A True Pastoral Care Giver
From May 2nd to the 7th in the Omsk oblast the women's seminar of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Urals, Siberia and Far East - “Jesus Christ – the true caregiver of souls.” This hinted at the broad theme of the seminary – pastoral care and counseling. Sister Louisa, a deaconess from Germany, analyzed Jesus' conversations with people from a pastoral care point of view. Nina Dmitrieva (Vladivostok) and Anastasia Razinkova (Shelekhov, Irkutsk oblast) gave an overview of the upcoming World Day of Prayer for 2019.
Tatyana Serevbrova (Krasnoyarsk) introduced the seminar and ed a lesson on women in the Bible. Besides this participants enjoyed the natural pine forest, sang hymns, prayed together and shared a warm atmosphere of fellowship.
Anastasia Razinkov – New Congregational Leader in the Irkutsk Region
On May 13 Pastor Thomas Graf Grote officially concluded his ministry in the congregation in Shelekhov (Irkutsk oblast). On that day the congregation said its goodbyes with pastor Grote – a person who in many ways was responsible for the congregation's coming into existence. Its foundation was unusual. “First I came to Irkutsk as a representative of a German trading company in order to develop the lumber market. It was necessary for me to do so because I couldn't find work in Germany as a forester. However I quickly fell in love with Russia, and in particular with Irkutsk - this huge country with limitless possibilities and very hospitable people.
In 1995, four years after the fall of the USSR, a social worker who cared for the needy founded a group of Scouts that specialized in working with children and youth from disadvantaged families. This group helped the kids find meaning in life. A year later I began to take on an active role in this scouting group, from which eventually a independent Christian congregation was born. This congregation needed an official status, and we made the decision to join the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Urals, Siberia and Far East. Since there was no pastor available for this congregation the Church asked me to work on the church's legal status and to assume leadership. I stopped my work in lumber and became a student of the Theological Seminary of our church in St. Petersburg; I finished in 2006 and was ordained.” Later Pastor Grote also established contact with a special religious group in the village of Pikhtinsk of the Irkutsk oblast – Polish-speaking, ethnic German Lutherans who moved from Volyn to the Siberian taiga at the beginning of the 20 century. He was their pastor for many years.
Now the Grote family – Thomas and his wife Evgenia and their children – will return to Thomas' home in Germany. During the farewell party the congregation remembered with joy what they had went through together with their pastor, their pastoral care giver and their friend: worship services, prayer meetings, Bible groups, holidays, camps, hikes...
Now pastoral duties (with the exception of the Sacraments) for the region will be in the hands of Anastasia Razinkova. Her official title will be the representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Urals, Siberia and Far East in the Irkutsk oblast. She will also be responsible for two social ministry projects - “Istok” (a village with ministry with the handicapped) and “Tsvetnaya planeta” (a project dedicated to the well-being of the developmentally disabled through art therapy).
“These changes will be in large part useful for the Shelekhov congregation since I have been here already more than 20 years and the time has come when Anastasia can bring fresh ideas into the congregation,” Thomas said. Anastasia grew up in this congregation. After successfully completing her theological education in the full-time program of the Novosaratovka seminary in 2012 and an internship in Germany, she worked in the church as the coordinator of children's and youth ministry in eastern Siberia. This experience will help Anastasia in her new position since the congregation in Shelekhov is made up mostly of young adults that grew up in the Scouts (herself included) and their children. Dean Vladimir Vinogradov installed Anastasia and wished her inspiration and fruitful ministry.
Dedication of St. Mary's Church in Saratov
Archbishop Dietrich Brauer spoke about the church's dedication on May 13th and the events that took place preceding it in the following interview:
"The dedication of St. Mary's in Saratov is a long-awaited and happy event. 225 years have passed since the dedication of the first St. Mary's, which was located in the center of the city and was barbarically destroyed when it was blown up in 1971. The history of Lutherans in Saratov was interrupted for quite some time. Later the congregation was organized and began to meet in various places. On Sundays congregational members met in basements, and for big holidays they rented halls in order to fit in all those who wanted to attend.
