What the European Meeting means to me

Written between 2024-01-04 and 2024-01-17

When I first heard about the idea that the traditional European Meeting of the Taizé community might come to Tallinn, I said “Hey guys, are you crazy? Estonia is not ready for this!” And now the brothers dare to do it. And they tell me “We will be happy to meet you, listen to your vision of society and the Churches and collect your suggestions in areas that will contribute to providing participants with a fruitful experience…”

The European Meeting is to me like the worm that ate Jonah’s tree (Jonah 4:7).

In July 2023 I started a “communion strike”. Now I realized that the word “strike” was inappropriate. It is not a strike because I don’t ask anything concrete and I don’t blame anybody particular. I now describe my action as an “abstention” or an “atoning sacrifice for the sins of the Church”. My declaration is written in Estonian.

The trigger of my action was a pastoral letter signed by the members of the Council of Estonian Churches who asked the Estonian Parliament to stop a planned law change that would allow same-sex marriages. Quite contrastingly, shortly before this pastoral letter, I had published a manifest saying “As a Christian I believe that we should be among the first ones to welcome this law change”. My problem is not whether same-sex couples may marry or not, it’s about whether this question is part of the Gospel or not. I believe that writing a biased pastoral letter about a controversial question was a systemic mistake.

But the discussion about same-sex marriages was only a trigger, only the tip of an iceberg.

I believe that we should “not fight against evil but fight for what is good”. But now I add “And we should not waste your energy for useless projects”. Estonian church institutions are useless and even counterproductive. I have given 20 years of my life to these organizations, but now I wipe the dust from my sandals and leave them alone. That’s what I basically say with my action.

Two examples of traumatic real-life failures I had with the church in Estonia:

From September 2021 to March 2022 I worked with full-time motivation as the Synodal Contact Person to suggest a synthesis of what people in Estonia have to say at the Synod on Synodality. The result of this work is a 10 pages report that summarized what I had heard during six months of active listening. I wrote it together with 3 theologians, one Lutheran, one Anglican and one Catholic. The document furthermore was signed by 10 individuals who declared that this was a good synthesis. But the synodal team did not even read his report fully and sent a synthesis to Rome that had been written by a single person and the content of which had not been discussed. I cannot blame them because I was their appointed leader. But I failed as their leader and quit my post quietly.

Since 2015 I had been part of a group who organized “Bible Reading Camps” for children in Estonia. In June 2020 the leader of this group asked me to retire from this work because I did not comply with their principles. Indeed the Scripture Union relies on the authority of the Bible and I am often quite fervent in criticizing what I call biblicism.

My allergy against biblicism started here in Estonia somewhere around 2014. But I never perceived it as a “fight” against “evil”, I rather saw it as my contribution to help the church on her journey.

Christians in Estonia live in a bubble. Most Estonians know that Christians follow the ten commandments, but have never heard about the beatitudes. Most schools in Estonia teach a picture of the Church that is obsolete by at least 500 years. Many Estonians imagine the Church as what Daniel Vaarik labelled a “truth institution”: “Truth institutions were obscenely convinced that they are always right.” Christians in Estonia resemble more the Pharisees than the apostles in their fervent fight for traditional moral values. (Excerpts from section 2 of Synodality in Estonia)

The Meeting invites me to reconsider my verdict about Estonian church organizations and my position within the church.

My visions and hopes for the coming year of preparation for this event:

  • I guess that EELK as the most motivated group will dominate the meeting, and the other confessions will therefore have more difficult to join. That’s reality in Estonia. There is currently no non-EELK community in Estonia organizing common prayers. The reason of being of the laudate.ee website is to NOT be controlled by EELK in order to make it easier for other confessions to join.

  • Maybe the brothers manage to meet with the ministry of education in order to explain why the European Meeting is interesting for all schools, not only the Christian ones. Maybe we can get a derogation from the rule that announcements made by religious communities are not allowed in schools.

  • Maybe the meeting can help Christians in Estonia to get out of the bubble by collaborating with people who don’t define themselves as “Christian” and yet live the Gospel: nature activists, choirs, folklore groups, artists, non-profit organizations, …

My visions for the church and society in general:

  • See section 3 of Synodality in Estonia

  • Public money, public activity

  • Help our political leaders to understand that usage of proprietary software in Estonian schools should be prohibited. Estonian laws prohibit “propaganda” work of religious groups in schools, but allow indoctrination by using proprietary software.

The 47th European Meeting of the Taizé community is a huge gift for both Christians and non-Christians in Estonia. I am curious to see how many will realize this.