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The Power that Forms the Church
XXIII Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of European Russia (ELC ER)
“We dedicate our synod assembly to the theme of love. The foundation of our actions and efforts should be love. The power of love that forms the Church, which makes her strong, unified and alive,” – with these words the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of European Russia (ELCER). Dietrich Brauer greeted delegates and guests of the XXIII Synod of the ELCER, which was held April 2-3 in Orenburg. The theme of the synod assembly was the Word of God from the 1 letter of John 4.21 - “And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” Ecumenical guests and leaders of local and state administration attended the opening of the assembly. The Vice-Govenor of the Orenburg oblast Oleg Dimov underlined in his greeting that “people of the Lutheran faith made a significant contribution to the development of the Orenburg krai.”
Partners from the Church of Saxony participated in the work of the synod. “We eagerly take part in the life of your church, for it is important to know what concerns you.” The vice-bishop Norbert Hintz spoke of the constant prayer support from partners in the Martin-Luther-Bund: “your successes bring us happiness, and your defeats give us a reason to pray for you.”
29 delegates – deans, pastors and laity from the 12 deaneries of the ELCER – discussed questions that were in the agenda and made a number of important decisions over 2 days. Delegates accepted the report of Bishop Dietrich Brauer, the head of the administration of the ELCER Viktor Weber, the auditing commission and the budget for 2014-2015 was approved. Delegates dedicated special attention to the offering plan from congregations for church-wide needs. The synod created a permanent commission on education headed by Dean Elena Bondarenko, elected Elena Kurmyshovoa as the Coordinator of Diaconal Ministry and Vera Tkach as the Coordinator for Youth Ministry. Delegates decided to change the structure of the Volga-Kamskiy deanery by including the congregations of the Ulyanovsk deanery and at the same time to create a deanery of Samara made up of the congregations and groups of Samara and the Samara obl. The Volga-Kamskiy deanery will be led by the pastor from Ulyanovsk Vladimir Provorov and the Samara deanery by the pastor from Samara Olga Temirbulatova.
The synod assembly dedicated serious attention to the situation in Crimea and made a decision to write a letter to the leadership of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ukraine and to the congregations of Crimea.
In light of the upcoming General synod (Churchwide assembly) in September of 2014 the delegates of the synod of the ELCER made a decision to recommend to the General Consistory that Dietrich Brauer become the Archbishop of the ELC.
For the 3rd year in a row the synod assembly of the ELCER was held not in Moscow but in various regions – in Samara in 2012, in Novorossiysk and Krasnodar in 2013. This tradition has proved to be worthwhile. Holding these decision-making meetings of the church in provincial regions strengthens the authority of the Lutheran church in Russia. Getting acquainted with the state of congregations in our church helps in making timely decisions for the strengthening of the church.
Joint Declaration of Bishops of ELCER and GELC about congregations in Crimea
Dear brothers and sisters in the congregations of Crimea!
We, the brother churches of the ELCER and the GELCU, recognizing our common history and life together in a single Church for many centuries, in an attempt to maintain spiritual unity and to multiple our joint witness, taking into account the recent events which brought about changes in the political and legal statutes of our countries, with the goal of maintaining fellowship and in keeping good order among congregations of the faithful based on God's word and in harmony with our ecclesiastic tradition declare: despite the various changes in the political life of our countries, we are in spiritual unity and in full fellowship with one another. We support one another in our ministry. GELC at present, as earlier, maintains responsibility for the spiritual care of Evangelical Lutheran congregations of Crimea. ELCER and GELCU together accompany the congregations of Crimea during the process of legal registration. We respect the decisions of each congregation regarding their decision to belong to one or the other Church in the future.
Together we witness before God and people of the unity and indivisibility of the Church of Jesus Christ, despite difficult political situations and separation among peoples.
We ask God for the gift of wisdom for making all the decision necessary for peace and harmony between the peoples of Ukraine and Russia.
May 9, 2014. Tbilisi.
