This paper is a small segment of what has been gathered during my research on the history of Pentecostalism in Latvia. This subject so far has not been well-researched. This is due to the fact that Pentecostalism in Latvia has been marginalized and historical self-understanding of Pentecostals themselves has not reached maturity. My interest in the origins of this movement was stimulated by a paper presented by Cecil M. Robeck, Jr. during the Theological Stream of the ICCOWE/ECC conference known as Prague '97. (2) I then reviewed copies of Confidence and Pentecostal Evangel. I have combined testimonies of these early Pentecostal witnesses with materials found in various archives and Latvian publications.
Pentecostalism has often been viewed as an exotic export of foreign missionaries who came to disturb traditional religiosity. Looking at the wider context helps to show that Pentecostalism was born in Latvia in a time when it was no longer possible to speak about Latvia as ethnically, religiously, or culturally monolithic. In fact, it is doubtful whether a golden age of homogeneity can ever be found. The 20th Century gave new impetus to globalization. New religious trends appeared as part of the larger complex of changes in society. Let's review some of the signs of that time.
Peasants who moved to industrial areas often did not find their new life satisfying and stable. For example, in 1907 there were 12,000 unemployed persons in Riga. In the period from 1908 to 1910, the average wage in Riga factories decreased 25-30% (e.g. growing level of prices and rent expenses taken into account). (5)
Growing Religious Plurality
With the fast urbanization at the beginning of this century, the Lutheran church face additional problems. In his report on the church life in 1902, Rev. G. Erns, Superintendent of Vidzeme, says that the average size of parishes is 6,590 persons but in Riga it is 14,240. (10) The superintendent was worried that the enormity of large parishes made pastoral care too difficult and increased the gap between parishioners and clergy.
The above stimulated indifference and skepticism in religious matters as well as the growth of other religious traditions. In 1890 in Vidzeme when there were 124 Orthodox churches, it is estimated that from 1845 to 1849 about 100,000 Latvians joined the Orthodox church. (11) Since the 18th century in the territory of Latvia, Moravian churches have played an important role in the national and religious awakening of Latvians. Baptist churches in Latvia started in 1860 and in 1910 the Baptist Union united 60 congregations with 6,823 members. (12) Latvian intelligence often turned attention to the pre-Christian era. Their world-view was based on folk-traditions and romanticized past. Elevating pre-Christian culture is not unique for Latvia because its counterparts continent-wide as an alternative to perceived anachronism of Christian tradition.
Birth of Pentecostalism in Latvia
The doctrine of the baptism of the Holy Spirit reached Latvians not only through independent Holiness denominations, but also through the published works of evangelists Reuben Torrey and Charles Finney. Translations of their works were published in Christian publications. For example, the Baptist magazine Avots in 1906 published "How we can come under the influence of the Holy Spirit" by Charles Finney and translated by Baptist pastor Janis Inkis who later was instrumental in the revivalist movement in the twenties. (16) A Bible course was held in Liepaja by Baptists in 1906 (in 1907) also in Ventpils), lecturers included the famous Russian pastor I. Kargel from St. Petersburg and Latvian pastor A. Podinish from Estonia. One of the listeners wrote that Kargel "clearly showed that we have full right to wait to the promise of the Father to be filled with the Holy Spirit. So far our ears have not heard this teaching." (17)
The Pentecostal message reached Latvia early. As we gather from the British Pentecostal periodical Confidence, E. Patrick developed a mission work mainly amongst Baltic Germans at the start of the 20th century. Eleanor Patrick was an English women who had been fascinated by revivalist preachers Torrey and Inwood. According to her own testimony, she received the sign of tongues during meeting with A.A. Boddy in Hamburg in December, 1908. (18) She had worked at a mission in Frankfurt, visited Russia in 1909 spending time in Revel (now Tallinn, Estonia), Riga and Dwinsk (now Daugavpils, Latvia) and Witevsk (Belarus). She reported back to the pioneer of British Pentecostalism, Alexander A. Boddy. E. Patrick claimed that 200 people were converted within two months of her ministry. (19) In 1911, Patrick wrote to A.A. Boddy that she recruited a German deaconess to take on some of the work in Riga, but G. Rabe is mentioned as leader of the work.