Then the congregation began to build a new church; 25 years have passed since the congregation was reborn, and for more than 10 years now the new church has been under construction. The work was done only by fellow believers, both Russian Germans and others who show their care and concern. Both individuals and church groups have taken part in this good deed. The process of construction stretched out throughout the years, and even now the work isn't done, but the main work has been completed.
At the end of this stage we decided to dedicate the building in order that the congregation could feel that it was already in a fully-functioning church building. It can hold up to 200 people. Worship services are already held in the sanctuary, and there are many spaces for use by the Sunday school, for other ministries and even a small fireside room which creates a special atmosphere for meetings and discussions".
It was quite impressive that the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, Rüdiger von Fritsch, came to Saratov for the dedication of the building. Every year he visits one of the Russian regions, and he came to Saratov specially for the dedication of the church and the celebratory worship. What is more, he came not strictly as a government official, but as a preacher. Rüdiger von Fritsch is not only an ambassador, he is a theologian and is blessed as a preacher in the Lutheran Church. He has preached, for example, in the Bavarian Lutheran church when he was the ambassador in Poland and was happy to agree to give the sermon at the celebratory worship service in St. Mary's church.
In his sermon the ambassador spoke about the New Covenant of God with man, the covenant based on the blood of Jesus Christ, His grace, His mercy. The preacher placed this imagine in the context of the event, in the context of Russian Lutherans and the Saratov congregation, which lost its building, lost hoped, but did not lose faith. This faith and the faithfulness of God, His faithfulness to the covenant that He once made with his people, saved and strengthened people during all times. “Today, during the dedication of the new St. Mary's church, the faithfulness of God to his covenant has been fully shown;” with these words the German ambassador brought his sermon to a close.
The participation of the ambassador of Germany in the events in Saratov drew attention not only to his person, but also to the problems of Russian Lutherans, to the needs of congregations. We are very thankful to Ambassador Rüdiger von Fritsch, for his attentiveness to and interest in Russian Lutherans, for his active participation in the finding solutions to many important problems. In our days people frequently speak in the language of confrontation, of sanctions and threats. And the fact that a person can speak in a different language, heart to heart, the language of spirituality, the language of faith – it is very inspiring!
As he noted in his conversation with local journalists the Ambassador’s main goal of this visit was to be present at the dedication and worship service, but many other events were also organized for him and he enjoyed visiting the city and oblast very much; he spoke of his intention to visit again on a personal visit together with his wife.
It is a joy that three church buildings in the region are being restored at once : the new St. Mary's, and two historical buildings in Zorkino and in Marx. In the former local businessman Karl Loor has led the efforts, while in Marx it is brothers Alexander and Viktor Schmidt.
During this visit we visited the wonderful, old church in Marx. It was a nice to see that the city itself is being transformed around the restored church – the embankment has been done, the territory was groomed – the city is awakening together with the church! The same thing happened in Zorkino. When from ruins a beautiful church was raised, everything around started to change, too. A new school and a hospital have appeared. People try to meet the standard of beauty that now surrounds them. I think that when the construction of St. Mary's in Saratov is finished, the industrial neighborhood where it is located will also begin to be transformed.”
Working Visit of the Archbishop to St. Petersburg
On May 16 Archbishop Dietrich Brauer took part in the work of the 18th Petersburg International Legal Forum, where representatives of traditional religious groups debated the issue of the relationship between the state, society and religious organizations, including the question of the mechanics of state support of religious organizations. The moderator of the group was Sergei Gavrilov – the representative of the Duma committee on the development of civil society, societal and religious groups.
During his visit the Archbishop also visited one of the oldest members of our church, Edith Muetel, the author of two volumes of memoirs, the latter of which (“I Remember. From Petrograd to Petersburg through the Volga and Siberia”) is in Russian and was printed with the help of the St. Petersburg city government.
In addition he had meetings around other issues including the preparation of lay preachers for the Northwestern Deanery, restoration work at Petrikirche, the activities of the Theological Seminary and work on the liturgical handbook that is in the process of preparation.
Guests from India
On Pentecost, May 20, at Sts Peter and Paul Cathedral in Moscow there was a guest preacher – Rev. Dr. Christian Samurai, the ambassador for international relations for the Tamil Evangelical Lutheran Church of India.
