The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Estonia (ELCE) experienced a powerful resurgence when the country regained independence in the 1990s, after 50 years as part of the Soviet Union. The Church was suddenly able to operate freely and its membership grew rapidly in the space of a few years. More recently, however, interest in the Lutheran Church has started to tail off. According to a 2005 Eurobarometer survey, Estonia is the least religious nation in Europe. The Church is now thinking of new ways to reach people.
Churches in Estonia suffer from worker shortages and are looking at various ways to strengthen the responsibilities of lay persons. FELM is funding new activities and also the training of lay persons.
Estonians know little about Christianity due to the long period the country spent as part of the Soviet Union. One of the focuses of ELCE’s work is training teachers of religious studies. Confirmation schools around the country reach roughly 3,000 young people every year. FELM supports the ELCE’s Mission Association, its Association for Work with Children and Youth and its Diakonia Centre. The majority of the churches’ children’s and youth work is carried out by volunteer workers.
Around 4,000 people are baptised into the Church annually. The number of children being baptised in Estonia is growing. At the beginning of the 1990s the majority of those getting baptised were adults. The Church arranges training for church workers at the Tallinn Institute of Theology. The Institute also trains teachers of religious studies.
Several years ago the Tallinn Institute of Theology began to offer Master’s degree courses in diaconal work. The University of Tartu also offers courses in theology. FELM employees in Estonia work as children’s and youth work expert advisors, in the Mission Association and also doing congregational work. There are many ‘friendship relationships’ between Finnish and Estonian churches.
handicrafts, baking and information technology activities. The centre also arranges lectures on raising children, for parents, and provides psychological help for victims of violence. The centre aims to keep children off the area’s streets, where gangs and drug dealers are rife. The centre also houses a kindergarten and internet café. The church has given its members the chance to carry out practical diaconal work. Church members have carried out home visits, and used the money from a small fund to buy medicine for the poor. They have also helped the unemployed and single mothers in various ways.