Known as "a little piece of Britain in Latvia," this is a red brick building in the Gothic style, built in 1857 and consecrated on ten square metres of soil brought from Britain by English merchants. Prior to this, the English worshipped in the nearby Calvinist Reformation church. Consecrated in 1859, St Saviour's was only ever full when British warships visited Latvia. During the Soviet period, it was converted into a disco for students from the technical university. The interior reminds me of the Waterloo churches. There is a gallery at the back and a niche at the east end which is visible from the inside but not the outside. The layout seems more Lutheran than Anglican, with the organ behind the communion table, two candles and two green falls on the table, but a single candle to one side on the floor. There are rather hideous stained-glass windows, mostly yellow and brown, with abstract circle designs. They allowed very little light to come in. I arrived in rain and left in sunshine but you couldnt tell what the weather was doing whilst inside the building. There is also a war memorial and two banners: one with pictures of different churches in the Diocese of Europe, the other of children. There are newspaper cuttings at the back showing the history of the church, including a visit by a very young-looking Prince Charles presenting a silver baptismal bowl. In that cutting it is clear that the interior had a normal Anglican layout then, with the organ to one side and the altar at the east end.
They run clubs for the elderly and for children, a soup kitchen, and weekly lunch-time concerts. In 2002, the pastor, the Revd Dr Juris Cālītis, established a shelter for dysfunctional families and children which he personally financed and manages. At present, the shelter is home to 14 children from the age of 19 months to 19 years. Pastor Cālītis is also a staunch advocate of gay rights, for which he has been roundly criticised, although he does have the support of the Rt Revd Geoffrey Rowell, Bishop in Europe. At Latvias first ever Gay Pride church service, held at St Saviour's and at which the preacher was the Revd Māris Sants (an openly gay Lutheran minister defrocked and excommunicated by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and now living in London), congregation and clergy alike were pelted with rotten eggs and even faeces. On the day I attended, I expected to see a gathering of ex-pats in suits, but was pleasantly surprised to find men and women in equal numbers, most of whom were dressed casually. There were six young people but most were in their 50s. There was one black person – I say this not to be racist, but because there were very, very few black people visible during my weeks stay in this city. There were also visiting groups from the United States and Australia.
The church is on the end of old Riga, a district with exceptionally fine architecture and in which this building is a rather poor cousin overlooking the River Daugava. The area bustles with wealthy tourists and poor beggars and there are regular boat trips for sightseers that pass alongside the church.
The Revd Dr Juris Cālītis, pastor. Pastor Cālītis is a Canadian Latvian who also lectures in the university's theology department. Assisting him were Solvita Sejane, worship assistant; Kristine Adamaite, organist; and Marcis Mikelsons, horn player.
What was the name of the service?Family Eucharist
How full was the building?
One-third. I counted 50 people in a building that could seat 140. There were a further 14 people who left because the service started late and, presumably, like me, they were bored with waiting.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A woman said, "Here you go!" as she handed me my books.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. It was a large wooden bench seat with ample leg room and a back, but there were no kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very quiet and reflective until, at the last minute, a group of very talkative people arrived and spoiled the atmosphere. The worship assistant was walking around greeting people and asking some to do jobs like assisting with the chalice. Four minutes after the stated starting time, there was an organ prelude, followed by a fine horn piece. The liturgy proper started nine minutes late.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Greetings on this Eighth Sunday after Trinity, and a special welcome to our visitors, who are our joy."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Worship Holy Communion, Order One and a sheet with the hymns and readings.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and horn.
Did anything distract you?
Time: the service seemed to drag because every hymn was introduced with a mini organ prelude. Music: the tunes of well-known hymns were slightly different from what I am used to and, despite having the music, I gave up trying to sing because some of the notes seemed deliberately intended to catch you out. Denomination: I was confused, throughout, as to whether I was at an Anglican or a Lutheran liturgy. Given that the Bishop in Europe is an Anglo-catholic, I am sure that the pastors orders are valid and I was grateful that we had a eucharist rather than morning prayer, and that it was modern rather than the BCP which I expected to be used in an ex-pat community. Wording: Being told, "Here ends the Holy Gospel, Amen" and singing the Gloria Patri after the psalm, which are definite liturgical gaffes. Despite the preface to the Jerusalem Bible requesting that "the Lord" be substituted for "Yahweh" and a century of Christian-Jewish understanding, the divine name was pronounced during the Old Testament lesson.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed but not sloppy. It appeared Lutheran rather than Anglican in many ways: lots of organ preludes, no lavabo or ablutions, the Apostles Creed rather than the Nicene, the Aaronic blessing (Numbers 6:24–26), communion administered to a whole row at the same time, few signs of the cross, and Lutheran chant tones for the eucharistic prayer.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Chatty, jokey but also very serious, wearing lightly his very considerable learning.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel was the parable of the sower. The word "listen" is significant but very few actually listen and, if they do, think of parables as moral teachings. However, the seed continues to fall on the hard ground of continued hostilities in the name of religion. It seems impossible that the seed will ever bear fruit, but the parable ends with a large harvest so there is hope. At the risk of spoiling a nice summers day, the cross is the key to all of this if only we could bear to carry it.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Unusually for me, the sermon, which had lighter moments but which was profound.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing much except my annoyance with the late start and my confusion as to which denomination we were worshipping from.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. During the notices, the pastor asked visitors to state where they were from. But afterwards everyone seemed to speak to other people that they knew and the pastor was engaged in conversation with one group. I don't mention this as a criticism, as I do the same in the hand-shaking bit at the end of services that I conduct, preferring some quality conversation rather than simple platitudes to everyone. Nevertheless, I felt very isolated on my own after lingering for about 10 minutes.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Just as I had sent a text message arranging to meet a friend for coffee at the Powder Tower, it was announced as an afterthought: "Oh, I forgot to mention, do join us for coffee in the undercroft." So I had to leave. In any case, I did not want to prolong the agonising feeling of being Johnny no mates.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Not "high" enough for me, though I was very pleased to be in a church with a strong social justice witness.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Maybe, but I prefer either a faster-paced liturgy or a slow, contemplative one.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Was it Lutheran or Anglican?