle with its Soviet legacy.
"When the changes came, we were very optimistic," Vanags said. "But then we realized that the Soviet time has left much deeper footprints than we originally realised." [Copyright ENI, reprinted by permission]
But I think the interview from 2001 Touchstone more interesting.