After returning from the Clergy Conference in Estonia in January, the Rev David Green, Priest-in-Charge of West Malling with Offham resolved to take a group of parishioners to visit our link church of St Michael in Jõhvi, about 100 miles east of Tallinn. A small group from Jõhvi had visited us in 2010 and we wanted to respond to their invitation and strengthen the link.
For two days, we stayed in the hostel at the Institute of Theology in the old town of Tallinn. Tallinn is a UNESCO World Heritage site with its medieval street network and fortifications.
Photo: A group from West Malling with Offham with
the Rev Gustav Piir from the Church of the Holy Spirit
during their walking tour of Tallinn. Photo by Mike Rowe
We were made most welcome by the Rev Gustav Piir, priest of the Church of the Holy Spirit, and he was kind enough to give us a tour of the old town. We soon realised the complex history of Estonia and the many countries which have shaped its history. Gustav was also keen to point out to us the connections with the UK over the years.
When the Rev Peeter Kaldur, priest at Jõhvi, arrived to collect us for our journey to the Eastern border, he said, ”You have seen Tallinn but now you will see Estonia!” Estonians are very proud of their country, customs and culture and Peeter had arranged a very full programme of visits for us. Like many towns in the East of Estonia, most people speak Estonian and Russian and some of the younger people spoke some English, but it was difficult communicating with the elderly members of the church who grew up in the Soviet era. However, we were able to greet each other in the Peace during the Eucharist and we spent time together after the services in both Jõhvi and Pühajõe. David took part in the services, helping to administer the Communion and he was able to convey greetings from our churches which Peeter translated.
Estonia did not gain its independence from the Soviet Union until 1991. One of the most poignant moments of our trip was a Garden of Remembrance which commemorated 280,000 people who were victims of violence and suppression under the Soviet occupation 1940-1991. Many were deported to Siberia and never heard of again. Peeter said that people should know what happened; their story deserved to be told.
We also travelled to Narva, a town on the Russian border, with the border control on the bridge over the river. Narva was heavily bombed in WW2 with great destruction and many inhabitants were taken to Russia. The people here are mainly Russian speaking and signage is in Russian. The Alexander church was rebuilt after the war as an icon of rejuvenation. The tower has been impressively restored but financial problems have meant work has ceased on the church. It was a fête day in Narva, as the end of August is the end of summer, and there were many fun activities in the grounds of Hermann’s Castle.
We walked on the beach at Narva-Joesuu and some paddled in the Baltic sea. We put on the snazzy protective clothing to go underground at the oil shale mine museum and one of our party Rose was able to dress up in historical costume at the Manor of Kukruse with immediate publicity following on FaceBook!
We told our friends in Tallinn, Jõhvi and Pühajõe that we would pray for them and we hope that we have been a bridge to help develop our relations with the people of Estonia who welcomed and entertained us so well.