Estonian Pastors' Widows Receive No Church Pension
by the Rev. Kathy Noble
KURESSAARE, Estonia (UMNS)-Liis Oengo and Erna Kunstimees, both in their 80s, are examples of "the wives of our pastors, the wives who for years and years and years have faithfully stood with their husbands," says the Rev. Olav Parnamets.
"They also deserve support and help," Parnamets says of the two. They are now among four surviving spouses in Estonia. When their husbands died, their pensions from the church stopped.
As superintendent of The United Methodist Church in Estonia from 1979 to 2005, Parnamets knows the widows and their plight well.
The United Methodist Church is beginning to respond to the needs of Oengo, Kunstimees and others like them through the Central Conference Pension Initiative. The initiative, mandated by the 2000 and 2004 General Conferences, is developing models for pension systems to serve retired church pastors, lay workers and surviving spouses in Europe, Asia and Africa. More information is available at www.ccpi-umc.org.
Liis Oengo is the widow of the Rev. Hugo Oengo. In the early 1950s, he held a high position as a professor in the Estonian Academy of Sciences, and he was a Methodist deacon.
In 1954, Soviet officials told him he had three days to choose between being an active Christian and a professor. Telling them he did not need three days to decide, Oengo was dismissed from the university.
He soon became an elder and began his pastoral years of preaching to Methodists in Tallinn and in other churches across the city. From 1975 to 1979, he was superintendent of the Estonia Church.
Throughout most of those years, Liis served beside him. As a surviving spouse, she receives no financial support from the church. Neither does Erna Kunstimees.
As a young woman, Kunstimees built good memories of the Christian home and church in which she grew up. She had to leave her home in Estonia for several years as a young woman and lived in Russia. "When I came back home, there was not a home anymore, but then my sister took me."
Several years later, she married a Methodist pastor. Together they served the congregation at Kuressaare, the mother church of Estonian Methodism, and another Methodist church on the island of Saaremaa.
Now 81, Kunstimees has been widowed for almost eight years. "God has blessed us with three wonderful children who have loved me very much" and who assist her, she says. But she also believes, "The wives of our pastors, the wives who for years and years and years have faithfully stood with their husbands, they also deserve support and help."
"Sometimes wives are helping in very special ways," Parnamets says, recalling how Kunstimees and her husband served Finnish-speaking people in their church. He praises her for "the extreme hospitality that I and my wife and many others (experienced as they were) hosted wonderfully in that home."
Says Parnamets: "I believe the widows of the pastors who have passed away, they need our help and they need our attention."
*Noble is editor of Interpreter Magazine, a publication of United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.
Date posted: Apr 10, 2008