”But I will sing of thy might; I will sing aloud of thy steadfast love in the morning. For thou hast been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to thee, for thou, o God, art my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love” Ps.59:17-19.
Or perhaps this would fit even better: “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful!” Ps.149:1
Power of Spirit, Power of Woman, Power of Song was the theme for the gathering of Estonian and Finnish women in Tallinn October 18-19, 2014. We were 44 in total, 24 Finnish and 20 Estonians, different ages, from six different churches and certainly of different cultural backgrounds. “A dream come true” to some of us, who had been hoping for such an encounter for many years.
The 9th general Assembly of in Tinos, Greece, August 2014 had given the motivation and the determination strong enough to carry out the planning and running of this seminar! “Born of a woman” (Gal 4:4) – creative energy of women…. can we act as creative energy to get women from two countries with different church affiliations to come together and find it possible to talk about faith and sing for the praise of God? This is what we, the planning group of four women (Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran and Orthodox), were thinking when we talked about the program and our visions of this first of the kind ecumenical cooperation between Estonia and Finland.
It is good to get started with the work!
It was a friendly, calm beginning of our seminar, when the M/S Finlandia of Eckerö Line left Helsinki harbor early in the morning towards Tallinn and our Finnish group could start the program in the quiet Lounge with a morning prayer, followed by well-earned morning coffee. Coming from different parts of Finland, one even from Sweden, the talks of get-together, learning to know each other a bit better, was well in its place.
The boat-trip gave a chance to form group-identity and thus the actual starting of the seminar was easier. Bridgettine nunnery, which had been there in the 15th century and re-opened in 2001, provided us an excellent place to stay and run the seminar of this size. Estonian women joined us after the lunch. It was exciting and also fascinating to find out which kind of group we finally were! Pille Mägila and Outi Piiroinen-Backman from the planning group acted as hosts, backed up by Karin Oidjärv and Karin Tammo. We four were really happy to be there and finally welcome all the participants, to speak in two languages hoping for the best what comes to the understanding (this was one of our real trials – do we manage with languages, if we do not have an official interpreter with us? ) and to express our joy in providing common pray and singing.
Both of the working groups were mixed by nationalities and we had hoped to have minimum of speaking and maximum of singing, in order to manage without language problems. One group was dealing with sacred, silent singing led by Tatjana Wilenius from the Orthodox Church from Finland. The other group was to be on Gregorian singing, but for unknown reasons turned out to be on music therapy led by Juta Tulev from the Roman Catholic Church from Estonia. Some problems with the translation in the Music Therapy group existed due to much speaking, but fortunately some participants were able to do interpretation. The topic was considered interesting, but after the wish from the group, some singing took place also in this group. On the other hand, sacred singing in the other group was for those participants among the most valued experiences of the whole seminar. So we did get some very valuable experience of these two groups for our future work! After the working groups it was nice to have a short walk to the near-by restaurant and enjoy a nice dinner by the sea in the surroundings planned for the Olympic Games in 1980!
Bridgettine nunnery in Pireus
What do you think of a convent, which have seven sisters from India and three from Mexico and who speak together in Italian in this Catholic convent in Estonia? Sisters belong to the new Swedish Order of St. Bridget, which was founded by Mother Elizabeth Hasselblad in 1911. This order has about 40 nunneries around the world. In Tallinn the nunnery was re-established in connection to the ruins of the old monastery, a very beautiful place near the sea. The nunnery has two parts. In the open part there is the Chapel, meeting rooms and the guest-house with 41 beds. The sisters live in the closed part of the nunnery, but because they serve visiting people both in the dining-room, chapel and in the guest-house, they are not invisible! Sister Lena told about the life of sisters and other stories of the monastic life in such a way that it sounds the most natural and easy way of life. One starts to wonder, if monastic life really is as beautiful as she described!
But as many participants commented afterwards: “just to look at her while she was talking made me feel calm and at peace. .., and I think this moment with her during our seminar was the best experience of it all”! So once again we have to admit that we can never underestimate the value of each individual person or even any parts of planned programs, because we never know, which influences the one in need, whatever the reason. After the presentation on monastic life it was easy to stay in the Chapel and continue our seminar with song-rehearsal with the intention to sing in the Methodist Church service on Sunday morning.
Foggy and rainy Sunday morning did not prevent us from feeling great with enthusiastic anticipation of the coming when we left the monastery and the sisters and headed for the Methodist Church. This church is the biggest of the so-called new churches in Tallinn and famous for its excellent organs, and thus a place for numerous concerts! The building houses also the theological seminary, used by many other religious groups and having students from all over Estonia. Inna Välja was waiting for us for the choir rehearsal. The acoustics of the church was very good and we enjoyed singing our two songs (Laudate Dominum and Püha Vaim, puuduta mindki) by the altar.
The order of the service was well planned. Nearly 50 women from three countries were singing from their heart and our singing was well received. The special touch of this service was not only the singing of our group, but also the participation of other Finno-Ugric people, who contributed the service with national dance and the sermon. What a joy it was to share this experience! I gave the greeting to the congregation and explained, what our group is and how did it became to be there. The short introduction to the Tinos General Assembly of the EFECW was part of my greeting, especially important, because it was one of the main reasons for our seminar – to find out the possibilities and expressions for the follow-up for the Greek experience in August 2014!
