|"The force of Reformed in Lithuania- Word of God and church law within a strong community."|
|Pirmadienis, 11 Liepa 2011 16:31|
The interview by the journalist and responsible editor of „Reformatų Metai"(„The Year of the Reformed Church") Aurelija Arlauskiene with the Superintendent General of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania, Tomas Šernas.
On June 24-26 the Synod of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania took place in Birzai. On June 24 the Synod evening session started with the usual festive service. Unfortunately, the holiday mood was spoiled by an incident. While people were leaving the Church, two private security crews arrived in the territory of the congregation and informed the Rev. Rimas Mikalauskas about their instructions to guard the Church and rectory and prevent parishioners‘ entrance into the territory. Right away the reamining parishioners held a vigil against those instructions. The vigil is still going on and will continue as long as it is required to protect their Church. What is the origin of the conflict in Birzai?
Ignoring the law. The Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania is one of the most traditional religious communities and has experienced a great deal of tension between legal units for several years.
The essence of the conflict is inside the Church. In 2001, previous responsible representatives of the Church did not take part in the Synod of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania. However, they are violating the Canon law using the Synod Collegium requisites of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania, which is the legal unit of the Church. We regret that legal measures were not taken in good time. It was not desirable to make the inner problems of the Church public in the secular institutions and an effort was made to solve the problem inside the Church. Later, after the third parties had joined, an attempt was made to start negotiations. Unfortunately, the person who acted in the name of the Synod Collegium of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania ignored the goodwill mediation of the third party, i.e. the former Minister of Justice Petras Baguska to solve the conflict. He also refused the help of the authoritative head of the close religious community in the negotiations. The problem was not being solved legally and gradually it became a constant problem for the Evangelical Reformed Church. In the recent days it has been a painful experience for the Church as well as for the community of Biržai town and district. A group of people under the leadership of Algimantas Kvedaravičius aroused financial conflicts in the Church, which actually means this group is causing conflicts between the legal units of the same Church. We feel responsible for that because our unsolved problem has caused much trouble not only to us, but to our surrounding area of Biržai as well as other areas where we have parishes. The painful event in Biržai reminded us about this ingrained problem. We are left to find an essential solution to this problem. It is not a conflict among parishioners or pastors, nor is it a conflict of property or theological issues either. The essence of the conflict is the actions and the statements made by persons who are canonically unauthorized by the Church.
The essence of the problem in Birzai is that those people illegally acting in the name of the Synod Collegium of the Evangelical Reformed Church acquired the title to the building of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Birzai from Panevezys Register Centre. Using the building‘s title, these people took measures to influence the members of the congregation of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Birzai. This historical congregation is the true builder and maintainer of the church buildings and surrounding real estate. These facts are confirmed by archival documents.
How do you evaluate the present situation?
I believe the situation is dire since the formal legitimacy under state law does not meet the actual situation and the rights of the religious community are violated. The people‘s right to freely profess faith and feel as rightful owners of the Church which is maintained by their own donations is under threat. In this case the formal legitimacy does not meet the actual situation at all and is fundamentally opposed to the principles of justice, reason and honesty when the letter of the law contradicts the spirit of the law. The largest Evangelical Reformed congregation have found themselves in such a position that their rights as a religious community have been harshly violated. The Lithuanian courts made decisions without examining the actual situation in detail and giving restrictive interpretation of the rights standards, i.e. they stated that certain institutions acted or did not act in compliance with statutory procedures while making decisions.
I want to stress that right cannot be born from wrong. In this exact case, the application was signed by a person who has never been authorized by the Church. This illegal act enabled him to acquire the cornerstone of the largest Evangelical Reformed community in Lithuania. It is hard to realise that such things are happening in a democratic state.
In Birzai church people have been holding a vigil day and night for some time already, three daily services are also being held. What measures have you taken as Superintendent General?
I have applied to the state institutions asking for an urgent investigation of the actual situation in the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania and requested a fundamental solution to the problem according to the law of religious communities as well as the protection of the citizens‘ fundamental rights to justice.
The Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania has its own highest governing body which is called the Synod of the Evangelical Reformed Church (hereinafter called the Synod). Its rights are listed in the canons and memorials. The principles of the fundamental rights and actions are confirmed in the Church statute issued in 1929, i.e. canon V-1929. The lower governing body is the Synod Collegium or the Consistory of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania. It acts only under the authority of the Synod for a certain period of time, usually for a three-year-term and consists of four ministers and four secular members. They are elected during the assembly of the Synod; Synod members and delegates from other E.R. congregations vote for them.
So far the basic fact has not been taken into consideration: both the lower governing body, i.e. the Synod Collegium or the Consistory and the legal person representing it, i.e. the Synod Collegium of the Evangelical Reformed Church can act only under the authority of the highest governing body the Synod which includes ministers, curators and elected congregational delegates. These institutions act under the authority of the ministers, curators and congregation delegates but not vice versa.
The state has decided on a compromise and communicates with both heads of the legal units of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania without paying attention to the fact whether they act under the authority of the highest governing body of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania - the Synod, according to the Canon law. As I have already mentioned, the attempt to bring the interested parties together in order to solve the conflict was a complete failure unfortunately. Out of seven meetings arranged at the Ministry of Justice, the last two were completely ignored by Algimantas Kvedaravičius who considers himself to be the representative of the Synod Collegium of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania.
Who can act under the authority of the highest governing body of the Evangelical Reformed Church the Synod according to the Canon law?
The Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania-Unitas Lithuaniae- Synod has the authority of the highest governing body of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania. Namely this legal person and its leadership continue the relations with the evangelical reformed churches abroad which were confirmed by the Synod of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania in 1924. The Church is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches - WCRC. The Communion unites moderate evangelical reformed churches and is the largest communion of evangelical reformed churches worldwide. It includes all main national European evangelical reformed churches as well as the churches from other continents. The Synod of the Evangelical Reformed Church of Lithuania-Unitas Lithuaniae-keeps in direct partnership contact Evangelical reformed churches in Europe and around the world as well as the government of the Synod Collegium of the Evangelical Reformed Church in Chicago.
The Church is the people. How many congregations does the Church have and where?
There are 12 congregations in total: Biržai, Vilnius, Kėdainiai, Nemunėlio Radviliškis, Panevėžys, Švobiškis, Klaipėda, Šiauliai, Kaunas, Papilys, Alytus. The number of ordained ministers is increasing. In the schools of Biržai district, the catechists of our Church teach about the evangelical reformed faith alongside the catholic faith and ethics. The evangelical reformed youth society „Radvila" which was founded in the Republic of Lithuania before World War II became active again after the declaration of independence of our country. In 2004, the church of Medeikiai in Biržai district established the children‘s home "Child‘s shelter". In Nemunelio Radviliškis, there is a home for the elderly people from evangelical reformed and catholic churches. There are a lot of other successful activities; namely children‘s Sunday schools, summer camps for our youths. Now for the spiritual education of our families, churches and congregational homes are under reconstruction. This means we are making basis for our spiritual work at hand. The informative educational journal „Vilniaus reformatų žinios" is published monthly in Vilnius as well as the almanac "Reformatų metai". The website www.ref.lt provides a broad overview of the latest news.
We are proud that although being a rather small community, we are able to accomplish our spiritual mission by the means of donations of our Church members and 2% of the personal income tax from the state. We do not own any commercial real estate for further revenue. The annual financial support from the state is only a small part of the means which we spend on the reconstruction of the churches demolished in the Soviet times and quite often on the reconstruction of the cultural monuments protected by the state.