He came to Moscow together with his wife and daughter at the invitation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of European Russia. After worship there was a meeting of the congregation with Mr. Samurai. He spoke about the history of the beginnings of Christianity in India, tied with the name of St. Thomas. The guest spoke in detail about the problems of Indian Christians, which experience persecution because of their faith in a country where the majority of believers are Hindu and also emphasized that India and Russia have long-time friendly relations.
The reverend doctor prayed for the blessing of the Holy Spirit on the congregation and asked to pray for Christians in India. In conclusion Dr. Samurai signed copies of the May congregational newsletter with his photo.
A day earlier, on May 19, the guest from India took part in the Pentecost vigil service in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. The Lutheran congregation was also represented at this ecumenical service by the choir of the French-speaking congregation, Preacher Artis Petersons, Dean Elena Bondarenko, and also one other guest – Duverte Kaper (Netherlands).
“Overhaul” - Men’s Ministry Seminar for the Union of Evangelical Lutheran Churches
“We’ve been given so much!” This was the feeling that filled those who were blessed to have taken part in the recent (May 23-27) seminar for men’s ministry in the Union of Evangelical Lutheran Church (former ELCROS). A sense of deep gratitude to God for everything that He sends us filled these days, and it acts as the basis for our thoughts about how we might use God’s grace for the good of our congregations and for those outside of them.
The central image of the seminar was “overhaul” which combined in a surprising way with the Biblical story of Joseph in such a way that participants could consider the unfulfilled potential in their lives. They “looked under the hood” and made a diagnosis of what needs to be changed, considering what “tools” could be helpful in the road of discipleship.
But during this seminar participants not only sat in chairs, discussing. Despite the cold-for-spring weather, many activities were organized that helped the participants do something physical in order to gain new experience and to meet new challenges (for example, many tried bowling and a ropes course for the first time in this seminar), thereby gaining confidence for everyday life.
The diversity of participants and teachers were a serious enrichment for the seminar. Christoph Baker (Germany, Apis) led sessions on the specifics of ministry with men, in particular about the relationship of men’s ministry to mission. Bradn Buerkle was the co-organizer of the seminar together with Dean of Siberia for the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Urals, Siberia and Far East, Vladimir Vinogradov. Bradn was responsible for financial questions and for Bible studies, while Vladimir solved many questions related to organizational issues and led interactive exercises related to psychology and pastoral care. Participants came from Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), Astana (Kazakhstan), Kiev (Ukraine), and from Russia (Vladivostok, Krasnoyarsk, Omsk, the Ulyanovsk deanery and the Northern Caucasus deanery). Unfortunately visa issues got in the way of the increasing the geography of the participants to include Georgia. Some of the participants are long-time leaders in the church, while some were new; just as significantly, the context in each of our churches is quite different.Yet in these days together all of these differences faded into the background as they felt unity with one another, had fun with one another, prayed with one another, thought together with one another about how the Holy Spirit is working in the churches and in each of us. It is rare to have such a chance to get together these days, but such meetings give participants energy and inspiration to try something new in their lives and in the lives of their congregations.
The organizers and participants of the seminar would like to thank those who made this seminar possible - in supports of the “Equipping for Service” program in the ELCA and ELM. It is the common hope that those who took part in the seminar will able to continue their “overhaul” work back at their homes in order to strengthen the spiritual lives of men and in order to invite others into Christian fellowship.
Surprising Facts about the Reformation
On May 25 to 27 Dr. Anton Tikhomirov, President of the Novosaratovka Theological Seminary, led a seminar dedicated to the context of Martin Luther and the Reformation. Again and again he surprised his listeners with a view of these events that went beyond the typical, superficial explanations that are heard more commonly.
Participants were able to attend not only from Saratov, but also from congregations in Ulyanovsk, Kazan, Balakov, Marx and from the Saratov oblast.
During the rest of his visit Anton together with area dean Andrey Dzhamgarov visited various congregations and sites around the Saratov region, including congregations in Marx and Zorkino. All the while Anton continued to answer questions put to him by those whom he met, and he was able to explain in an accessible way the nuances of a Lutheran worldview.
Based on the article by Alexander Deryugin