Institutional organisation

Although official statistics imply one congregation for every 2700 inhabitants, only 16% of the population have formalised their ties to a specific congregation. Most Estonians do not belong formally to any religious organisation.

Members of the CEC include the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Alliance of Estonian Evangelical Christian Baptist Congregations, the Estonian Methodist Church, the Estonian Christian Pentecostal Church and the Armenian Apostolic Church’s Estonian Saint Gregorian’s Congregation. The Estonian Apostolic-Orthodox Church and the Union of the Seventh Day Adventists have observer’s status. The CEC is the only religious entity receiving monetary support from the Estonian government.

In 1989, the largest churches in Estonia joined to establish the Council of Estonian Churches (CEC) whose purpose is to unite Christian churches and congregational alliances, in order to advance the spiritual development of Estonian society according to Christian principles. The CEC helps prepare both army and prison chaplains and has also drawn attention to the importance of teaching the basics of religion in primary and secondary schools. It has also initiated morning prayers on Estonian Radio, as well as broadcasts of Christmas and Easter services on Estonian TV.

Today the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church is the largest church in Estonia, with 169 congregations and approximately 175 000 members. Although Estonia has never had a ‘state church’, the predominant position of Lutheranism is based on a centuries-long tradition. The next in size, also with long historical traditions, is the Estonian Apostolic-Orthodox Church with 58 congregations and approximately 18 000 members. The remainder of the Orthodox in Estonia belong to the Russian Orthodox Church, whose activity has not yet been co-ordinated with local laws. Third in size is the Alliance of Estonian Evangelical Baptist Congregations which consists of 89 congregations with 6100 members.

As of January 1, 2000, seven churches, eight congregational associations (totalling 458 congregations), 60 individual congregations and one monastery had been registered with the Registry of Churches at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In addition to these registered organisations, some religious associations had registered themselves as faith-based associations, others as non-profit organisations and still others have deemed it unnecessary to register with the state.

'Everyone has freedom of conscience, belief and thought. Belonging to a church or faith-based organisation is voluntary. There is no state church. All are free to engage in acts of worship, in public or in private, as long as this does not impair public order, health or morals.' Constitution of the Republic of Estonia, § 40

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