Patrick moved to Libau (now Liepaja) where the Town Council allowed her to use a hall with 700 seats free of charge. She also noted that a German evangelist, Eugen Edel, had preached in Riga and Libau. (20) The report continues: "H. Rabe (brother of Riga Rabe) is doing a wonderful work. He was converted and received his baptism in our Frankfurt work, and works in the power of the Spirit." (21) Later Patrick moved further to Dwinsk, and Witebsk then settling in Saratov, Russia.
There is another person from Latvia whose name appears at the dawn of Pentecostalism. It is K. Vetsgavers from Liepaja, who with Russian Pentecostal pioneer A. Ivanov (influenced by Oneness Pentecostalism), pastored a congregation in Helsingfors (Helsinki), but there are no historical data about his direct influence on Pentecostalism in Latvia. Ivanov's pacifistic views found supporters in the Russian navy which generated conflict with state authorities. Some of the sailors were persecuted and Vestgavers was arrested and exiled together with others. (22)
The personality of Latvian pastor William Fetler (known also as Basil Malof) deserves special attention. Owing to the success of his evangelistic efforts, he is one of a few Latvian Baptist pastors who is known outside the country. (23) During his studies at Spurgeon's College (UK), where he graduated in 1907, he was influenced by the Welsh revival and Holiness thought. Therefore it is not surprising that he was sympathetic to renewal movements like Pentecostalism, even if he never left the Baptist movement. Preaching in Liepaja in 1914, he passionately claimed that "those gifts which God through the Holy Spirit gave to the first Christian church the Lord at the end times wants to give to his church ... When the church of God will move ahead, it will receive more gifts of the Holy Spirit." (24) He believed that a "preacher of the word of God may be only a person who has received the baptism of the Holy Spirit and the gift of preaching." (25)
Holiness nuances of his pneumatology was not an obstacle for being positive towards Pentecostalism. In February, 1907, his article appears in Avots about the work of the American Pentecostal pioneers Parham and Seymour. The Azuza St. magazine Apostolic Faith is cited in an editorial titled "Pentecost with Signs Following." (26) There are various possibilities of about how Fetler obtained a copy of the Apostolic Faith: (1) during his studies in Great Britain, he was in touch with revivalist circles; (2) the Azusa mission had a committee compiling lists of people to whom the Apostolic Faith was sent free of charge. (27) At the beginning of the 20th century while pastoring the church at St. Petersburg, W. Fetler met Pastor Niblock of Aston, England. Niblock openly spread Pentecostal ideas since 1907. (28) Fetler made arrangements for a series of his meetings. Niblock had great respect for Fetler, saying that "Russia had not a nobler, better, or more faithful son." (29)
Pentecostalism also influenced Latvians living abroad, especially in Brazil. Controversy around the pastor of Rio-Nova Latvian Baptist Church, Karlis Andermanis, who converted to Pentecostalism. According to a letter to Avots, for some years Andermanis received Pentecostal literature in English, German and Latvian then distributed these among relatives and friends. Tension at the church forced his departure. (30) In addition to news form Brazil, Avots published the summary of the Berlin Declaration (1909) which soundly condemned the Pentecostal Movement.
Early Pentecostals did not establish ecclesiastical organizations and therefore we cannot speak about Pentecostalism as firmly established in Latvia prior to the First World War.
The First World War turned old Europe upside-down. Empire vanished, and as mushrooms after the rain, one after another new national democracies appeared. The Republic of Latvia, which became a reality in 1918, was one of these. Dreams about an independent Latvia rose at the opening of the 20th century in the ranks of Social-Democrats, despite their denial that Latvians as a nation could have common national interests. 1918 was crucial to independence because both political giants-Russia and Germany-became weak and Latvian politicians were able to use the moment to fulfil their dream. Legislative work in the republic of Latvia was accomplished by a Parliament of one hundred persons. From 1934 until the Soviet occupation in 1940, Latvia was governed by the authoritarian government of Karlis Ulmanis who closed all political parties and dismissed the Parliament. Latvia had no state religion, however larger denominations had special agreements signed with the state.
Pentecostals: Shift from movement to organization
The organized Pentecostal movement in Latvia was started by James Grevinsh who at the age of 20 became a Pentecostal while in the USA. Prior to this he was a member of St. Mathew's Baptist Church at Riga and earned his living as a shoemaker. (31) Then after graduation from the Elim Bible Training School, he together with his wife on June 4, 1926 arrived in Latvia from New York. His father, an elder in the Baptist church in Dobele, wanted his son to take over the pastoral work since the congregation had no pastor. However, theological disagreements made this impossible.
