Latvia: Adventist Church Signs Agreement With State
("ANR/APD," June 15, 2004). Seventh-day Adventists in the Baltic nation of Latvia are on the verge of full legal status as an agreement between the church and the Latvian government is signed and waiting approval from the Latvian parliament, the Saeima. Church leaders expect that the deal will either be ratified or postponed.
Discussions between religious denominations and the Latvian government have been ongoing for many years. When the Latvian state signed a concordat with the Catholic Church, the government promised similar agreements would be made with other traditional denominations.
State representatives began discussions with Lutherans, Baptists and Orthodox churches, and initially agreements were made. Other denominations, including Adventists, were told that discussions would start "somewhat later."
Early this month, Viesturs Rekis, president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latvia, received an urgent invitation to participate in the meeting of the Council of Spiritual Matters, June 4.
Council chairman Ainars Slesers offered the Adventist Church an opportunity to sign the agreement before parliament adjourned. When other, smaller denominations asked about their status, they unexpectedly received a proposal to join bigger denominations and sign this agreement together with Lutheran, Baptist and Orthodox churches.
Although these three denominations had worked for several months on the agreement project, the State Chancellery proposed a similar, unified agreement project for all churches without allowing time for discussion. On June 8, agreements were signed. Pastor Rekis signed on behalf of the Adventist Church, while Ainars Slesers, the vice-prime minister of Latvia, signed on behalf of the government.
"If this agreement is ratified, it will provide [the church with] several privileges," says Rekis. "It will open some opportunities, which were closed for us under the current law. It will allow us to minister in hospitals, where, until now, we did not have access because of our lack of official status. We will also be able to work more actively in education. It will help us to deal in a more successful way with financial matters. The main thing is that it will be a basis for better dialogue between the Latvian state and us, because until now we were regarded as something insignificant."
In 2003, nearly 7,000 Adventist Christians worshipped in 38 Seventh-day Adventist congregations in Latvia, with 3,900 adult baptised members, a 38 percent increase over the previous ten-year period. The Latvian Adventist Church's Web Site in English may be found at www.adventisti.lv.