The local women had prepared and served us in the premises of the church delicious lunch, which we could enjoy after the service, and also in the mean while look at the exhibition and buy handy crafts by these various Finno-Ugric people. The cultural experiences were overwhelming; our next visiting place was the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Cultural Center in the Old town. The Ukrainian congregation under the leadership of Pope has been active in Tallinn since the 17th century, but this ancient building has by basic renovations been made a very pleasant place of worship only some years ago.
The church is dedicated to the Three-handed Mother of God. There is a small museum of Ukrainian religious art and handicrafts housed there, as well as a small monastery and a guest-house. A garden of Hildegard von Bingen is under construction. It is difficult to explain the feelings and astonishments of women watching around and listening to the speech of our guide Anatoli, when he showed us various very imaginary objects he had created or when he explained the icons or the history of the premises! This visit was without hesitation one of the big highlights of the whole week-end. It feels good to remember Anatoli’s remark: they make toys so that the world would be nicer place to live! I recommend to visit the .
Born of a woman
After a short break and stroll on the streets of the old town, we gathered to the St. Michael’s Swedish Church to continue our seminar. The vicar Patrick Göranson introduced to us the history of the congregation and the church building. The first certain evidence of a Swedish parish in Tallinn dates from the year 1531 and the first church from 1631. The church of today was badly damaged during the war in 1944 and big part of the members departed to Sweden. St. Michael’s Swedish parish was re-established in 1990 with about 200 members. The basic renovation of the church was completed in 2000 and the re-consecration took place in May 2002 at the presence of the Swedish King and Queen. It is good to note that also the services of the Finnish Lutheran congregation take place in this church.
Young Methodist pastor Ele Paju gave a presentation on the text of Gal 4:4. It was very interesting to listen to her text, which was translated into Finnish beforehand, while thinking on the presentations I had heard on this same topic in Tinos. The cultural setting and time-space was different. Ele spoke as a young theologian and a mother in the setting of a small Estonian congregation. It was a presentation from the point of view of a married woman. It was fresh, it was provocative to some, it was inspiring because of the innocence in the speech – all these and much else was said in the feed-back of her presentation.
Ele took up some questions or statements, which she wanted to tackle: 1) Do I have a desire to walk with God in such a way that it is real, true and functions for a whole day? Our hearts are mirrors of God; the journey to understand God, when He made women to be His image, starts from our hearts. There is this yearning, which leads us to the meeting (with God). 2) Both a man and a woman have a challenge to strive for the fact that the spark and love would remain in a marriage and challenge for courage to confess and free oneself from the behavior which hurts the others. Just as the relation to God gives an immense happiness, so does the good working relation in the marriage. 3) There are lots of women, who want to have loving husbands whom to trust, and happy children, whose existence make life perfect. The make love prevail in the family, much time together is needed. To do things together gives energy, joy and unites the family. How do you pray for your life? God changes lives, often more so than we can even imagine. God asks for repentance and then He leads for sanctification. God is also today reminding us in His word of the text: when the time was ready, God sent His son, born of a woman. God brings about great things by women.
God has created you to be a good wife (Prov 31:10); to love your neighbors (Mk 12:28-34); to live in Spirit (Gal 5:16-26); to walk in and with love (Eph 5:2); to strive for sanctification (Lev 19:1-2) and to live in faith (Rom 1:16-17). The tasks given to us by God are rooted in our dedication and meeting with God. Was Mary ready for her task in her life? Do you wait for a new challenge in your life? Are you ready to face God for whom nothing is impossible?
Feed-back and follow-up
After intensive group-discussions on Ele’s presentation and our own experiences, it was time to have the feed-back of our seminar: what kind of follow-up do we want? It was time to thank for this experience those diligent women, who had worked both in the planning and in carrying through the program. The difficulties on the way are now forgotten, just like in a child-birth, and we could happily enjoy and be thankful for the fruits of these two days. It had been very nice to make acquaintances and talk with women from other countries and especially nice to know more about Estonia and women’s life there.
It was strongly recommended that another similar seminar could be organized in the near future, preferable in Estonia, but also Finland and Sweden were mentioned. The sacred singing had been a very strong experience to many and more of that kind was hoped, but also any church related and community singing was mentioned in many written feed-back paper. The joint church service on Sunday morning had been very moving experience and such an event is hoped to be included also in any future program. Last but not least, the staying in the Bridgettine nunnery and meeting with the sisters had been very greatly valued experience and many considered it to be among the best memories of the week-end. Because this was already the second such a stay organized by the Finnish Forum, it was, however, suggested that next time we could stay somewhere a bit further away from Tallinn, perhaps in the countryside!
I close this report by the words of the hymns we sang together and pray:
Laudate Dominum omnes gentes, hallelujah!
Touch me, God’s Holy Spirit/ deep in my heart./Slowly imprint in me/the trust in Jesus./ Touch me, Spirit,/ Waken me up to give thank s,/ to live near you by your mercy!/ Give me strength, destroy my fear/and show me my place in this world! Amen!
Joint Seminar of the Finnish and the Estonian Forums within the frame of EFECW Tallinn, Estonia October 18.-19.2014 on the theme Power of Spirit, Power of Woman, Power of Song