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“I am with you always, until the End of the Age”
The Fourth Church-wide Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia was held September 17-19 in Novosaratovka.
Two highlights of the event were the visit to the gathering of ELM General Secretary Martin Junge and the election of Dietrich Brauer as the new Archbishop of the ELC.
Dietrich Borisovich Brauer was born on January 3, 1983 in Vladivostok. He studied at the ELC Theological Seminary in Novosaratovka from 2001-2005; from 2005- to 2010 he served as a pastor in the Gusyev (Gumbinnen) region of the Kaliningrad deanery. In March of 2010 he was named as the Visitation Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of European Russia; in September of 2012 the Churchwide Assembly (General Synod) named him the acting Archbishop of the ELCR. He is married and has two children.
During his report on his work as Acting Archbishop, Bishop Brauer especially underlined the strengthening of ties with the Russian Orthodox Church on an official level and with federal government administration; these developments impact the whole church, since so much in Russia depends on the position of government officials. In addition, Bishop Brauer outlined his vision for our Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia – a church that is is unified, open, free and dynamic, synodical, multicultural and open to dialog, a merciful church that loves the sinner.
At the end of the assembly Bishop Brauer was blessed for ministry, though his official installation will take place later in Moscow.
The General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, Martin Junge, (who also visited the Governor of St. Petersburg and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Ingria on this, his first trip to Russia) read a paper on the mission of the church, based on the verses chosen for the synod's theme – Mt 28.19-20. It acted as a good stimulus for conversation. Delegates asked questions about whether or not they should go and preach the Gospel to people whom they don't know or if they should start with their own family. How important is having a church building and social status in preaching, or are these secondary factors? At the end of the discussion it was decided that a working group would be formed that would look at these and similar questions.
There was a separate conversation at the synod about education. The President of the Theological Seminary, Anton Tikhomirov, talked about the state of affairs at the seminary. At present a program of distance education is being implemented; there are more than 60 students studying over the course of 3 semesters. Also approximately once or twice a year the seminary hosts continuing education courses. Pastor Bradn Buerkle, former teacher at the seminary, presented the “Equipping for Service” project to synod delegates. This project, launched not long ago, is focused on bringing opportunities for high-quality seminars to people “on the ground” in various regions of the Russian church. Bradn was blessed for this ministry at the closing of the synod.
The synod was attended by foreign guests from the the Germany consulate, LWF, EKG, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Saxony, the Martin Luther Union, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Finland, and a para-church organization for Russian Germans in Germany.
Theme: Children's ministries, diaconal ministry
Together with God on the Way
18 children from underprivileged families came to the “Bethany” Children's center of the Novogradovka congregation (Odessa region) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church this year. Each of them has met with struggles in school as a result of their family situation – single-parent homes, alcoholism, extreme poverty or a large number of children.
At “Bethany” the children receive attention, care, and an understanding of God's great love. Each receives individual tutoring in all school subjects as well as a hot meal and medical help. For five years now the center has opened up its doors for elementary age school children that need special attention. Together with their teachers and the director of the school and in agreement with their parents, the congregation chooses the most needy children and then takes on the responsibility to accompany them throughout the school year.
From Tuesday to Friday after school children come to one of the four classrooms of the Children's center, where they play, eat and then work hard on reading, writing, math, English and other subjects. Small classrooms ensure that there is an individual approach to each subject.
Teachers put a lot of effort into teaching children the basic rules of hygiene, of how to act at the table and in society. God creates miracles in this atmosphere of love and the children, even those for whom there seemed to be no hope – begin to understand, to read, to write, to speak, to listen. This ministry is a real miracle that is being worked before our very eyes already for a significant amount of time. Is it possible to overstate how valuable it has been over the years?
And now new children and those who remained from passed years are again filled with hope. They waited out the summer break when the doors of the center were closed and now, once again, they can enjoy the joyful atmosphere. At opening worship parents were presented with the program of the center, and there was a blessing of children and their teachers.
In July and August the congregation gave a new member of the church Vera Yakovleva the opportunity to work with pre-school aged children. 25 kids in two age groups came together from Monday to Friday for free lessons; frequently they came together with their parents to take part in various developmental games. Now starting in Septembers the group has begun to collect offerings and practically covers its expenses. So now in our Children's house there is a new ministry with pre-school children; all together there are 37 children and 5 staff members.
Theme: Buildings and renovations
Work Continues in St. Mary's Lutheran, Saratov
The church of St. Mary in Saratov, besides its ordinary congregational work, also does a lot of social projects. These include diaconal projects for supporting the sick and elderly people, a cloths barn, the annual youth camp - “Hope,” a Christian rafting camp, a youth forum “iVolga,” among others. During each of these events congregational members meet with a large variety of people. In this way every member of the congregation becomes a representative of our church for others; this means that members have a lot of responsibility to incarnate the values we confess. It is possible to give many concrete examples. At present the congregation is continuing to build a new building, St. Mary's. Much is done by congregational members themselves, e.g., waterproofing the roof and the grounds work and many other things. The church building is in a residential region and surrounded by high apartment buildings.
For a long time the territory around the church was an abandoned lot. Before the church building was built local residents paid little attention to this area, but then the church began to clean things up; congregational members hauled away garbage and began to beautify the area. This example has already began to show fruits – neighbors now not only look after the surrounding territory, they also gently remind one another to keep things clean; they thank us for improving the neighborhood and tells us that they look forward to visiting the church when the construction is done. This is a great miracle that God works through the hands of each congregational member! Just by doing this good work dialog with local residents has begun; this opens up the path for the growth of the congregation. We always need to remember that each of us is an ambassador of the Good News, whether we are conscious of it not.