A woman who had been excommunicated by the Baptist church due to charges of fraud, asked Grevinsh to use her house for services. Thus regular meetings started and a little congregation was created. (32) The new church and its young converts were often greeted by hostility by outsiders. Rachel Grevin reported that "some of the parents of these young converts have been persecuting their children severely, shutting them in the home and trying to prevent them from coming to the meetings." (33) In 1927, Grevinsh established the Latvian-American Mission Society with sections all over Latvia and started to publish the journal Misionars (Missionary). His activities were opposed by state authorities and he was ordered to leave the country in 1930 where he left behind nine preaching stations with about four hundred members.
Another wave which was Pentecostal in character rose in the middle of the Baptist movement. Economic depression in Latvia and political uncertainties created a background conducive to intense religious enthusiasm. The beginning of this revival traditionally is linked with meetings held by a small group of believers in Lidere (district of Madona) in 1918. This group belonged to the St. Matthew Baptist Church at Riga and was led by Janis Skraba. They started daily prayers for renewal. Soon the group had more than one hundred members and their flame touched neighboring districts. (34)
This awakening stimulated the growth of church contributed to the emigration to Brazil due to religious grounds. There is evidence that more than 1,500 members of Baptist churches emigrated to Brazil. (35) Baptist pastor Janis Inkis was a particularly distinguished personality in this movement. Before the war he was opposed to Pentecostal practices, but later 'speaking in tongues' became a significant doctrine for Inkis. Inkis often read from a notebook where different 'prophecies' and 'revelations' had been written down in the meetings at St. Matthew's Church. (36) Inkis left Latvia in 1921 to become pastor in Nova Odessa, Brazil.
When the Baptist Union finally split in 1926 (e.g. reunited in 1934), the emigration movement was over but waves of religious enthusiasm were still in the air. The First Union opposed Pentecostalism, but congregations of the Second Union with their emotional style of worship and revivalist recruitment techniques were quite open to glossolalia and Pentecostal teachings in general. Their periodicals published articles with Pentecostal flavor. For example, Fetler's magazine Kristigais Vestnesis inserted a part of the book written by George Jeffreys, founder of the Elim Foursquare Gospel Alliance of the British Isles. (37)
W. Fetler expanded his contacts with Pentecostals. In 1935, together with one of the two primary founders of the Apostolic Church Daniel P. Williams, he unveiled the foundation stone of the Bible School in Wales. D.P. Williams had also been preaching at Fetler's church in Riga. (38) It is not surprising that the Apostolic Church in Latvia traces its roots back to W. Fetler.
Tensions gradually developed between the Second Union and Pentecostals. Pentecostals were charged with proselytism and extremism. This was caused, in part, by Grevinsh's polemic and offensive attitude towards Christians who did not share his views. Thus, a former member of the Latvian-American Mission Society, Martinsh Shmits, wrote that Grevinsh called Baptists traitors and sectarians. (39)
Controversy developed in the Riga Agenskalna Baptist Church pastored by Janis Bormanis. He moved beyond revivalist lines and became enthusiastic about the Pentecostal message. In June, 1927 he was elected as the board's secretary of the Latvian-American Mission Society (he later resigned from this position). (40) J. Bormanis had to leave his Baptist congregation in 1930 because he put too much emphasis on glossolalia and healing of the sick. (41) It is interesting to note that the secretary of the pastoral commission appointed for Bormanis' case was W. Fetler who, as we know, was not anti-Pentecostal. (42) It seems that J. Bormanis had an extreme view regarding causes of sickness believe that "diseases are not from God. Believers who have received the Holy Spirit cannot be sick." (43)
After Grevinsh was forced to leave the country, leadership in the organized Pentecostal movement was taken by Janis Bormanis who, after leaving the Baptists, organized the Pentecostal church Vasarsvetku Blazma (Pentecostal Dawn) in Riga and published a journal under the same name. The church had 650 members on the 1st of January, 1933. In 1932, one hundred persons were baptized and another hundred joined the church from other churches. (44) Services were held also in Russian and German.
