Dear Pastor Mark Anderson and Friends in Christ!
Thank you very much for your letter and information that our small package reached you for Christmas. If we were able to bring to your congregation with that package some joy and excitement then the joy is also ours.
You asked in your letter to write about my congregation’s life and work. I will endeavor to do this herewith.
In 2017 Avinurme congregation members – those who have been baptized and confirmed and have paid their annual dues –totalled 173. On Sundays the attendance is usually 10-15. Church holidays the attendance is larger. Most popular church holiday in Estonia is Christmas Eve when our church attendance this year was 200. This year’s Easter Sunday attendance was 50. Last year’s average attendance was 24. Services on Sundays and church holidays begin 11:00 AM. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve our services begin 5:00 PM. Since our church has never had heat installed, the church is very cold in the winter. This winter during a cold period, temperature in the church fell to minus 20C. Because of that we hold our services during the winter in our warm Parish House. Communion is served every last Sunday of the month. Once a month we gather after service for coffee and snacks.
In the spring I hold confirmation classes. Our church’s Bylaws state that you must be at least 15 to be confirmed. In 2017 we confirmed 6, baptized 5, married 1, and buried 13.
During Christmas and Easter we also hold services at the local nursing home. I visit them also during the year. Primarily at the end of the year, but if necessary also earlier, I visit those church members who have been uable to attend services due to health reasons and serve communion at their home.
We have a good relationship with the Avinurme Gümnaasium. For ten years I gave religious instruction at the school and every Christmas the entire school comes to hold a school service. At first Advent they help with the lighting of the Advent Candle. The school has asked me to speak on several occasions, and during summer we have oganized a 2-3 day camp for children at the church.
Twice a year we hold Cemetery Services. This gives relatives a chance to honor their departed loved ones and take care of their graves.
Two or three times a year we have concerts at the church with Estonia’s well known musicians.
During the past few years our church has had two people on salary – myself and my wife, Kaidi. Kaidi is our organist and housekeeper at the Parish House. She also directs our 8 member ensemble who help to adorn our services. We also have a number of volunteers who help to get the church ready for the service by decorating the altar with flowers and candles. They also hand out programs and hymnals. But still everything can not be performed by volunteers. In the spring there is preparing and storing wood for the coming winter. We heat with woodburning stoves. In the summer there is grass to cut and trim and in the winter there is heating the ovens for heat and snow removal and during the year cleaning the rooms and attending to basic repairs. These jobs basically have been on mine and my wife’s shouldes. This year it’s been easier. Avinurme church is blessed with four friendship churches from Finland ( Somero, Paimio, Imatra and Joutseno) who have helped us financially so that we have been able to hire a young man who is doing his deaconic work and has been geat help in performing some of the above mentioned work.
Estonia’s church’s life has historically been influenced by Germany. This began in the 13th century when the German Crusaders conquered Estonia. From that time on until the 20th century all pastors were of German extraction. German church’s influence is shown in our liturgy and hymns, where most of the melodies and words were Germans. Of couse we honor our faiths forefather’s creation „A Mighty Fortress Is Our God“ and in our church that hymn is sung standing. Our church’s hymanl and payerbook contains 484 hymns and 12 contain words by Martin Luther.
The Parish House is completely renovated. The second floor contains a museum and I perform the services of a guide. We also do different crafts and hold several study programs and work rooms for Avinume heritage, which is basket weaving. You can see pictures on our homepage http://www.elulaadikeskus.ee/et/. My wife is an excellent chef and she caters for bithdays, weddings and funerals at our Parish House.
We have also been able to renovate the historic cemetery chapel. Most of the big problems for the church are behind us. We have stopped the church from sinking by removing the old foundation and installed new foundation. Cracks due to sinking have been repaired. The roof, which was old and leaked, has been removed and a new sheet-medal roof installed. Now we have only the interior work to be done which needs total renovation. Due to the old roof leaking the plaster has fallen at places, old paint layers are loose, the cracks, due to sinking, have been repaied, but they are noticeable.
Last summer we had research work done about the interior of the church. Research inluded: what was the church’s original interior, what paint layers have been added during more than 100 years and what type of paint can be used for the interior renovation. I spoke with authorities, who in Estonia are responsible for approving all historic church renovations. Due to this research we have to produce a Interior Renovation Project. They promised to send me, within a few days, a price list indicating what the Project will cost the congregation. If the Project presentation and cost is within our budget then it will be ready by this fall. Realistically, interior renovation work will begin in 2019.
Your thoughts and prayers bring joy to my heart as well as to our congregation. Thank you for supporting us also with mateialisic gifts. We are happy to learn that you are interested in the life and work of Avinurme congregation. Similarly, our congregation would also be interested to learn about your congregation’s life and work.
May the blessings of God be with you.
Avinurme Congregation Pastor Rene Alberi
P.S. Former Avinurme pastor’s daughter, Mari Viise, who is always very helpful, has promised to help translate this letter and any future letters between us. Thanks also to her.