Five Names Put Forward for Next Archbishop ({{commentsTotal}})

Five people are running to become the next archbishop of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) as current Archbishop Andres Põder, in office since 2005, is required by church rules to retire when he turns 65 in November.

The election itself will take place in the fall, but the deadline for registering candidates is today, with Urmas Viilma, Ove Sander, Joel Luhamets, Marko Tiitus and Tiit Salumäe all ready to take up the role.

The burning question is the popularity of the Lutheran church in Estonia, with the 2011 census showing a drastic decline in those affiliating themselves with Lutheranism, down from 150,000 to 109,000 since the previous census in 2000. Lutheranism was also displaced as the most followed branch of Christianity in Estonia, by Orthodox Christianity.

Viilma, the Chancellor of the EELC's Consistory, told ERR radio today that people's connection to the church has become less formal, although the methods used in the census are questionable. He said the church should support those less fortunate, and there are many in Estonian society who need support.

The second candidate, Salumäe, head of the Lääne deanery, said a church for the masses should not be the goal, adding that people's expectations of the church might not be fulfilled currently.

Luhamets, head of the Tartu deanery, said there were times when 70-80 percent of the population were members of congregations, but he has seen no real decrease in the ranks of the truly faithful in his 30 years of service.

Head of the Viljandi deanery Tiitus said it would be very difficult to regain the popularity the church enjoyed in the 19th century in the country. He said one main problem is that clergymen are often busy with other jobs, such as real estate, and do not have enough time to hear out people, and lead them spiritually.

Rector of the Institute of Theology of the EELC, Sander, said the EELC's teachings should be unified, and the archbishop is responsible for that, and he should also be a shepherd and spiritual guide.

Judging the candidates on a scale of modern to traditional, church insiders say Luhamets is the most conservative of the five. Viilma is next, although less confrontational and more likely to play it safe than Luhamets.

Salumäe, Sander and Tiitus fall in the modern category, but none are likely to push through extensive modernization plans. Sander, an early frontrunner for the position, is thought to be the most flexible and open to dialogue.


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