Adopted by the Church Governing Board at its meeting in Toronto on October 15, 1990,
and amended by the Board at its meetings in the Catskills, New York, in March 18-20, 1993
and in Wittenberg Germany in September 23-26, 2010.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
By accepting these bylaws, the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran congregations outside of Latvia, trusting in God’s justice and in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, pray for God’s blessings and for the freedom of the Latvian people, so that together with our Christian brethren in our homeland we might form ourselves through Word and Sacrament to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, proclaiming the wonderful deeds of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).
These bylaws are based on the Constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, adopted on January 26, 1928, as well as in the experience of the Church Abroad. They are binding for all congregations and all ordained and lay members of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad. In this document, the entity referred to as “Latvian Church” is comprised of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia and the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church Abroad, named in this document respectively as “The Church in Latvia” and “The Church Abroad.”
In this document, all further instances of “The Church” refer to “The Church Abroad.”
All church offices and positions named in this document may be filled by women or men.
I. The Church
- 1. The Church is a member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:1-12), and its mission is to proclaim the Gospel, especially to the Latvian people in the Latvian language.
- The congregations of the Church accept the authority of the Church’s leadership and institutions, support the Church spiritually and financially; accept as the basis of their teaching the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments; accept the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, the Unaltered Augsburg Confession, Martin Luther’s Large and Small Catechisms, and the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord (Liber Concordiae).
The Church’s seal is kept and used by the Bishop.
II. Synod Assembly
- The highest decision-making authority belongs to the Church-wide Synod (the assembly of clergy and congregational delegates). A synod is convened by the Presidium of the Church Governing Board.
- At synod voting rights are given to the Bishop, members of the Church Governing Board, members of the Governing Boards of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (LELBA) and other countries, pastors and deacons recognized by the Board, and congregational delegates. Persons holding more than one position have only one vote.
- Each congregation is allotted one delegate per two-hundred (200) or part thereof members. The minimal number of a congregation’s membership to be allotted a delegate is twenty (20). Smaller worshiping communities may, with the consent of their district’s dean, combine their numbers to send a delegate to the synod.
- In the Church Abroad the synodal functions are performed by the Church Governing Board plenary session. A synod-at-large written ballot is required to elect the Bishop, to accept or alter such bylaws as proposed by the Church Governing Board, and to decide on proposals or questions submitted by the Bishop or Governing Board.
- The Church Governing Board issues specific instructions for the balloting process .
- Except for the case of electing a Bishop, synodal decisions are made by a simple majority vote.
III. The Bishop
- The Church’s highest spiritual leader is the Bishop, elected to a term of seven (7) years - if the candidate receives the majority of the eligible written votes of the synod-at-large. If a second ballot is necessary, the candidate receiving the highest number of votes cast is elected.
- In case of the Bishop’s death, long-term illness or resignation, prior to the election of the next Bishop, the office is filled in the following order: First by the Church’s spiritual vice-president and next by the Church’s longest serving district or regional dean.
- The Bishop installs deans and ordains pastors and deacons.
- The Bishop selects members for a colloquy committee to examine candidates for the office of pastor or deacon who have been ordained by a different church denomination, and also to examine candidates for the office of pastor or deacon.
- The Bishop visits congregations and provides guidance to deans, pastors, and congregational officials.
- If the Bishop is hindered in performing the duties listed in items 3 -5, he or she may appoint deans or pastors to act in his/her stead.
- It is preferred that the office of the Bishop not be combined with the full time service as pastor of a congregation.
- Candidates for the office of Bishop of the Latvian Lutheran Church Abroad are all ordained pastors of the Latvian Church who are graduates of an institute of higher theological learning, and who have served in Latvian Lutheran congregations for a minimum of ten (10) years.
IV. The Church Governing Board and Plenary Sessions
- The Church Governing Board serves as the executor of the Church’s decisions and in a supervisory capacity.
- The members of the Church Governing Board are:
- The Bishop.
- The President of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and his/her lay vice-president.
- District deans and one lay representative from each district.
- The Board’s responsibilities are:
- To promote and coordinate the work of the Church by issuing directions and advice, and to support the work of the Bishop.
- To see to the publication of religious and liturgical literature, including hymnals.
- To support theological education, charitable and mission activities.
- To see to the provision of religious and confirmation programs as well as religious teaching in schools and other youth activities.
- To establish the order of worship, services and liturgical calendar.
- To establish the educational requirements for candidates for pastoral and diaconal ministry.
- To designate the responsibilities, privileges, titles, special recognition, and honorifics of pastors and others serving in the congregations.
