New Edinburgh University associate chaplain was teenage rebel behind Iron Curtain

A political activist who campaigned for democracy from behind the Iron Curtain as a teenager has been inducted as an associate chaplain at Edinburgh University.

By Ian Swanson
Thursday, 20th January 2022, 12:46 pm

Let us know what you think and join the conversation at the bottom of this article.

Rev Dr Urzula Glienecke, who first began studying to be a minister in Latvia in the early 1990s and attended an underground church, was ordained into the Church of Scotland at Greyfriars Kirk on Tuesday evening.

Her path into ministry was disrupted when the Latvian Lutheran Church "changed dramatically" and excluded women from ordination and she had to go and study abroad.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Rev Dr Urzula Glienecke is new associate chaplain at Edinburgh University.

Dr Glienecke said during her childhood it was dangerous to be a Christian in Latvia because it was part of the Soviet Union and the communist government was officially atheist. Dissidents, including Christians, were at risk of deportation to camps in Siberia.

"I grew up in a in family of rebels," she said. "My grandmother played the organ for more than 30 years for the Lutheran Church around Latvia in the years when it was dangerous to do so.

"When I was 14 I was interested to know what faith was about so I found an underground church group, which was literally underground in the cellar of a church.

"There is a lot of pain and a lot of violence that I can remember my own family faced growing up in this oppressive system, especially being connected to the church."

Rev Dr Urzula Glienecke as a student activist with the Latvian flag which had been banned under communism

Christians in Latvia played an important role in the pro-democracy movement in the late 1980s, including taking part in the “Baltic Chain”, which involved two million people linking arms across Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.

"We knew it was very dangerous, but we wanted freedom to believe, we wanted to communicate with the world.”

After her denomination stopped ordaining women, Dr Glienecke spent time in Norway, Germany – where she met her husband – Ireland and Spain.

While living in Spain, she became aware of the Iona Community in Scotland and eventually moved to the island and become a member of staff there.

"I loved the open-mindedness, the inclusivity, the focus on peace-making and justice and the environment," she said.

She completed her training for the ministry as a probationer at Greyfriars Kirk.

Dr Glienecke said her chaplaincy work at the University of Edinburgh was "the opportunity of a lifetime".

The chaplains run a listening service and are part of an out-of-hours rota providing support for people of all denominations and none across the campus.

"Everybody is welcome to come if they want a listening ear which is non-judgemental.

"Most students who have made an appointment to talk are not connected to church – a lot are international and are people looking for someone open-minded who will listen to them and be there for them.

"As part of the role I can bring in the things that are most important to me, such as working for social justice, against racism; against poverty, promoting the environment; supporting LQBTQ+ people; and working with people of other faiths.

"It's a joy to learn from the young people, and people who are really engaged with these things and to walk together with them on these issues."

Read More

Read More
Edinburgh's St Giles Cathedral could be handed over to Historic Environment Scot...

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.