By Holger Lahayne
Twenty years ago there were first steps towards an Evangelical Alliance in Lithuania. Gordon Showell-Rogers of the European Alliance (EEA) visited the country in 2002 and 2004 and introduced the movement, founded in 1846, to church leaders. The Confession of the European Alliance was translated into Lithuanian. However, for various reasons, a formal establishment of a national association of evangelicals did not occur at that time. Only in recent years has there been movement in the process again, and in the meantime there is agreement that the Pentecostal bishop Rimantas Kupstys is coordinating further action. In this respect, there is in a certain sense an informal Evangelical Alliance in Lithuania.
Against this background, the short visit of a delegation of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) to Vilnius on March 30 was quite opportune. The 5-member group led by Prof. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher toured the three Baltic states; the first stop was in the Lithuanian capital. Schirrmacher, who lives in Bonn, took over the office of Secretary General of the WEA last year. A few years ago, he had been ordained a bishop in a Reformed Episcopal Church (Anglicans, but not in church communion with the Anglican Communion). Schirrmacher, founder and longtime rector (until 2018) of Martin Bucer Seminary in Bonn, taught at numerous universities and is the author of many theological and sociological works on religion, including a multi-volume Ethics or Hitler’s Religion of War (2 volumes). The Reformed theologian is also a committed advocate of human rights and religious freedom.
Schirrmacher was accompanied by his wife Christine, who teaches Islamic Studies at the University of Bonn. In 1994, Hänssler-Verlag published her two-volume work ‘Der Islam’. The visiting group also included Matthias Böhning, who represented the WEA, EEA and the International Society for Human Rights (ISHR). He also lives in Bonn.
The day’s program of the delegation was intensive: visit to the Parliament, meeting with exiled Belarusians, short visit to Mykolas Romeris University. In the afternoon, Schirrmacher presented Alliance principles at a meeting with Protestant pastors and leaders. The meeting was hosted by the Pentecostal Alliance, whose administrative building also houses the church’s Theological College. The conversation was led by Bishop Kupstys (see photo above). The Lithuanian evangelicals got good insights into the history of the Alliance, which is the oldest worldwide ecumenical movement.
Holger Lahayne organized meetings with Catholic bishops in the city for the delegation. In the morning, a short visit to Archbishop Petar Rajič, the apostolic nuncio, was on the agenda. The Vatican’s ambassador for the entire Baltic region resides in Vilnius. Rajič is of Croatian Canadian descent. After the meeting with the evangelicals, we went to see the Archbishop of Vilnius, Gintaras Grušas. Last year, Grušas, who was born and raised in the United States, was elected president of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE). Auxiliary Bishop Darius Trijonis also participated in the exchange with the WEA delegation. He is responsible in the Lithuanian Bishops’ Conference for ecumenical relations in the country.
The Catholic hierarchs were given first-hand insights into the worldwide work of the Evangelical Alliance. This will enable them – if a Lithuanian Alliance is ever founded – to better understand it. And the evangelicals received new impulses to deepen the cooperation and to move forward on the way to a national alliance.
Photos © Holger Lahayne