By Mark Oakley
Diocese in Europe
The Church of England
20. September 2006
Archbishop Janis Vanags
Doma Laukums 1
Riga LV 1050
As Archdeacon of Germany and Northern Europe, within the Church of England´s Diocese in Europe, I have just returned from the Deanery Synod of Nordic and Baltic Countries held this year in Oslo. The Synod is comprised of the Clergy Chapter and of elected Lay Representatives from our chaplaincies and congregations.
At the Synod the following Motion was passed unanimously:
This Synod affirms the motion carried at the Diocesan Synod of 2006 affirming the statement of the Anglican Primates in the Dromantine Communiqué of February 2005, that “in our discussion and assessment of the appropriateness of specific human behaviours, we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual persons. The victimisation or diminishment of human beings whose affections happen to be ordered towards people of the same sex is anathema to us. We assure homosexual persons that they are children of God, loved and valued by him, and deserving of the best we can give of pastoral care and friendship”, and asks the Venerable Mark Oakley to draft and sign an open letter to the Archbishop of Latvia and others on its behalf, stating the same and expressing its support for the Revd Juris Calitis as a member of this Synod.
The Synod is extremely concerned at events surrounding a service for the Feast of St Mary Magdalene held at St Saviour’s church in Riga on Saturday 22nd July, a service which had the explicit consent of the Diocesan Bishop Geoffrey Rowell. As you will know, that day was the date originally intended for a Gay Pride march through the city. There were, therefore, members of the gay and lesbian community present at the service, along with a wide number of visitors, members of St Saviour’s Council and ecumenical guests. The police had been informed that the service would be taking place. Moreover, violence that took place around St Saviour’s last year on the day of the Gay Pride march would surely have also caused police vigilance this year.
At the end of the service when the Chaplain and members of the congregation were leaving, they were assaulted by a group of abusive and violent people with excrement and eggs. This frightening and intimidating attack on the clergy, people and St Saviour’s church, was only possible because of the lack of police presence. When called, it took about seven minutes for the police to arrive. This is in marked contrast to the professionalism around the church last year and is of grave concern to us and the Anglican community as it placed good people, and our building, at severe risk. Other similar attacks were made in the city throughout that day.
I know you are aware that human rights, including the right to freedom of speech and assembly, lie at the foundations of the Constitution of Latvia and they are to be respected without any discrimination or restriction. We hope, along with many other Christians and people of goodwill, that those who deny such human rights will be brought to justice under the law of your republic. In our opinion this is vitally important because there are reports that the protest of July 22nd was not spontaneous but part of a pattern of behaviour organised by vigilante groups who use intimidation and threats of violence as their tools. European history is well versed in such tactics and their consequences. It shames the Body of Christ that some of those involved refer to themselves as Christians.
Furthermore, we are shocked to have seen some distasteful and spiteful literature in circulation, which have contributions from clergy leaders in it, condoning violence towards the gay and lesbian community. Within the Anglican community, as is well known, there are differing opinions as to the moral appropriateness of homosexual behaviour and this Synod is no different. However, as Christians we are unequivocal in our belief that the victimisation or diminishment of any human beings is to be challenged and opposed in the name of Jesus Christ. Sadly, we are dismayed that the voice of the Latvian churches has remained silent on these violent events and that you have not been more vocal in your resistance to such victimization. Therefore we openly ask you to exercise leadership in speaking out against the violent prejudice and behaviour witnessed in Riga over the last weeks. Your voice will be an encouragement to Latvian society to grow into the full democracy and freedoms that its EU status demands.
Juris Calitis is a cherished member of both our Clergy Chapter and Deanery Synod. His concern is, and has been, to support and protect all minorities and the overlooked in the spirit of Christ. His work for the homeless and elderly at St Saviour’s, as well as for children and recent refugees who need shelter, clearly reveals this. This Christian ministry reminds us, his colleagues, that it is not enough to be compassionate towards victims but that we must also act against injustice. We believe his work is therefore important to the Church and to the city and country he has the privilege to work in and we support him wholeheartedly. As a Synod we hope to meet next year in Latvia as a sign of this support.
In the light of these recent events it must be also be clearly stated that we have a serious concern for Juris’s safety, and for the safety of the congregation and building of St Saviour’s church. We would ask you to do all in your power to ensure their protection.
This comes with the assurance of our prayers for you and the people you serve.
The Venerable Mark Oakley
on behalf of the Deanery Synod of the Baltic and Nordic Countries