The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia was established in 1922, shortly after the proclamation of Latvian independence in 1918; but what is now known as the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad was formed by Latvian refugees after the Second World War, when Latvia was occupied and incorporated into the Soviet Union, to continue the work of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia. About half of the clergy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, including the Archbishop and almost all of the senior clergy, had left Latvia by 1944, and for the next decade or so they represented the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia in international forums, for example, as founder members of the Lutheran World Federation. They also reorganized their church to adapt to life in exile. Latvian refugees, including their clergy, migrated to countries all over the world, where they founded congregations: in Europe, mainly in West Germany, Great Britain and Sweden; in America, mainly in the United States and Canada; and in Australia and New Zealand.
As a result, after the Second World War, when Latvia was under Soviet occupation, the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church was split into two – one part was operating in Latvia under the constraints imposed by the Soviet regime and the other part was abroad in exile, each with its own archbishop. This split in our church between the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad remains to the present day. Nevertheless, since the fall of the Soviet Union and the re-establishment of Latvian independence in 1991, despite some differences in outlook, our two churches have been able to recognize each other openly and work together more closely. In 1998 both churches adopted a common document of agreements as a framework for future cooperation. Both churches regard themselves as being in succession to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia that existed before the Second World War. The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad is a member of the Lutheran World Federation, the World Council of Churches and the Conference of European Churches. In September 2014 it signed the Porvoo Declaration, and is now a full member of the Porvoo community of Anglican and Lutheran churches in Europe.
The office of the archbishop moved from Germany to the USA, from there to Canada and then again back to Germany in 1994. In 2014 the church consecrated its first female Archbishop, Lauma Zusevics, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the United States The archbishop is assisted by an 18-member church council which has executive powers. During the years of exile the church produced a new translation of the Bible into Latvian, published in London in 1965 by the British and Foreign Bible Society. It has produced a number of hymnals and many theological books. Every year it publishes a church yearbook.
Today the largest congregations are in the USA and Canada, but congregations can also be found in Australia, South America and in a number of European countries. Increasingly, since Latvia regained its independence and especially since it became a member of the European Union in 2004, many of these congregations are being revitalized by recent emigrants from Latvia.