Being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Estonia is an interesting experience. We are in the periphery of the church, far away from the Mormon corridor and also far away from the Europe East head quarters in Moscow (I have no idea why we are not in the Europe area). It is interesting because many hot topics that are partially based on the political environment in the US such as gay rights or women and the priesthood, and luxury shopping malls seem to have almost no importance here. The concerns here are smaller and in some ways more meaningful such as how to have unity in our branches, how to keep people motivated to serve and so on. Every now and again Church leaders stop over a visit and we are reminded that even though we are far away, we are still loved and important in the church.
This was the case recently when many Church leaders visited the Europe East area. The church newsroom did a nice write up on their travels. There was a priesthood meeting that was based in Riga and then broadcast to the entire area. It started at 10:00 AM in Riga which was 6:00 PM Vladivostok time on a Saturday a few weeks ago. I have been able to hear apostles talk on numerous occasions, but this was the first time in a smaller setting. There were about 150 priesthood holders from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Elder Bednar was the presiding authority and it was a neat experience to not only listen to what he had to say but to observe how he said it. He did not come with an agenda from Salt Lake, rather he listened to our concerns and we then together addressed them. This seemed to be a new enlightening format for teaching differing from the past. Before the meeting started he said he wanted to shake everyone's hands. He shook every hand, looked every brother in the eyes for what seemed a very long time and said good morning. At the end he bore testimony that Christ lives. It was a powerful testimony and I felt that Elder Bednar really is a special witness of our savior. Maris was sad the meeting was only for priesthood holders and I totally understand why, it was a great meeting. One brother who hadn't come to church in years came to the meeting and has been every week since then. He now wants to have his kids baptized.
As great as that experience was the next day on Sunday when Bishop Causse came to Tallinn to speak at a district meeting. For some reason I liked this meeting even more than the priesthood meeting. Bishop Causee was very warm and personable. He told some great stories about the church in France when he was younger and about how the Paris temple received approval from the city council. Saturday night I realized what an incredible situation it was going to be. A European member of the presiding bishopric was going to be in Tallinn! I revised my BYU-England proposal and printed it off so that I could give it to him the next day. Unfortunately (or fortunately) I chickened out and did not give it to him. I did shake his and did have the opportunity to give it to him. I figure these church leaders have enough stuff to deal with. I did give the proposal to the manager of temporal affairs in the Europe East area whom I had met on an earlier occasion. The only problem is that he is in the wrong area! It felt like one of those situations where you know you did the right thing but still regret it.
All in all it is an interesting time for the church in Estonia. We will be getting a new mission president in July and they will be expanding the Tallinn chapel.