“Estonia is the most non-religious country in the world” – my tour guide

I don’t even know how one would measure that. I think faith (like most things) is hard to measure, even if it’s not the faith itself being measured, but rather the number of people who believe in something greater than themselves.

I attended a service today at 10 am at Jaani Kirik in Freedom Square. Don’t ask me my method for choosing which church, I picked one at random and ran with it.


This picture pretty much sums up my experience. Luckily I’m pretty accustomed to attending church services where I don’t know what’s going on. My mom is a practicing Christian and attends a church that primarily speaks Mandarin. When I attend on occasion with my mom, I can chunk together broken fragments of my forever decaying Mandarin while the translator keeps me up to speed, filling me in on the 85% that flew over my head at a lofty altitude of 33,000 feet.

Things obviously are different in Estonia. No language classes taken 13 years ago, no translator, no one that looks like me.

I chose a spot in the back, behind all the grandmas in their Sunday best. I, like most people, don’t like to disrupt a community I am not part of. This means standing, sitting, praying, and singing when everyone else does, even if you don’t really know what your intent is supposed to be while performing these actions. If I sat the whole service, I feared I would offend some church goers. Is my lack of participation disruptive? Or is it an active form of resistance? I don’t know! If I partook in the ritual, would it be disingenuous because I’m not religious? Which is worse? Also, does the fact that I didn’t understand a single word of anything change the answers to these questions? So much to think about!

My saving grace during this experience ended up being my music literacy. The hymns were all I was able to latch onto, and I got to sight read in Estonian that I didn’t understand. That part was pretty fun. I actually enjoyed myself considering I was just processing gibberish for 2 hours.

So what do you guys do when you’re not religious and you’re about to start a meal with people who say grace? Or if you’re attending a religious service to support someone you care about despite not practicing that religion? Or when someone gives you a gift for a religious holiday you don’t celebrate?

“Estonia is the most non-religious country in the world” – my tour guide