Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Sustained by the past, excited for the future

The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Minneapolis and St. Paul sees uptick in numbers

The church entrance announces the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Metro Lutheran photos: Bob Hulteen

When waves of immigration brought Latvians to the Twin Cities and surrounding area, first around 1905 and later under the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, they brought their faith with them. Immigration continues today due to limited economic opportunities in Latvia, and the desire for a church home continues.

Many of the predominantly Lutheran immigrants, some who had survived Siberian labor camps, originally worked in rural areas to pay off their passage to the U.S. They later gravitated to work in the Twin Cities and their descendants continue to worship at the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Minneapolis and St. Paul, located in south Minneapolis.

Today that church — at 3152 17th Avenue South — is the cultural center for area Latvians, housing their worship space, a library of Latvian books and even a Latvian credit union. Latvian language classes are held for younger generations. There is even an inclusive directory of Latvians living in the Twin Cities area.

The church building has been home to the Latvian Lutherans since members purchased it from Bethel Lutheran congregation in 1951, following World War II and the beginning of Soviet rule over their country of origin. (Bethel congregation moved to new facilities further south along 17th Avenue.)

The stately Latvian church still bears the typical décor of the founding Norwegian immigrants, with its white painted altar and its altar painting. The Latvian Lutherans paid $65,000 for the church building as they sought a permanent home, having previously worshipped Sunday afternoons at Central Lutheran Church (ELCA) in downtown Minneapolis.

A bell from a former Latvian church in Wisconsin was brought to the Minneapolis church and rings out the regular call to worship.

Changes afoot

Today the congregation has an active call committee working to find a successor to the Rev. Maija Cepure Zemmels, who herself succeeded her late husband, Uldis Cepure, as leader of the flock. Uldis Cepure served as dean of the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, an organization of Latvians who strive to retain their religious and national-cultural identity. Today there are over 50 congregations in this ethnic synod. Many members consider themselves more similar to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) than to other branches of Lutheranism.

The Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Minneapolis and St. Paul is located at 3152 17th Avenue South in Minneapolis. It has worshipped on the site since 1951.

Today there are over 50 congregations in this ethnic synod.

According to Gerald Luss, president of the church board, the local congregation has advertised the pastoral vacancy in the two Latvian language newspapers in the U.S., and is making its pastoral vacancy known in other ways too. A call to a U.S. congregation would also be attractive to female theological students in Latvia where women are not ordained. Many of the Latvian Lutheran churches throughout the United States are served by women pastors.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul congregation is quite active, with about 300 members. It also has an active Ladies Aid; its members offer visitation to members of the congregation. Church ushers perform many functions in assisting the pastor with worship.

The congregation maintains two popular Bible study groups, as well as a congregational choir. Pastor Cepure Zemmels is very complimentary about the chorus’ skills, saying the members are fully capable of leading the service.

Services are all in the native tongue as members are anxious to preserve their language and culture. The Minneapolis church has five sister congregations in Latvia and maintains contact with the homeland in that way.

This year, congregants were excited to have a two individuals confirmed. Members express an increase in the number of young faces attending worship, a positive sign for the future.

Estonian Lutherans hold a once monthly worship at the Latvian church with an Estonian pastor who comes from Chicago to direct the service.

Persons interested in contacting the Latvian church may call 612/722-4622 or check the website for additional information: www.mndraudze.org.

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