Ukrainian unrest spreads, Lutheran pastor assaulted

Rev. Andreas Hamburg is pulled away from the violence by a police officer. (Photo from a Dumskaya report on the assault on the protesters.
Rev. Andreas Hamburg is pulled away from the violence by a police officer. (Photo from a Dumskaya report on the assault on the protesters.)

UKRAINE – As unrest in Ukraine continues to grow, news emerged today of the assault of a Lutheran pastor in Odessa on February 19.

Rev. Andreas Hamburg reports on Facebook that he was present at a peaceful protest taking place at Odessa’s regional administration building when a pro-government civilian group arrived and began attacking the protestors. “I stood still, hoping that my peaceful attitude and pastor’s shirt would have a calming effect,” he writes. But he was attacked nevertheless. “I lay on the ground, and no one prevented them from beating me, first with their feet and then with bats.”

He was eventually saved by a policeman who came and pulled him out. Before order could be restored, the assailants also attacked others, including members of the media. Rev. Andreas Hamburg is a pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Odessa, a member congregation of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine (GELCU). GELCU has ties to the Lutheran World Federation.

The Patriarch of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC), Archbishop Major Sviatoslav Shevchuk, called Rev. Hamburg shortly after the incident to express support and solidarity. “During the call, both sides stressed the importance of peaceful resolution of the crisis in Ukraine,” a UGCC release notes. “Every person, no matter which side of the fence they are on, is a child of God and needs to protect every human life.” A local Odessa ecumenical group—with Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant members—also condemned the attack.

In addition to being the headquarters of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine, Odessa serves as the headquarters of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU). SELCU has strong ties to Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), a member church of the International Lutheran Council. SELCU and GELCU have a cordial working relationship in Ukraine, even sharing buildings in certain locations.

LCC’s missionary in Ukraine, Rev. Alexey Navrotsky, notes that, currently, “The most dangerous places are in Kiev, Lviv, and cities on the west side of Ukaine.” SELCU has no congregations in these areas, and in communities where the church is represented—like Odessa—the situation is not yet considered dangerous, comparatively speaking. “But the situation changes every hour,” he explains. “The waves of human anger and sorrow are flowing from Kiev to all regions of Ukraine.”

Asked how other Christians across the world can help, Rev. Navrotsky is clear: “We really need and appreciate your prayers.”

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Ukranian Lutherans meet in convention

Meetings at SELCU's 2013 convention.
Meetings at SELCU’s 2013 convention.

UKRAINE – The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU) held its annual convention November 25-26, 2013 in Odessa, Ukraine. The convention opened in worship, with Bishop Viktor Graefenstein delivering a sermon on 1 Peter 4:10.

SELCU is a young church, having been founded in 1996. It has thirteen congregations, nine pastors, four vicars, and about 300 members. At the convention, each congregation was represented by its pastor and a lay delegate. Three vicars also attended, as did guests from other church bodies.

Among these guests was Bishop Serge Maschewski of the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine (GELCU). Bishop Maschewski was elected a month earlier at GELCU’s October 21-23 convention, also held in Odessa. GELCU has twelve pastors and approximately 3,000 members. It is a member church of the larger Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and the Other States (which is affiliated with the Lutheran World Federation).

SELCU is supported in part thanks to the work of mission societies in Germany and Poland. It has also long been supported by Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), a member church of the International Lutheran Council. In particular, LCC has been instrumental in offering theological training in the Ukraine, having founded Concordia Lutheran Seminary in Odessa in 1998. This past summer, the seminary celebrated its third graduating class: six students who have completed their three-year education program and are now beginning two years of vicarage in SELCU congregations. In total, more than 20 students have graduated from the seminary, with many now serving as pastors in Ukraine and Kazakhstan. A new group of students is scheduled to begin classes in September 2014.

Delegates to SELCU’s convention heard positive reports on the synod’s prison ministry, care for the elderly, and ministry to orphans—programs also supported by LCC. One such report concerned ministry at a large prison near Nikolaev where 1,500 prisoners are housed. SELCU pastors lead services on a regular basis there to groups of about 20 people, rotating between cells to avoid large concentrations. One pastor noted that, in addition to the opportunity to preach the Gospel, “There is always great time for fellowship, dialogue, and tea with the inmates.” The outreach is making a difference in the inmates’ lives, with one pastor noting that “inmates who are released from prison continue faithful to Christ and to the fellowship of a local church.”

Lutheran Church–Canada’s Executive for Missions and Social Ministry, Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel, was present at SELCU’s convention. “We pray that the Lord continue to strengthen our partnership and fellowship in the Gospel,” he said, noting that “through the proclamation and acts of mercy by our brothers and sisters in Ukraine, many are hearing the Gospel of Jesus.”

Additional information on SELCU’s convention is available from The Canadian Lutheran.

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