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Congregations of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the challenges of multi-ethnic and multi-confessional environment

The following study on multi-ethnic and multi-confessional contacts in the congregations of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) is based on sixteen interviews with the clergy and with congregation workers. Estonia is multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country at the same time. 69,7% of the population are ethnic Estonian. The largest minorities are Russians - 25,2%.

Estonia is situated in the Northern Europe and the territory of the country covers 45,227 km2. Estonia became an independent democratic and parliamentary republic in 1918, and, after the period of Soviet occupation starting from 1940, re-established its independence in 1991. Estonia is divided into fifteen counties. According to official statistics Estonian population is 1,3 million. According to the 2011 census 29% of the Estonian population identified themselves as adherents of some religious tradition. Five largest denominations were specified: Orthodox, Lutheran, Baptist, Roman Catholic and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Estonia was christianized during the Northern Crusades in the 13th century and became a Lutheran country in the 16th century onward. The Lutheran Church was Baltic-German dominated until the 20th century and became an independent people’s church in 1917. The statute of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church was adopted in 1919, and the first bishop was inaugurated in 1920.


According to the 1934 census 77,6% of the Estonian population declared themselves to be Lutherans. It was 0,7% less than in the population census from 1922. The second largest denomination in Estonia was the Estonian Apostolic-Orthodox Church (18,9% of the population).

According to the treaty between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany from 1939, Estonia was incorporated to the Soviet Union in 1940. The Soviet period was accompanied with anti-religious policy, forced secularization and marginalization of religion. However, Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church maintained its role as traditional church in Estonia, although religious socialization lost its importance from the early 1960s onward. In 1967 the profession of clergy in the EELC became gender neutral and the first female pastor was ordained in the same year.

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Kerstin Kask

Liina Kilemit

Urmas Paju

Ringo Ringvee




Church and the challenge of changes in legislation

The following case study report is on the challenge that changes in legislation bring to the religious communities and on reactions from religious institutions and communities to these changes. The focus is on two institutions - the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, historical majority church, and the Estonian Council of Churches, ecumenical organisation founded in 1989. 

Currently the Estonian Council of Churches include the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate, the Roman Catholic Church, the Union of Evangelical Christian and Baptist Churches, Methodist Church, the Association of Seventh Day Adventists Congregations, the Christian Pentecostal Church, a congregation of Armenian Apostolic Church and the Charismatic Episcopalian Church in Estonia.

These two institutions, one traditional church and one ecumenical umbrella organisation, have most direct institutionalized contacts with the Estonian Government. In 1995 Minister of the Interior initiated a commission between the Government of the Estonian Republic and the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC). This commission meets twice a year and is co-chaired by the Archbishop of the EELC and Minister of Regional Affairs and the Estonian Ministry of the Interior....

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Ringo Ringvee

EELC Institute of Theology (IT)