- To designate the liturgical insignia and vestments worn by the Bishop, deans, pastors, deacons, and others serving in the congregations.
- After evaluating the views and insights submitted by pastoral conferences, to make decisions on questions of doctrine.
- To render final decisions on matters referred to it by regional boards, conferences of pastors or the Presidium of the Governing Board.
- To resolve grievances submitted by the Church or by congregational officers; to offer suggestions and possible solutions in cases of conflict or proposed disciplinary actions; to remove from office those who are deemed unfit for service in the Church.
- To adopt the budget submitted by the Presidium of the Church Board and to set the dues required of districts and congregations.
- To establish and oversee foundations for theological scholarships and courses to serve the needs of the Church.
- To maintain contact with other churches. To represent our Church in the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), the World Council of Churches (WCC), ecumenical organizations, and governmental bodies.
- To initiate any changes needed in the Church’s bylaws.
- The Church Board has authority to acquire, sell, exchange, or mortgage any property belonging to the Church.
- The Church Board makes its decisions in plenary session based upon either a simple majority vote or by absolute majority in cases of written balloting.
- A plenary session of the Governing Board is called by the Bishop or the presidium every three years. The session is chaired by the Bishop or a person selected by the plenary session.
- If requested by a district or regional synod or board, and seconded by two other districts/regions, a plenary session of the Governing Board must be called within six months.
- If a member of the Governing Board is unable to attend a plenary session, his or her place may be taken by an officer elected at a district conference (synod).
V. The Presidium of the Church Board
- The Bishop is ex officio the President of the Governing Board and its Presidium.
- The members of the Presidium are:
- The Board’s spiritual vice president, lay vice president, secretary, and treasurer as elected by the Board’s plenary session; one representative from Australia and one representative from Europe. In case of a vacancy, the Presidium chooses an alternate officer until the next plenary session.
- The chairperson of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and his or her lay vice president.
- The Presidium’s responsibilities are:
- At the direction of the Church, Synod, or Governing Board, to enter into contracts and to do business on behalf of the Church; to represent the Church in courts of law and administrative agencies; to authorize persons to act on behalf of the Church; and to represent the Church externally.
- To ratify the election of deans and, upon a dean’s recommendation, to ratify the calls of pastors and deacons.
- To ensure that the Church’s clergy are serving according to the Church’s Agenda (Handbook on the order of services and the liturgical calendar) and other Church rules.
- To order audits in congregations and other organizations of the Church.
- To prepare matters to be submitted for written synodal balloting and to appoint a committee to carry out the balloting.
- To develop and maintain a current roster of clergy.
- To manage the Church’s assets and to grant funding according to the Governing Board’s guidelines.
- To execute directives of the Synod or the Governing Board.
- The Bishop convenes and chairs a meeting of the Presidium at least once a year.
VI. The Audit Committee
- The Governing Board elects three (3) auditors, and possibly also alternates, to serve as an Audit Committee until the Board’s next plenary session.
- The Board directs one of the auditors to call an initial Committee meeting, at which the auditors choose a chairperson who will thereafter convene and chair meetings of the Audit Committee.
- The Audit Committee has the right and the responsibility to audit the accounts and attending documents of the Church and its Divisions. The auditors make their decisions by simple majority vote, and submit their reports to the Board within two weeks after their meeting.
VII. The Church’s Districts and Regions
- For a more effective ministry, the Church’s congregations may be organized into districts/regions, similar to the deans’ districts/regions provided in Latvia’s Church Constitution of 1928. Several districts may unite into an administrative unity, such as the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Districts/regions are designated by a plenary session of the Church Board.
- Each district is governed by its conference/synod and bylaws, as long as those bylaws do not contradict those of the Church. The Governing Board ratifies district bylaws.
- Candidates for the office of Dean are those clergy who are on the roster of the Church’s ordained persons.
- A district conference (synod) is called at least once every three (3) years.
- At district conferences (synods), voting privileges are determined by the district’s bylaws. The Bishop and any Church Governing Board members living in the district have voting privileges at the district synod.
- The main objectives of a district conference (synod) are:
- To elect the District Dean and a district lay representative to the Church Governing Board.
- To facilitate the spiritual life and well-being of the district’s congregations.
- To settle questions pertaining to the district.
- To discuss and propose resolutions to be decided on by the Church-Wide Synod or Church Governing Board.
- To discuss and consider any questions presented to the district by the Church Governing Board.
- The ministry and leadership of the local congregation are regulated by the congregation’s constitution and bylaws, which are ratified by the district dean.
