“A Healthy Spirit in a Healthy Body”
The Volga region has traditionally been a very important center for church life in Russia, from the times of the German colonists up until today. Saratov is certainly one of the most important cities there, and it was with great joy that I had the chance to visit and teacher there in May.
Together with pastor Andrey Dzhamgarov and Area Dean Alexander Scheiermann, we chose the theme "healthy congregations" for our time together and, after inviting Dean Vladimir Provorov from Ulyanovsk (a good friend of the congregation) to share in teaching duties, we named the seminar "A Healthy Spirit in a Healthy Body." There were approximately 16 attendees from Saratov, Saratov oblast, Ulyanovsk, and Kazan who took part over the first two days, while another group joined us for a summary of the seminary on Sunday after worship.
The group was engaged with the material, and especially enjoyed working together on the Bible in small groups, something that I learned was not typical for them. I personally very much enjoyed seeing the church (an enormous structure that has been and will be under construction for some time), meeting the congregations, and getting acquainted a bit more closely with a pietist tradition congregation in a large, provincial city.
Less successful, it seems, was our choice of dates. The period of late April to the end of May is a great time in Russia, but it is also a time filled with many different holidays, events, and work on the dacha. This probably hurt us in terms of attendance, but we will learn from this experience in order to organize things better next time around.
Women's Ministry in Tomsk
In May of 2016 I participated in the women's seminar “Friendship is a Gift from God” in Omsk, where I got acquainted with sisters from other congregations in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Urals, Siberia and Far East.
We discussed various themes, sang hymns, prayed and made crafts. I learned much that was new and interesting to me. A few times I was moved to tears by the heartfelt and sincere atmosphere. There I was so much positive emotion from fellowship with sisters of various ages, with various point of view on life and with their own problems. From all that I learned that we have one thing in common – our faith in God.
When I returned to Tomsk I had the desire to share this knowledge and these emotions, and I decided to use discussion of the book of Ruth for this. Our meetings took place on Wednesday evenings during Evening Prayer services. After the first lesson I began to be less nervous when I saw that what I had to say was interesting to participants.
At the end of the final evening the question was raised - “will we continue our lessons?”
This interest and trust could not leave me indifferent. I also wanted to continue our meetings. Therefore we decided that we would meet the next time on the day of the Visitation of Elizabeth by Mary. We plan to have small group lessons with large group discussion and conclusion.
Many thanks to the organizers of the seminar for their preparation and organization of work and rest, as well as for their sensitivity and positive attitude.
A Prayer Shawl and Other Surprises
Belleuve, Washington, USA
My visit to Grace Lutheran Church in Belleuve (Washington, USA) was almost spontaneous. For many years the congregation has maintained a partner relationship with our St. Anna's and Peter's Church in St. Petersburg. After a few unsuccessful attempts in May of this year I was able to take part in a conference in San Francisco related to my professional work, and from there to Seattle / Belleuve, it is not far at all. Our partner congregation had very little time to prepare for my visit, but that made it all the more interesting – I had the chance to have quite a few meetings and events and we came to important agreements.
On Sunday May 8th when I visited the congregation it was Mother's Day in the United States. I was rather skeptical of this holiday – I thought of it as just another way greeting card companies increase their sales; on this day many people preferred to be with their families rather than coming to church, but there were still around 30 people at worship, which is not so few for Grace Lutheran. There were many surprises waiting for me; one of them was the blessing of quilts, which are made by hand by a group in the congregation and then sent as gifts to homeless shelters. These quilts are also given as a sign of warm care on the part of the congregation for those young people who were leaving to study in college. One of the members of the quilting group really wanted to send at least a small quilt to Russia with us, but we stopped her in time – it wouldn't have fit in our luggage. But all the same her generous nature didn't allow her to gift up; she found among her materials a “prayer shawl”- a beautiful, soft, hand-made scarf that was given to me as a present. Another surprise was that on that day the pastor of the congregation, Veronica Smith, was supposed to give birth to her baby; everything was planned so that, in the case of the pastor's absence, congregation members could lead the service themselves. But the baby wasn't rushing things, so Pastor Veronica was able to lead the service until the end and remained for the traditional coffee time afterwards. Many congregational members stayed to hear me tell about our congregation and our project of trying to raise money for the installation of an organ. The conclusion of this discussion was summed up by Pastor Veronica: “We'll full dedicate our traditional fall auction to your project;” moreover the congregation gave a significant monetary gift to the project right away.
During our discussions it became clear that the problems of this American congregation are similar to the problems of our congregation in Petersburg. There are very few people there right now with children and youth who attend Sunday services. For that reason a few of the rooms that previously had been occupied by the Sunday school are now being rented out to a kindergarten. I really hope that our partnership can help our congregations develop. For example I would be very happy to learn from the Americans how they together with a few other congregations of various denominations in their city were able to create a service of assistance for the homeless. For one month every church provides space for the homeless to sleep in at night. They can only be there from 7 in the evening to 7 in the morning. In the daytime there is a rehabilitation program which helps with training, job searching and adaptation. The other project that interested me was the psychological service of the church. This region-wide church program works in the following way: congregations provide the space for the consultant, while the psychological service provides training and support for church counselors.
I made two important acquaintances on this trip. The first was with Eva Mader and her family. Throughout the years Eva has been the main link between our congregation and the congregation in Bellevue. For family reasons Eva was not able to spend much time with me, but handed me over to an elderly couple – Judy and Howard Johnson. Now I know that in Bellevue I have a number of good friends; they organized for me two days of real relaxation and with great hospitality and friendliness they invited me not only to stay at their house, but also to take part in family events. I hope very much that Eva will be able to come to Petersburg this fall, where I will be waiting for my new friends from Bellevue.