The Rebirth of the Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of the Savior in Baku
Azərbaycan Yevangelik Lüteran Kilsəsinin. That is what “the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Savior” looks like in Azerbaijani.
The first Lutheran church in Baku was established in 1853 and liquidated in 1936. The rebirth of the congregation began thanks to the active work of the former church council president, Tamara Gumbatova, in 1993. The congregation was officially registered on November 2, 1994. The main group of the congregation at that time were those Lutherans who were baptized and confirmed before the congregation's liquidation. The first spiritual leader of the congregation was Pastor Stefan Reder who visited the congregation from St. Petersburg from time to time. Afterwards other visiting pastors came from Germany thanks to Pastr Reder’s efforts.
In 1996 the congregation held an event at the Azerbaijan-Germany Society dedicated to the 450 anniversary of Martin Luther's death. Besides academic papers being read, there also was an exhibition - “Lutherans in Azerbaijan.” In 1997 at Easter 8 children were baptized, and in 1998 – 8 adults. This was a great joy.
The congregation waited a long time for a pastor who would come for a significant period of time; this person was Guenther Oborsky (1998-1998). On March 13-14, 1999, the congregation celebrated its 100th anniversary. Worship was led by the ELCROS Archbishop Georg Kretschmar and assisted by Stefan Reder and pastors of the congregation; there were many guests, including the German ambassador, a representative from the government's religious affairs office, and the Bishop Alexander of the local diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church.
After three years of pastoral vacancy, other pastors came as visitors from 2002-2007.
At present the congregation has 83 members (80% of which are women). The government office for religious affairs helped the congregation to get a space for worship in the historical kirche, which presently is home to the chamber and organ music hall.
According to the agreement with the State Philharmonic signed June 26,2011, the Lutheran congregation in Baku received the right to have worship in the sanctuary of the church and use the wonderful organ for that purpose. Despite many years of effort, the congregation is not able to get the building back as its own possession, and it even has to pay rent for using the space for worship. Everything else the congregation has to do in the “office,” a sizable apartment in the city center...but rent for it needs to be paid, too.
In 1996 a law was passed in Azerbaijan forbidding foreign missionaries to work in the country, so it was a great gift for the congregation that Menzer Ismailova studied at the Theological Seminary in Novosaratovka and came back to serve as its pastor in 2011.
Today the congregation of the Savior in Baku is part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Georgia and the Southern Caucasus (ELCG); twice a year its representatives take part in the ELCG's synods. We are united by much: our liturgy for worship, common events and seminars, the sharing of mutual experiences. It is worth noting that the bishops of ELCG have constantly supported us – Dr. H.Hummel, Dr. A. Shoekel, Dr. J.Launhardt, and Hans-Joachim Kiderlen.
History and the present situation point to the fact that the Lutherans of the southern Caucasus were, are, and will remain a united whole.
Vera Nesterova and Natalia Bairamova
Martin Luther's Small Catechism translated into Azerbaijani.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” Mt. 28.19
This year Lutherans all over the world celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Our congregation of the Savior in Baku also wanted to take part, and our contribution was the first ever translation and publication of Martin Luther's Small Catechism in Azerbaijani. Work on the translatio and preparation of the book began two years ago with the support of our American and Finnish friends. The State Committee for work with religious organizations approved its publication, and 250 copies were printed. Now brothers and sisters are able to get acquainted with basic Christian teachings in a short and clear form in their native Azeri language.
The translation of the Bible into German played an enormous role in the development of Christian life in that country, and we pray to God that it would play a similar role in ours. In the Church of the Savior in Baku we are thankful that we can now read the Bible, sing hymns and read the Small Catechism in our native language. After all only one's native language gives the person an opportunity to understand for oneself the richness of the Holy Scriptures, to believe in the one who is the Savior of the world. We need good Lutheran books in our native language so that pastors and congregations could freely teach, study, and understand.
I would like to express great thanks to our sponsors who continue the educational work of Martin Luther, especially the Lutheran Heritage Foundation (LHF) which has already published the Catechesis in more than 80 languages; a large part of the publication expenses was taken on by Concordia Publishing House. Thank you all very much, dear friends!
Pastor Menzer Ismailova