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  • Debbie Ducille

Reporting on ‘soul-keeping’ and pastoral care in the Lutheran Church in Estonia

Anna Chaplaincy is a UK ministry, so any travelling done by the team at BRF Ministries is within the UK. Training and development lead Julia Burton-Jones, however, visited the conference of the Estonian Lutheran Church in January. This was through her other part-time role as Anna Chaplaincy lead for the diocese of Rochester, which has a link with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Estonia.


Tallinn

‘It was an eventful journey’, Julia reflected, ‘as our plane was diverted from Tallinn to Riga in bad weather.’ This meant arriving just in time the next day to present the workshop she had been asked to lead on pastoral care with people with dementia.


Among the first people Julia met were Siimon Haamer, a third-generation Lutheran pastor, and his father Eenok. It was deeply humbling to hear the story of Eenok’s father, Pastor Hari, who was ordained in 1929. During the Soviet occupation of Estonia which began in 1940, around 70% of Estonian Lutheran pastors were killed, imprisoned, deported to Siberia or escaped to Western countries. Harri spent eight years in a slave labour camp in Siberia while his family were in hiding (four years in an underground bunker). You can read about his life in a book entitled We Shall Live in Heaven, which has an accompanying study guide: We Shall Live in Heaven – Tartu Academy of Theology (tatest.org).


Markus, Naatan, Eenok and Siimon

Harri’s faithfulness through persecution led to his son Eenock following in his father’s footsteps as a Lutheran pastor, and in turn, all three of Eenock’s sons are now pastors. The family established the Tartu Academy of Theology to train Lutheran pastors; founded soon after independence it offers training in several ministries. A fourth generation of the Haamer family is now joining the mission and involved at the academy.


A key programme at the college is pastoral ministry. During the pandemic, the Social Affairs Ministry turned to the academy to set up a 24-hour helpline for isolated people. With help from alumni of the pastoral care course, many individuals were offered support. The initiative was so effective that the minister for state has continued to fund the project ever since. Siimon explained to Julia that when people in need are diverted to alternative helplines when the pastoral care line is busy, they are disappointed that they will not be offered prayer! This is remarkable when most callers are not Christians.


During the pandemic, Eenok (well into his 80s) continued working with the children at his church over Zoom, so their Christian education was not interrupted. What a wonderful example of faith being passed ‘from generation to generation’.


Julia’s workshop was well attended and generated much interest and lively discussion about Anna Chaplaincy, with the suggestion she may return in future to deliver further training. She discovered that many Lutheran pastors work part-time in their churches and are employed by state-run nursing homes for older people the rest of the week. Several who are in a dual role attended the workshop and shared their experiences, including Tiina who said her nursing home job title is ‘soul-keeper’, a wonderful description of chaplaincy.


‘It was a privilege to be given this opportunity to work with Christians from Estonia’, Julia reflected. ‘We need to pray for these faithful pastors who are continuing to minister in a highly secular country. Their faith, generosity and kindness were a great blessing and encouragement.’


 


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