For ELCER D.B.
For GELCU S.M
Theme: Diaconal ministry
When you're valued
The development of a diaconal network, working out standards of diaconal ministry (ethical norms and approaches to diaconal work), continuing education as a necessary part of diaconal ministry – these words were heard on the final day of the seminary “Effective Action Based on Exchange and Study” which was held in Dnepropetrovsk from April 28 to May 2 with the support of the International Academy of Diaconal and Social Ministry – “Interdiac.” Over 4 days participants from Ukraine, the Czech Republic, Estonia and Russia discussed their experience, motivation and opportunities for continued cooperative efforts, hosted by the friendly and hospital congregation of St. Ekaterina in Dnepropetrovsk.
Everyone is valuable
For me this meeting was, first and foremost, an opportunity to gain new, unforgettable experience. The experience of communication, of accepting others and entering into a community where everyone is valued, an experience of sharing one's feelings with others, of questioning one's assumptions and openness.
All of us participants of the seminar were very different from one another. We arrived from various countries; we had different personalities, education and life experience; we have various responsibilities – from coordinating fellowship between congregations and ministries to financial work to work with children with special needs, and we were from various churches. This is what made our group so lively and fruitful.
When everyone in the team is valuable, when there is a sense of mutual understanding and unity, the opportunity arises for cooperation and understanding the values of others beyond the group. When you yourself are valuable, every other person in need becomes valuable for you, too, whether he a former addict, a child with Down's syndrome, a staff member at an orphanage... During this 4-day visit in Dnepropetrovsk we visited two social projects – an orphanage for children with disabilities and a rehabilitation center for former drug users organized by one of the charismatic churches. The seminar's organizers suggested that we pay attention to the question of who works in the centers, whether or not there are volunteers, how the project engages the target group in planning and in making decisions, how the project protects human dignity and justice, how space for an alternative decisions and points of view is made. These are good questions which are useful to ask yourself as you analyze any social projects.
“In order to change your life.”
The green island, a small territory enclosed by a fence, a building with a separate summer kitchen. Rows of vegetables. We went into the building which was separated into various rooms. Bunk beds stand so close to one another that there is basically no room left. This is the women's room. A few young women, some with children, were laying or sitting around. I am confused. I remember my visit to one homeless shelter. At the time I coordinated a project of assistance for the homeless and went to see how a sleeping place for a homeless person is organized. I remember that one of the homeless men was upset and said to me that this wasn't a zoo and we were here to stare at them; at the time, though, I was more interested in practical questions. I remembered that event, and I felt uncomfortable. We had, after all, come to the territory as if on an excursion. I was so surprised, then, when the women themselves starts tells us their stories – very similar and very unlike one another.
And then I began to understand that for them our visit was an opportunity to witness. What they usually say to one another, endlessly repeating various variations of their stories about how they took drugs and how their life was ruined and how then they came to the rehab center, began to believe, and God healed them.
To pacify and to subdue
The orphanage for handicapped children was typical, like many in our country, too. Adults, concerned about practical matters – sterile, empty bedrooms, clean sheets... yet, at the same time, kids with various diagnoses all together in one, rather crowded game room. We went in to that room and the children one after another began to press against one or another of us. To touch our bags, our cloths, to ask that we pick them up in our arms. Some in our group, overwhelmed by emotions – left the room. It really was difficult. Someone began to put puzzles together with kids.
I went up to a girl who was sitting quietly on the floor. “She doesn't speak,” one of the helpers of the center warned. But that doesn't mean, does it, that I can't speak with her? It doesn't prohibit me from putting blocks on top of one another with her, does it? In short during this short visit the staff tried to pacify the kids, to block them from contact with the guests, to subdue them. And I understood that once again that the children are prisoners not as much of their illnesses as of the systems into which they've been placed. Autistic children together with Down Syndrome kids and other issues, more difficult for amateur diagnosis. They're in a tight space. With helpers who do not know and don't want to known diagnosis, though this information is simply essential for rehabilitation. So what can we say about dignity? About participation in decision making?
