RIGA, LATVIA [ANR] — June 2004 may become a crucial date for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latvia. An agreement between the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latvia and the Latvian government was made unexpectedly quickly and is already signed. Currently no one knows what will be its fate in the Latvian Parliament (Saeima), but within a few days it will be signed or its ratification will be postponed.
Talks about agreement between traditional denominations and the Latvia state began a long time ago. When an agreement was made between the Catholic Church and the Latvia state, the Government promised that similar agreements would be made with other traditional denominations. But discussions in this area were slow. Adventists were not invited at all. State representatives started discussions with Lutherans, Baptists and Orthodox churches, and at first projects of agreements were made. Other denominations, including Adventists, were told that discussions would start somewhat later.
At the beginning of June, Viesturs Rekis, president of the Latvian Conference of Seventh-day Adventists received an urgent invitation to participate in the meeting of the Council of Spiritual Matters (of which, he is a member). The meeting was held on June 4 and, taking in account the unstable political situation, the chairman of the Council, Ainars Slesers, offered an opportunity to sign this agreement immediately before Parliament’s summer vacation time. When other denominations questioned their status, unexpectedly they got a proposal to join bigger denominations and sign this agreement together with Lutheran, Baptist and Orthodox Church.
Although these three denominations had worked for several months on this agreement project, the State Chancellery proposed a similar, unified agreement project for all churches without any time for discussion. On June 8 agreements were signed. For the Adventist church it was signed by Viesturs Rekis, president of the Latvian Conference and for the state, by Ainars Slesers the Vice-prime minister.
This agreement provides a model of cooperation between the state and our church. If Saeima will ratify it, we will publish its text.
Viesturs Rekis acknowledged that this agreement is positive for Latvia. “If this agreement will be ratified, it will provide 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, because of our lack of professional status, doors were closed for us. 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 Latvia state, and us, because until now we were regarded as something insignificant, like a sect. This agreement testifies that the state reckons with us.”
We have to admit that if the Latvian Parliament will ratify this agreement, we will still have to evaluate opportunities provided under this agreement. We hope to return to this topic again when additional information will become available somewhat later.