From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Methodism thrives in Estonia

Date 28 May 1996 16:18:36

"UNITED METHODIST DAILY NEWS" by SUSAN PEEK on Aug. 11, 1991 at 13:58 Eastern,

Note 2977 by UMNS on May 28, 1996 at 16:29 Eastern (5574 characters).

SEARCH:   Estonia, Parnamets, Baltic Mission Center, Russian

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Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of
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York, and Washington.

CONTACT:  Joretta Purdue                         263(P10-71){2977}
          Washington, D.C.  (202) 546-8722            May 28, 1996

United Methodism
flourishes in Estonia

                        A UMNS News Feature
                      by William MacDougall*

     World War II bombers destroyed their principal church. Their
clergy were executed or sent to Siberia. Congregations were
persecuted and many went "underground" -- all because they were
     The United Methodist Church of Estonia, under Soviet
communism for half a century, might have died out -- as did
neighbors in Latvia, Lithuania and the Soviet Union itself.  But
Estonian Methodists persisted, their faith as unbroken as
Christians under siege in ancient Rome.
     Now Methodism is thriving in newly independent Estonia at the
eastern edge of the Baltic Sea.  From a total of 16 churches
before the Soviet Union seized Estonia in 1940, the number has
grown to 22 less than five years after achieving independence, and
more are planned.
     Estonia is about half the size of Maine and has a population
of 1.6 million.
     Despite the country's huge death toll in World War II,
membership has risen from 1,600 a half century ago to more than
2,000 plus several hundred children in Sunday schools. The largest
Methodist seminary in Europe, the Baltic Mission Center opened
recently in Tallinn, the capital, and is training ministers from
many parts of Europe.
     "It is by God's grace that we persisted," said Superintendent
Olav Parnamets of the Estonian United Methodist Church, while
visiting the United States. "We had faithful people and faithful
leadership in those difficult years. They didn't escape but
remained with the flock of the Lord -- and some paid a very high
price for that."
     While most religious services were prohibited by the
communists, musical events were permitted. So the Methodists
organized "sing-alongs" which included hymns and other
observances. They also devised "birthday parties" which secretly
served as Sunday schools for the children.
     Parnamets maintains that the church is enjoying a renaissance
because "there was a desperate need for Methodism and its
tolerance and zeal for evangelism. There was a vacuum and we
helped to fill it."
     The Estonian church has long had a close relationship with
American Methodists, who opened missions in the eastern Baltic
about 100 years ago.  But it was those same ties that put eastern
European Methodists in jeopardy when the communists took over
Russia in 1917 and seized Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940.
     Parnamets says the late Soviet Premier Stalin disliked
religion in general but Methodism in particular because of its
links to the West. Most, if not all, Methodist churches in the
Soviet Union were closed in the 1920s and 1930s, and Lithuanian
and Latvian Methodist churches were shut down after the Soviets
seized the three countries. United Methodism is now being
reestablished in all those countries.
     Many United Methodists in the United States -- including
groups in Illinois, Mississippi and Virginia -- have contributed
money or labor to the rebuilding of churches and other buildings
in Estonia. Methodists in other countries, including South Korea,
also have contributed generously.
     Much of the help has been concentrated on the Baltic Mission
Center, a $4 million project which will serve not only as the
seminary but also as a sanctuary. After wartime destruction of the
central church in Tallinn, the nation's largest Methodist
congregation met in borrowed halls belonging to other
     The cornerstone was laid in 1994, and a portion of the
building is now open for use. Parnamets said the present class of
52 seminarians already is a unifying factor in the turbulent
affairs of eastern Europe.
     "Half of the students are of Russian descent or from Russia
itself," the superintendent noted. "In the Baltic Center,
historical enemies have met in Jesus Christ and have achieved love
and understanding of each other."
     Parnamets recalls a young Russian "hippie" -- complete with
dyed green hair -- who happened to attend a Methodist meeting
while he was visiting in Estonia. "Our Methodists prayed with him,
and the result was he opened his heart to Jesus Christ." The young
man returned to Russia and was instrumental in forming a Methodist
church in Samara, a city of 1.5 million. The church has 1,000
members and is growing.
     Unfortunately, the Baltic Center is tens of thousands of
dollars behind in fund raising.  Builders have stopped working
until more money is available.
     "We are in crisis, and there simply isn't that kind of money
available from Estonian Methodists," said Parnamets. "So we hope
that others will help us finish this project. It is so important,
and there is so much yet to do."
     The Baltic Mission Center has been assigned Advance Special
No. 010923-5AN by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries
in New York. More information may be obtained from the United
Methodist Church in Estonia, Apteegi 3, EE0001 Tallinn, Estonia.
                               # # #
*MacDougall is a writer who lives in Arlington, Va.


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