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Lutheran World Federation general secretary-elect, head of development for the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) Institute of Theology and adviser to the EELC for international and ecumenical relations.
By Erin Strybis
I grew up in a secularized family and found my way to the church as a teenager. A friend of mine invited me to join a confirmation class in the local Lutheran parish. The fact that I came into closer contact with the church primarily through worship life, through discussions with friends and through reading the Bible and religious literature impacted my formation as a Christian.
When I started attending church, I did not necessarily sense a strong presence of God in my life. I had several questions but not necessarily answers. I prayed, wondering if God was listening. It has been a faith journey for me to realize that Jesus Christ is not somewhere far away, but right here with his grace.
I’ll become general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation in November 2021. Currently, I work at the head office of the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC) and at the Institute of Theology of EELC. I also serve as a vicar pastor in a deanery in Northern Estonia, holding worship in different parishes, offering biblical reflections on the radio, contributing to the church newspaper and more.
My church body, the EELC, has supported me by entrusting me with various tasks, both in the field of higher theological education as well as in ecumenical and international relations. The advantage of a small church is that, as a theologian, one is often active in different fields and by this acquires various competencies. The congregations where my husband and I have served have offered support with voluntary work, prayer and friendship.
My husband Matthias has served as a parish pastor since we married, which means that his congregations have always played an essential part in our family life. Since 2018, Matthias has served the St. Michael’s parish in Keila, a small town in Northern Estonia. I am happy that I have been able to serve this congregation both through worship and pastoral care as well as through contributing to a greater visibility of the congregation in the local community.
Our kids, since their early childhood, experienced church as a friendly and secure space where they can always come with their joys and sorrows. I am happy that their image of God is one of a loving and caring God.
“I hope that through my work, I can bring Jesus Christ closer to people, and contribute to making God’s new creation a little bit more tangible in this world.”
I pray for God’s protection and guidance for different persons as they make their life journey, as well as for more mutual understanding and reconciliation among people. I also pray for an end of conflicts that harm human dignity and create pain in the world. At the same time, gratefulness plays an important role in my prayers; for me, giving thanks to God belongs essentially to Christian faith.
A favorite Bible verse that gives me hope is “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28: 20). It is essential not to lose hope when things seem to go astray in the world around us, but also within the church. I also like these words ascribed to Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” It encourages us not to remain passive during difficult times but to continue to foster life.
My faith is closely connected to my work, and I consider it to be a great blessing that I may serve God through serving in the church. I hope that through my work, I can bring Jesus Christ closer to people, and contribute to making God’s new creation a little bit more tangible in this world. This includes aiming at more dignified relations between human beings, more readiness to forgive, more reconciliation, but also more readiness to protect those who are marginalized or left behind. Creation is closely interconnected. Estonian composer Arvo Pärt put this beautifully: “This tiny coronavirus has showed us in a painful way that humanity is a single organism and that human existence is possible only in relation to other living beings. The notion of ‘relationship’ should be understood as a maxim, as the ability to love.”
I like to spend my free time with my family and friends, reading a good book or visiting a concert or play. Our family has a summer house on one of the Estonian islands, Saaremaa, close to the Baltic Sea coast. It is a small haven for our whole family. There we can gather new energy and be close to nature.
My hope is that the church will continue to translate the words and deeds of Jesus Christ into a holistic theology which is Christ-centered, liberates human beings from their brokenness and empowers them to serve the neighbor. Further, I hope that the church manages to be a reconciler, to bring different sides into conversation and dialogue, as we all, including the whole creation of God, are through invisible ties connected to each other.
Grace means forgiveness, reconciliation but also a “counter-program” to the pressure to be always successful and to achieve everything just on your own.
I’m a Lutheran because I like the way Lutheran theology puts Jesus Christ in the center of all theology, empowering the followers of Christ to serve their neighbor. It’s very liberating and inspiring.
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