After Reformation reached Estonia in the 1520s Lutheranism developed into the largest religious affiliation. Until the end of the 19th century Lutheran clergy, in towns as well as rural areas, were mostly German-speaking. After the Revolution of 1917, at the First Lutheran Congress, the Lutheran Church was defined as the ‘free people’s church’. According to the 1934 census, about 874 000 individuals, approximately every third Estonian, belonged to the Lutheran Church. Because of their large memberships, both the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Estonian Apostolic-Orthodox Church had special juridical status from 1934 to 1940. That may explain why the Lutheran Church has sometimes been erroneously viewed, as a ‘state church’.

Another sign of the relatively wide public support for Lutheranism has been the election of members of the Lutheran clergy to local administrative boards. This is happening particularly in rural areas where both churches and ministers enjoy greater authority than in cities. In city councils, the input of clergy has been relatively modest. This is especially true in the larger cities, where the primary evidence of church activity has been in building, both in the restoration of historical sites and in the construction of architecturally valuable new places of worship. In way of summation one could say that in Estonia, the Lutheran Church in the religious field is as much taken for granted as are its medieval churches in the architectural landscape.

At the end of the 1980s, during the process of regaining independence, the Lutheran Church appeared occasionally to be the official ‘Estonian’ church. For example, nationally televised Christmas services have been predominantly from Lutheran churches. But on the whole there has been good co-operation between the different denominations in Estonia, and the Lutheran church has not aspired to more attention at the expense of other denominations.

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