- To facilitate the ministry of a congregation, the district dean or his designated representative may participate as an advisor in meetings of the congregation, its council or board.
- A pastor’s ministerial duties in a congregation are stipulated by the pastoral letter of call, ratified by the district dean.
- The members of the congregation and thus the Evangelical Lutheran Church are those who are baptized and who are registered in the local congregation.
- Those transferring from other faith traditions may become members of the local congregation and the Evangelical Lutheran Church upon completing preparatory instruction, and after affirming the Creed, and receiving the Holy Sacrament together with the congregation.
- A congregation member’s duties are to live the Christian faith, to participate in congregational worship and to receive the sacraments; to support the congregation financially, and to adhere to the accepted order of the congregation and the Church. A special duty of parents is to raise their children in the Christian faith.
- The congregation’s members have the right to turn to their pastor for spiritual needs, as well as in illness, material need or debility.
- Any elected congregational officer must be one who has been confirmed, receives the sacraments and supports the congregation financially.
- Members who for three (3) consecutive years have not exercised their congregational rights and have not fulfilled their congregational duties may, after consideration of their personal circumstances, be deemed to be no longer members of the congregation.
- The congregational board or council may revoke the membership of persons who publicly deny their faith in God, or who blaspheme God’s Word and sacraments. These persons have one month to appeal the congregation’s decision to the district dean.
- If a congregation dissolves or ceases to exist, all of its property and assets shall pass to the Church at large or its local district.
IX. Ordained Clergy
- The Church’s ordained clergy may be male or female. Their calling and their duties are grounded in the Word of God and in the Lutheran confessional writings.
- Those desiring to serve as an ordained pastor in the Church must have a completed theological education from a seminary or an equivalent institution recognized by the Church, and must be able to preach God’s Word and to perform all pastoral acts in the Latvian language.
- Anyone desiring to serve as a deacon in the Church must have an appropriate theological education, be of Christian character above reproach, have an interest in congregational ministry, and be able to preach God’s Word.
- Candidates for the office of pastor or deacon must have the consent of their district dean and must submit to the Church Governing Board a letter of application, a curriculum vitae, and documentation of their theological education. The Bishop then selects a committee to examine the candidate’s knowledge and suitability for ordained ministry in the Church.
- Candidates for ordination as pastor or deacon require a letter of call (vocation) from a specific congregation, district board, or Governing Church Board.
- A pastor’s or deacon’s right to serve continues while the calling (vocation) is in effect.
- Deacons serve under the supervision and direction of the local congregation’s pastor or district dean.
X. Conflict and Discipline
- When at all possible, a congregation settles its own conflicts following its bylaws.
- If conflicts cannot be resolved in this manner, then complaints against a congregation’s ordained or lay officers are to be submitted to the district dean.
- If a grievance against a congregation’s lay or pastoral leadership must be investigated, the district dean may make a visit to the congregation and call a special meeting of the congregation’s board (council) to resolve the matter and then submit a report to the dean’s district board and to the Bishop.
- At a congregational meeting at which a pastor’s call is to be issued or revoked, the district dean or representative must be present.
- Complaints about an ordained or lay officer’s religious or ethical conduct are investigated by the district dean.
- Grievances against pastors or deacons are investigated by the district dean and ruled on by the Presidium of the Church Governing Board, but grievances against deans are investigated by the Bishop and ruled on by the Presidium of the Church Governing Board.
- The Presidium of the Church Governing Board may revoke the call of a pastor or deacon for immoral behavior, actions detrimental to the Church, promulgating teachings incompatible with the confessional writings of the Church, dereliction of ecclesiastical duties, long-term disability, or if circumstances beyond the minister’s control make it impossible to serve successfully in the congregation. In exceptional cases the person involved may be relieved of duties by the Bishop in consultation with the district dean, notifying the Presidium of the Church Governing Board of the decision.
- The plenary session of the Church Governing Board may revoke the ecclesiastical title, privileges and duties of a pastor or deacon (remove their name from the Church’s ordained clergy roster) for immoral behavior, actions detrimental to the Church, or promulgating teachings incompatible with the confessional writings of the Church.
- If necessary, the Bishop in consultation with the Presidium of the Church Governing Board may convene a Church Court Panel consisting of three (3) persons. This Court Panel investigates complaints against Church officials, and by a simple majority vote adopts decisions or proposals to be submitted to the Presidium of the Church Governing Board. The Court Panel is dissolved once it reaches a decision in the matter.
- Decisions made in of paragraphs 7 - 9 may be appealed to a plenary session of the Church Governing Board, whose verdict is final.