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One-fifth of a Century
The 20th anniversary celebrations of the Christ Church Center in Omsk from May 30th to June 1st included three different events – an organ concert at the city orchestra hall; the opening celebrations at the Center (the presentation of a new exhibit on the history of Lutherans in Omsk, a choir concert, greeting speeches), and a worship service. 20 years doesn't seem like much time, but how eventful these years have been! It was 20 years ago that the Omsk congregation, which had met in a prayer house in Soviet times, moved into the big, beautiful Center. After the fall of the USSR and the establishment of new church/state relationships, believers had the chance to freely confess their faith and to open the doors of their buildings to new converts.
In May of 1992 in Omsk the synod assembly established the Diocese of the Urals, Siberia and Far East and Dean Nikolai Schneider was elected Superintendent. He was the one who had the idea of building a church center in Omsk, and this idea was supported by the Hannover Church and German government. The building was dedicated on August 31st 1994 and it became the center for Lutherans in the Urals, Siberia and Far East. In the 1990s and 2000s there were few buildings of such high quality built in Omsk. With its humble interior, the building carries the spirit of Siberian Lutheranism; the altar painting invites everyone to concentrate on the essence of the Christian faith; everything there points to what is most important – Jesus Christ.
Only God Elects
Scattered villages, shepherds herding sheep on the alpine meadows of the Caucuses – it is a special world. The road to Cherkessk follows alongside the Great Caucasian mountain chain. Any traveler who follows this route is overwhelmed by the beauty and wonder of the mountain landscape. At the same time the silhouettes shining in the sun of industrial buildings speaks tot he harmonious relationship between modern technology and nature. On May 2nd the pastor of the Krasnodar congregation, Sergei Maramzin, visited the Lutheran congregation in Cheressk (Karchay-Cherkesskia, Russia). The church council president met the pastor even before the latter entered the city... this is the way a foreign city begins to feel like home, when brothers and sisters in Christ meet you. Sergei Maramzin led worship with Holy Communion. During the sermon each of the congregation members told their story of faith. Each of them was different, but they agreed on one thing – only God elects and brings people to Church; a person cannot make the right decision by himself. The congregation members took the initiative and made a monetary offering to the work of the Northern Caucuses deanery.
After worship everyone was invited to tea, and this gave the visiting pastor and the congregation time to get acquainted. According to the traditions of the mountains there were frequent interruptions for people to give short speeches, to say kind words, to sing a song. Despite the lack of musical accompaniment, the congregation is full of singers, capable of multi-part harmonious song. Unfortunately the congregation still struggles without a regular pastor, confirmation lessons or closer contacts with the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church. The congregation there has potential for further growth, both spiritually and numerically. “I'm not sure if I was able to help the congregation, but the people there helped me understand some important aspects of Christian faith.” With these words Pastor Maramzin set off for home, while the congregation wished him a safe trip and that he come back soon.
Lutheran Spring 2014
From May 28 to June 1 in the village of Novomikhailovka near Tuapse Oswald Wutzke led a seminar “Lutheran Spring 2014” for staff of the congregations of the Northern Caucuses deanery of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Most of these congregations were represented there – Cherkessk, Kislovosk, Krasnodar, Vladikavkaz, Maikop, Krimsk, Novomikhailovsk as well as guests from Kazan and from the Republic of Moldova.
Lessons were led by Oswald Wutzke, Pastor David Gorn and Pastor Sergei Maramzin. Participants had an opportunity not only to deepen their understanding, but also to share with one another information about the life of their congregations, to discuss practical questions and to just enjoy one another's company on a boat ride. On the last day of the seminar the priest of the local Armenian Orthodox congregation allowed the group to hold a Lutheran worship service in their building. Pstor Wutzke gave the sermon about 3 simple but important words for every Christian – “thanks,” “please,” and “sorry” – and the importance of using these words in everyday life.
It has already become a tradition that the staff of the “German-Russian Meeting Center” and congregational members of St. Paul's and Anna's Lutheran Church organize a program of events in Petrikirche on the city-wide “Night of Museums,” held every May. The number of daily visitors to museums triples on that day, when a building that was once just a pretty decoration on the way to work or to school opens its doors and becomes a “real” place.
Of the 96 places where events were held, Petrikirche had the 4th most visitors; the line to get in stretched out for 12 minutes. Even while waiting, though, people in line were not bored – there was a program for them, too. Once inside, the whole building was used in interesting ways. There were excursions that acquainted visitors with the most important moments in the history of the cathedral...but it wasn't only people who did the story telling; this was done, in part, by the spaces themselves. The top floor of the church was open for visitors who could listen to organ and classical music and see a video installation projected on to the floor of the sanctuary (until 6 am)!