In 1932, the Latvian-American Mission Society was closed, but Pentecostals found a way out of restrictions by creating small religious associations. Authorities often closed them, but Pentecostals managed to re-establish them under different names. The authoritarian regime of Karlis Ulmanis (1934-1940) introduced restrictions on religious minorities. The new Lew on Religious Associations and Their Unions (1934) stated that religious associations needed at least fifty people to be registered (instead of five as stated in the law of 1923). (45) Sometimes Pentecostals found support in mainline denominations. For example, in 1939 the Lutheran Archbishop T. Grinbergs approved the establishment of a prayer group called the Gethsemane group formed by Baptists, Pentecostals and others in the Riga Evangelical Lutheran Mission's Church. (46)
Pentecostals in Latvia maintained links with missions abroad, especially with the Russian and Eastern European Mission which from 1928 had an office in Dancig. This mission worked in close connection with the Department of Foreign Mission of the Assemblies of God. From 1930 to 1938, it sponsored a Bible institute. (47) Information about these connections can be found in the minutes of interrogations taken by Soviet authorities after the Second World War because Soviets were especially interested in any links between 'suspects' and Western 'capitalists.' Thus a Pentecostal preacher from Liepaja, Arvids Kuminsh, told about the financial support some of the Latvian Pentecostal preachers received from the mission in Dancig. Kuminsh himself for two months attended Bible courses in Dancig. In 1939 he took part in the European conference of Pentecostals in Stockholm. (48)
The following conclusions arise from my research on the origins of Latvian Pentecostalism: (1) Pentecostalism came to Latvia at the time of the Azusa Street revival-this is a fact which is in need of further research because at this point many Latvian Pentecostals look to Grevinsh's mission as the starting point; (2) legal status of Pentecostals in Latvia was unstable and uncertain; (3) Pentecostalism in Latvia developed not only as the result of missionary efforts but also as an outcome of the outburst of religious enthusiasm among Baptists in the 1920s; (4) all Latvian Pentecostal leaders of the 1920s and 1930s came out of the Baptist church-this still is a challenge for the local Baptist movement and its pneumatology.
It remains a fate of revolutionary religious movements, and particularly of Pentecostalism, to challenge their older sojourners on the road of faith. Beyond this is the New Testament itself which speaks against iron-clad doctrinal systems whether it is a Pentecostal doctrine of initial sign, Evangelical equation of receiving the Spirit with particular experiences or the sacramental positions of older churches. As said by Eduard Schweizer, Professor of New Testament at the University of Zurich, "there is no doctrine of the Spirit, but rather that the Spirit is narrated as an event-as happening." (49) The Latvian Pentecostal story is an extension of that global phenomenon.
1. To avoid conversion problems all Latvian and Russian words have been transliterated in English avoiding both - specific Latvian characters and Slavonic script
2. Robeck Jr. C. A Pentecostal Witness in an Eastern Context. - A paper presented in the EPCRA Program of Prague '97.
3. Svabe A. Latvijas vesture 1800-1914. Stokholma: Daugava, 1958. - 543.lpp.
4. Ibid, 545.lpp.
5. Krastins J. Riga. 1860-1917. - Rìga: Zinatne, 1978. - 254.lpp
6. Hollenweger W. Pentecostalism: Origins and Developments Worldwide. - Peabody: Hendrikson Publishers, 1997. - p. 225.
7. Quoted from: Krastins J. Latvian Art Nouveau in the European Context // Jugendstils, Laiks un telpa. - Riga: Jumava, 1999. - p. 202.