Pluses and minuses, risks and opportunities
Having returned to the church, we think about the pluses and minuses of each of these social projects. The orphanage is located in a rural area – this is a plus and a minus. The rural lifestyle offers the opportunity not only to get fresh groceries, but also to find work for those children and adults (there is a special department for youth) who live here, but the orphanage is a long ways from the city and this makes it hard for volunteers to get there. If volunteers are organized for the orphanage, then it is important to guarantee some stable contact (the same people over a long period of time) and an individual approach to each child. Many of those living in the rehab center go there as if to a monastery; they majority of them are not ready and do not plan to go out to live independently. That is, even when they are living beyond the walls of the rehab center, the ties with the center are very strong, control over their life continues. In then end they exchange one addiction for another, though this new addiction, at least, does not destroy their body. They really do stop using drugs.
Their “method” made a big impression on me – I don't think it is possible to get well that way – no personal space, not for one minute is a person left alone. There is almost no physical activity, only constant conversation. The opportunities are few but there is missionary activity. Such a form of rehabilitation doesn't fit everyone, but one of its pluses is its accessibility.
So, for each of these projects there are limitations but there are also resources. One of the main conclusions of the seminar was as follows – it is necessary to notice the resources that are nearby. Sometimes simple things can bring not only joy, but also income. But even those resources which don't seem to be profit-making can be useful for the organization of social projects. And openness, experience, values, unity, diversity, rethinking, hope bring one to a new vision which helps us develop ourselves and develop diaconal activity in the church.
Ordination in the Church of Kyrgyzstan
Sunday the 27th of April was a memorable day in the ELCKR. Congregational members came to Bishkek from the near-by congregations of the Chuiskoj oblast – from the village of Nizhne-Chuisk, Vinogradnoe, Belovodskoe, Kirovskoe and the cities of Kant, Tokmok and Karbalta. Pastors specially came from congregations further away – from the village of Ananevo (Issyk-Kulskaja obl) and the city of Dzhallabada. The Russian phrase “there was nowhere for an apple to fall” was particularly appropriate for this service; in order to find a place for everyone, additional benches had to be brought in.
The reason for this was the ordination of the young preacher Nikolaj Vorobeva and Valentin Limonovich. Both of these new pastors came to the congregation as children, during the time of the rebirth and growth of the ELCKR after the fall of the USSR. They grew up in the church, both literally and figuratively. They went on the path from Sunday school children to coordinators of youth ministry in ELCKR. And therefore their older mentors, brothers and sisters in faith, looked anxiously forward to the joyful day of their ordination. They were compared to chicks whose feathers had been formed and who were able to fly out from under the caring wings of their spiritual mentors. The choir from Vinogradnoe sang a gift to their young pastors - “I've Chosen a Hatchling,” which exactly accurately described the care of their mentors, the concern for the future of these young men and wishing them to fly bravely and freely ahead.
The ordination was presided at by ELCER bishop Alfred Eicholtz. He was helped by pastors Nikolai Barnov (Kant), Dmitry Shlebaev (Belvodskoe), Alexandr Shantz (Nizhne-Chisk), Valeria Nevremin (Anaanevo), Aleksandr Kekself (Dzhalalabada). Looking at this, we were filled with happiness – before the altar is a wonderful team for Christ! And now new servants have been added, dedicated to working for God's harvest. ….
In the ELC congregations in Kyrgyzstan over the past years it is possible to notice a significant drop in the number of congregations. This is tied with the mass emigration of the Russian-speaking population (and it is this group which is at present the majority of congregants) from the republic for residency elsewhere. Therefore an over-full church witnesses to the specialness of this event. At the end of the service there were prayers of thanksgiving for the young ministers who already for a few years have been leaders of congregations in Kyrgyzstan and now are beginning the responsibility of pastoral ministry.