The first floor had exhibits about the history of Germans in the city; in addition there were master classes in making Koenigsberg marzipan in the cafe. In the lower floor of the cathedral (in the part of the church known as the “catacombs”), there was an exhibit entitled “Leningrad Germans. Before and After.” Here flashes of light on the old floor of the swimming pool reminded visitors of flashes of bullets... The light show was accompanied by experimental electronic music which not only gave a different perspective on the church but also fit into the theme of the “Night of Museums” for 2014 – “Light and Color.”
Thanks to the help of volunteers and sponsors, many people (9266 of them, in fact!) came into the church that night and were given a chance to think about the church in a new way.
Omsk and Krasniy Yar
Women's retreats have been held in ELCUSFE every year since 2006 and each of them has brought spiritual renewal, has strengthened faith and brought significant practical help to those who are serving Christ's church. This year's theme (explored on May 2-7) was “Created in God's image.” This theme was touched on again and again in Bible studies by the coordinator of women's ministry in ELCUSFE, Tatyana Serebrova, among others. The main theme could be summed up in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer - “God loves us so much not because we are valuable, but we are valuable because God loves us so much.” During fellowship and worship sisters in faith could feel like they are really members of one big family.
The women's seminar for ELCER in Krasniy Yar (near Samara) was split into two parts; the first (for those serving in the area of women's ministries) was held on April 29 to May 3 with representatives of 7 congregations attending; there was also in attendance a participant from Lvov, Ukraine, an important sign of the unity and solidarity of our church. Guests from Stuttgart, Pastor Gotfriend Stein and his wife Erika, acquainted participants with a catechetical program for congregational use, “Steps of Life, the text of which was translated by Ruth Stubenitsky at the Theological Seminary. It is planned that the text will be published and used at future seminars. The second part of the program was the annual women's seminar held from May 5-9; Erika Stein led lessons for women from various congregations of ELCER. These seminars provide not only knowledge and rest, but also important fellowship and a sense of unity.
The pastor of the Odessa congregation, Andrei Hamburg, writes – “It is loud again in the streets – 'I can hear the drunk students yelling,' my wife says. She's happy, even if she can't go to sleep. It was unusually quite hear a few days ago. It seemed like the whole city was holding its breath. There had been a horrible tragedy. 46 people died. We are still asking how this is possible in one of the most peaceful cities of our country.... There are attempts to explain what happened, but you can only explain it in part; in any case, it is impossible to understand it – 46 dead! Why?
After May 2nd our city was split. I especially felt it the next morning on the TV broadcast. And I've never found it more difficult to find words than when answering calls from victims. It is never easy to soothe the grieving, but when a person also wants revenge, you simply go mute and can barely say a word. And then at the memorial events we heard the following: 'We'll never forget, and we'll never forgive.' In the church it became clear to us – it is still too early to talk about reconciliation. First it is necessary to heal the horrible wounds. It is hard to accept one's own powerlessness. So we simply limited ourselves to the most important things – to helping the wounded in hospitals and providing psychological support. The hotline that we set up after the first deaths on Maidan in Kiev was now very much in demand; those who called in were transferred to our volunteer psychologists. This 'first aid' helped people get by during the crisis situations, especially in the context of the 'information war' that makes many ordinary people – like you and me – lose their psychological stability.
Thank God that our church made itself known during peaceful demonstrations; that we did not look only at Romans 13 and not only totally submitted to those in power. We held together, supported and strengthened one another! Thanks to that people began to trust our church more and now we were able to help people without first breaking down barriers of mistrust. We were criticized many times for being active in politics, but I remember the words of one Orthodox priest who came to me and talked with me, inspired by Bonhoeffer and Dorthee Solle... for me this was a sign that our Church is doing the right thing.
In the work of reconciliation, we all are limited, we all need help. And because of that the type of unity that earlier seemed impossible suddenly arose – all of the religions of Odessa united! Muslims, Jews, Christians of all denominations, Hindus, Hare Krishnas... We all came together for an outdoor event; we prayed for peace, for the people, for the country. It was an amazing feeling! All the same I must admit that it is not only this that brings me hope...it is also the loud singing of students late at night in our neighborhood.”
Theme: Children's ministries
Commissioning of Youth Minister
On May 11th Anastasia Razinkova was commissioned to serve as youth coordinator for the deanery of Eastern Siberia of the ELCUSFE. Nastya was born near Irkutsk in the small city of Shelekhov; she was raised a Christian, and by 14 was already leading camp ministries. She already knew then that she wanted to work with children and, after school, got her teaching certificate. In 2012 she graduated from the Theological Seminary and then had her internship in Omsk, where she will continue to live.
Bishop Otto Schaude blessed Nastaya for this work at a regular Sunday worship service, underlining the importance of sowing God's Word in the hearts of children. The congregational choir gave Nastya a musical gift to go along with the kind words that many addressed to her on this joyous occasion.