Last week the Church of England Newspaper reported on an event that happened in Latvia, at the Anglican Chaplaincy of St Saviour’s Riga where the Chaplain is The Reverend Dr. Juris Cālītis who also is Dean of Theology at the University of Latvia.
The article as originally written appears below. (The version published by CEN was slightly shorter.) The author George Conger writes:
This isn’t a story about the issues that divide: blessings or ordinations, but about simple human decency on the part of a small Church of England parish in Riga, Latvia.
The Bishop in Europe, the Rt. Rev. Geoffrey Rowell, has rebuked the chaplain and parish council of the Church of England parish in Riga for hosting a gay pride service following a violent street march through the old city of the Latvian capital.
Approximately 100 marchers celebrating “Riga Pride 2005” on July 23 were pelted with eggs and tomatoes and threatened with violence during the country’s first ‘gay pride’ march by several thousand onlookers. While neo-Nazi skinheads and Russian nationalists played a prominent role in peppering the marchers with abuse, the majority of the mob were Christians from Latvia’s mainline churches: Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Orthodox the Rev. Juris Calitas, Riga’s Anglican chaplain stated.
Controversy over the march began shortly after Riga’s city council granted permission for the march on July 8. MP’s from the Green and conservative parties as well as the heads of Latvia’s Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist and Orthodox Churches protested. Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis stated on July 20 a gay pride parade was “not acceptable” as “Latvia is a state based on Christian values”, prompting Riga’s mayor to cancel the parade.
An emergency appeal to an administrative court restored the permit and the parade took place under the protective police shield. The hour-long paradebegan and ended at St. Savior’s [Church of England] and was followed by an ecumenical Anglican-Lutheran worship service.
Parade participant, Maris Sants reports that to enter St Savior’s the marchers had to pass through a hostile jeering crowd, including one woman standing at the Church door holding an icon and crucifix. “While trying topress people to kiss” the relics, Mr. Sants stated, she “eventually gave slaps to some participants”.
A spokesman for the Bishop in Europe told The Church of England Newspaper, “St Saviour’s Riga had not requested any permission for such a service to take place and the bishop was concerned at reports of such a service occurring”.
“Bishop Geoffrey believes it is inappropriate that, as churches wrestle with the proper pastoral care for those of homosexual orientation, a church service to be used in what would seem to be a lobbying and confrontational way and has made this clear to the Chaplain and Church Council.”
Martin Reynolds of the Gay and Lesbian Christian Movement stated he was “amazed” at these remarks, writing to Bishop Rowell on Aug 8 “Your chaplain and congregation exhibited bravery and compassion”.
Dean of Theology at the University of Latvia, Dr. Calitis—-a priest of the Church of England and pastor of the Latvian Lutheran Church—-noted the mobs reminded him of the anti-Jewish pogroms of the war years. “It was scapegoating,” he stated. “It’s hard to understand how Christian people with the least understanding of their mandate can be involved in mobs like this.”