Reflecting back on the long way to this exciting graduation day, Baltic Union Conference president Valdis Zilgalvis remembers how it all began: “It was hard to get pastoral education during Soviet time. The first possibility to study opened only in 1987, in Zaoksky seminary in Russia. Good number of pastors from the Baltic Union went to study to Zaoksky. Some pastors got their diplomas. During that time there was a decision made to open Riga branch. So teachers were sent from the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Church and the process of education was started in Riga, under the Zaoksky seminary, but graduation was still far ahead.
When the Baltic states got their independence, in 1994 Baltic Union Conference returned back to it’s historic home at the Trans-European Division (TED). TED executive committee made a decision to organise academic studies for ministers in the Baltic countries. The strong support was received from the Division president Dr Jan Paulsen. The decision was made to start two programs: academic one for those who wanted to receive academic education and another for those who wanted to receive just professional education. It was called pilot program in Riga. Together there were about 120 students. But soon academic program had to be stopped, because students wrote essays in their own language. For Newbold it was hard to evaluate essays written in the local languages. Because Newbold was under British Open University regulations, Newbold college could not give BA level for those who studied off-campus and wrote essays in languages other than English.
During this hard time TED education department leader Orville Woollford together with Griggs University president Dr. Joseph Gurubatham made a plan for pastoral education program in the Baltic Union. Wholehearted support for the program was received from the TED president Dr Bertil Wiklander. The main author for the BA programme was Dr Olafsson Gudmundur. He worked in close connection with Ministerial secretary Peter Roennfeldt. There was made excellent program which helped our ministers to receive systematic knowledge for pastoral work. It answered practical needs of local churches in BAUC. The big support was received from Carsten Waern who sponsored this program as well.
Besides the academic program Dr Erich Metzing worked out plans for non academic professional pastoral program for those who could not participate in the academic program. It was planned for six years. The main lectors for both programs were Newbold College teachers. Both programs were started in 2001. One of the interesting characteristics of this program was that even during their studies pastors could continue their ministry at the local churches during weekends. This program also helped pastors from all Baltic countries to be together and to get to know each other better.”
“I was privileged to teach this group four years ago and it was very special to share this Sabbath celebration with them,” said DMin Steve Currow, Senior Lecturer in Pastoral Studies at Newbold College. “Newbold has been happy to join with the Trans-European Division and the Baltic Union in delivering this programme. Special thanks goes to Dr Erich Metzing who co-ordinated the sessions, even after he retired from the Department of Theological Studies at Newbold. I pray that such a programme will further develop the effectiveness in the mission and ministry of the Baltic churches,” said S.Currow.
In this special graduation day all presidents from the local conferences and mission field were present. Lithuanian Mission field (LMF) president Bertold Hibner shared joy of all church leaders present at the graduation: “Education of our pastors, Bible workers and elders is one of our strategy pillars. Most of our ministers in Lithuania are young and they want to study to prepare themselves for their ministry. Being in the graduation ceremony I felt very grateful to God for His grace, mercy and blessings, to the Baltic Union, it’s president Valdis Zilgalvis for his continuous efforts to establish pastoral education programme in our union, to the TED and GC leadership for their vision, continuous efforts and support for our ministers to get their education.
Looking from the LMF perspective we need to expand our work and therefore widen our ministers’ family in order to successfully enter in an unentered areas in Lithuania. Practical pastoral education helps our workers to perform their ministry better and enable them to minister in larger districts serving two or three churches.
Speaking with the graduates I felt a heart full of gratitude and the desire to do the best in their ministry for the LORD. It is our prayer that the LORD would continue to help our ministers to get the necessary education so that the gospel ministry would expand in the Baltic countries reaching new places and hearts,” in the conclusion said B.Hibner.
Estonian Conference president Tōnu Jugar shared his view: “This was very useful program for our pastors. It has widened their view on their ministry. I hope this program will be continued in some form also for those who have finished academic education too. Society changes and we need to find new and creative ways to reach those people and minister with the Gospel of grace.”
Baltic Union Conference was established in 1924 and consists of Estonian Conference, Latvian Conference and Lithuanian Mission Field, uniting more than 90 Adventist churches and 6.400 church members.
Baltic Union Conference Communication Director