8. Svabe A. Latvijas vesture 1800-1914. - 654.lpp.
9. Kiploks E., sast. Prof. Dr. L. Adamovics. Raksti par Latvijas baznicas vesturi. - ASV: LELBA, 1978. - 51.lpp.
10. Erns G. Vidzemes generalsuperintendenta zinojumi par musu draudzu dzivi 1902. gada. Terbata. - 1903. - 7.lpp.
11. Cernajs A. Latvijas Pareizticiga Baznica Latvija. London: Community of St. John. - 1996. - 38.lpp.
12. Kronlins J., sast. Uz augsu! - Riga: Latvijas Baptistu draudzu savienibas apgads, 1935. - 92.lpp.
13. Smith J. The Quest For Holiness and Unity. - Anderson: Warner Press, 1980. - p. 116-117.
14. Evaðgelijuma Bazune. - 1914. - Nr. 2. - 3.lpp.
15. Grazhdan. V. Kto takije pjatidesjatniki. Alma-Ata: Izd. Kazahstan^ 1965& - str. 3* 13&-14&
16. Finnejs Ch. Ka mes varam nonakt zem Sveta Gara iespaida // Avots. - 1906. - Nr. 20. - 229.-231.lpp.
17. Rushevics K. Svetigs laiks Liepaja // Avots. - 1906. - Nr. 8. - 91.lpp.
18. Russia. Letter from Miss Patrick // Confidence 7:12. - December, 1914. - p. 229.
19. Russia: Miss E.Patrick's Visit to the Baltic Provinces // Confidence 2:12. - December, 1909. - p.282
20. News from Miss Patrick // Confidence 5:1. - January, 1912. - p.16-17.
21. Ibid., p. 16.
22. Klibanov I.A.. History of Religious Sectarianism in Russia, 1960s-1917. - Oxford & New York: Pergamon Press, 1982. - p. 305.
23. There is a biography of Fetler available in English: Stewart J.A. A Man in a Hurry. - Asheville: The Russian Bible Society. - 1968.
24. Fetlers V. Jaiet talak // Kristigais Vestnesis. - 1924. - Nr. 10. - 139.lpp.
25. No Peterburgas // Draugs. - 1914. - Nr. 1. - 3.lpp.
26. Fetlers V. Kristigas draudzes pamosanas // Avots. - 1907. - Nr. 8. - 85.-87.lpp.
27. Fetlers V. Kristigas draudzes pamosanas // Avots. - 1907. - Nr. 8. - 85.-87.lpp.
28. News from Monmouthshire // Confidence 1:1. - April, 1908. - p. 13.
29. Pastor's Niblock's Journey in Russia and Germany // Confidence 3:2. - February, 1910. - p.45.
30. Zibergs K. No Rionovas Brazilija // Avots. - 1910. - Nr. 36. - 419.lpp.
31. Kristigais Vestnesis. - 1924. - Nr. 17/18. - 252.lpp.
32. Grevin R. Light and Shadows in Latvia // The Pentecostal Evangel. - April 7, 1928. - p. 8.; Grevin J. From Circus Bandsman to Pentecostal Missionary // The Pentecostal Evangel. - January 10, 1931. - p.6.
33. Grevin R. Review of Work in Latvia // The Pentecostal Evangel. - April 6, 1929. - p. 11.
34. Bruvers A. Baptistu draudzu izcelsanas Latvija. - Minstere: autora izdevums, 1986. - 136.lpp
35. Tervits J. Vestures notikumu nemainiga sasaiste // Latvijas baptistu draudzu kalendars 1997. gadam. Riga: LBDS, 1996. - 93.lpp.
36. Bruvers O. The Revival in Latvia during the 1920s and subsequent Baptist immigration to Brazil. A Dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Missiology. - USA: Fuller Theological Seminary, 1991. - p. 125 - 132 (unpublished).
37. Dzefrejs Dz. Sveta Gara kristiba un davanas // Kristigais Vestnesis. - 1938. - Nr. 1-2. - 22.-.26.lpp.
38. Worsfold J.E. The Origins of the Apostolic Church in Great Britain. - Thorndon: Julian Literature Trust, 1991. - p. 206.
39. Smidts M. Kapec gribu kopa stradat ar Otro savienibu // Atmoda. - 1929. - Nr. 4. - 63.lpp
40. Latvijas Valsts vestures arhivs (LVVA). - 2263.f. - 1.apr. - 2.l. - 1.lpp.
41. Korps A. & Lejasmeijers E., red. Rigas Agenskalna baptistu draudzes 50 gadi. - Riga: Agenskalna draudze, 1934. - 24.-26.lpp.
42. LVVA. - 1370.f. - 1.apr. - 1882.l. - 4.lpp.
43. Eglitis A., sast. Otras baptistu savienibas rokasgramata 1929/1930. kongresa gadam. Riga: OBDS apgads. - 17.lpp.
44. Vasarsvetku Blazma. - 1933. - Nr. 8. - 137.lpp.
45. Likums par religiskam apvienibam un to savienibam // Valdibas Vestnesis. - 1934. - Nr. 290. - 1.lpp.
46. Misiones Vestnesis.- 1939. - Nr. 7. - 110. -111. lpp.
47. Colletti J. Russian and Eastern European Mission // Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. - Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1988. - p. 763-764.
48. Latvijas Valsts Arhivs. - 1986.f. - 2.apr. -P-9234-1. l. - 161.-162.lp.
49. Castro E., comp. To the Wind of God's Spirit. - Geneva: WCC Publications, 1990. - p. 47