Today we'll be headed to church at First Riga. But fist, here's what happened on Saturday...
Yesterday was the Apple Festival! We went out to the Wesley Camp, where about 50 children, youth and adults from the Latvian churches gathered for the apple harvest.
Some of our team gathered near the kitchen to make batches of apple crisp from the recipe that Rachel Bell donated to the UMW cookbook. This was our contribution to the feast. It turned out great!
At some point, the work came to an end and we gathered upstairs for worship and fellowship. We got to know each other a little better by playing a game where everyone gathered in a corner of the room with others they had something in common with… age, music preference, dessert preference, etc.
We sang a couple of songs, and then people shared testimonies of how God had worked in their lives. Then we gathered in small groups for prayer.
We ended with rolling apples down the ramp. You roll your apple and then stand by it. When everyone was at the bottom of the ramp, they took a picture.
Then, it was time to eat! We gathered in the dining hall with the pastors from all the churches and listened while they shared their joys, challenges and dreams for ministry. This is a passionate group. They are excited about their ministries and hopeful for the future, but they do face great challenges, both in the communities they serve and in the church itself. I believe that they feel the same generation gaps we do, but they are amplified because of the small numbers. They also struggle to overcome the problems related to alcoholism and drug addiction in their communities. And, of course, there are the personal struggles with balancing home life and pastoring a church.
It was a great time of fellowship and sharing. The Latvian church is blessed to have such committed leadership.
After wrapping up things at the Apple Festival, we loaded up the bus and our two vans and started the 3-hour drive back to Riga. Conner and Madeline rode with the youth on the bus, and had a wonderful time of fellowship, singing, and learning more Latvian words!
Judy summed up the day in three words: “I was blessed.”
We spent today in and around Liepaja on the Baltic Sea. We started the day at the churches at Liepaja, Matras and Tasi. Edgars pastors the churches at Liepaja and Matras, and the Associate Pastor at Liepaja, Gunta, pastors Tasi as well.
The Liepaja church seems to be the largest and most active congregation. Edgars shared the history of the church and explained some of the ministries that go on there. They do many ecumenical activities with other churches in the city. They are also getting ready to start an after-school program in October. There is a space in the church that they hope to renovate for this use, but for now they will use the Sunday School rooms.
They talked about how much it costs to heat the building (think wood-burning stoves that heat boilers... no insulation... tall ceilings... old windows). Part of their building is used by renters, so they have to make sure that those spaces are heated (Previously those businesses had reduced rent, and in exchange they provided the heat. That has changed for this coming year.)
We continued on to Matras Church, which Edgars also pastors. This church building was one of two among the Latvian Methodist churches that actually looks like and church and has remained a church all along (used by the Lutheran church during the Soviet occupation). We learned about their Sunday School programs and their congregation. They very often have more children in Sunday School than adults in worship. It is common for parents to send their children off for Sunday School and not attend church themselves. This is part of the generation gap problem… children and seniors, but not many in between.
Next we stopped in to the Tasi Church, which is pastored by Gunta (we will meet her at the Apple Festival on Saturday). This church and Matras are very close together and often partner together in worship and ministry. They are in a poor, rural area… but they are rich in spirit! They prepared quite a spread of tea, coffee and snacks for us. Edgars shared about how the church started as an outreach of Matras, and then the people in the area (it’s in what appears to be an apartment building) wanted to know why they couldn’t have their own church… and so it was started!
We spent a little bit of time back in the area around the hotel, wandering through the market and eating lunch. Then we headed out to the Baltic Sea. We stopped first at the Jewish Memorial. There is a site along the sea where thousands of Jews, Jewish supporters and others were massacred and buried in mass graves by the Nazis. It was a sobering place to be… the memorial is made out of stone and shaped like a menorah.
Next we moved on to the bunkers along the Baltic Sea… or the ruins of them. They are quite impressive. View the Facebook page for a couple of pics.
Our last stop was back at Liepaja Church to meet Vivita, the pastor of Kuldiga Church (which we had visited the previous day) and Sniedze, the director of Sunday School for the district. We shared some SS resources with them, then listened to Vivita talk about the joys and struggles they have been experiencing at Kuldiga. Again, generation gap issues. Please be in prayer that these churches can find a way to bring the old and new together in a way that will be fulfilling for them all and honoring to God.
See Facebook for pics...