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Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine

Sheltering Ukrainian refugees in Germany

Ukrainian refugees study German at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg.

GERMANY – Refugees from war-torn Ukraine have received shelter and other forms of help in several congregations of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch-Lutherische Kirche – SELK).

Twenty Ukrainians have taken up residence in Wittenberg’s “Old Latin School” (OLS) after arriving from Kiev, Ternopil, and Lutsk. Angelika Weber is instructing the families in everyday German language skills. She is assisted by her husband, Rev. Dr. Wilhelm Weber, the OLS Managing Director.

The first couple who arrived from Kiev and were housed at OLS have already moved into their own apartment in Wittenberg and have found jobs as teachers. Natalya Zubrytska formerly ran a language school in Kiev with ten employees. “Her English is good and her German skills are progressing well,” notes Dr. Wilhelm Weber. He is currently seeking additional housing in the Wittenberg area, since the OLS is also needed for seminars of the Luther Academy of Riga, as well as for various groups of international visitors.

Rev. Andriy Honcharuk holds a Ukrainian-language worship service at the Old Latin School.

The Lutheran Church Mission (LKM), affiliated with the SELK, is considering employing a Ukrainian Lutheran pastor, Rev. Andriy Honcharuk, to provide spiritual care for Ukrainian refugees throughout Germany. Rev. Honcharuk and his family currently live in Wittenberg. Consultations on this possibility took place on July 25, 2022, at the SELK’s headquarters in Hanover and involved Rev. Honcharuk; LKM Mission Director, Rev. Roger Zieger; and Rev. Dr. Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of the SELK.

Ukrainian families are also being accommodated at the SELK’s seminary in Oberursel.  Already last March, a family arrived from the Kiev suburb of Butcha—an area which received extensive news coverage due to massacres there by Russian military forces. They were later joined by another Kiev family, bringing to five the total of Ukrainians living at the seminary campus in Oberursel.

The seminary is also furnishing a large lecture hall to provide German-language lessons for Ukrainians. The offer has generated a strong response, not only from refugees living at the seminary but also from numerous Ukrainians living in the wider Oberursel area.

Seminary professor Gilberto da Silva offers various forms of support to the refugees with the assistance of his wife. “We have received generous support from The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Lutheran Church Mission (LKM), and the social ministry department (Diakonie) of the SELK to help with rent and utility costs of the apartments and lecture hall,” he notes. “For all this we are very grateful.”

Ukrainian refugee families at SELK’s seminary in Oberursel.

Relief Efforts in Ukraine

Relief efforts also continue in Ukraine. On July 23, 2022, SELK Bishop Voigt held a phone call with Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, a pastor of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU) serving in Odessa. Rev. Schewtschenko brought his wife and children to safety in Germany but chose to return to Ukraine—despite holding a German passport—in order to continue serving his parishioners.

During the call, Rev. Schewtschenko thanked Bishop Voigt for the German church’s strong support, which has allowed SELCU to purchase food and other necessities for people in Ukraine. “The help of our sisters and brothers in Canada and Germany not only helps us to survive in this war, but also strengthens our faith,” he said. The SELK’s social ministry department (Diakonie) is working alongside Lutheran Church—Canada (LCC) to assist people in the Odessa area. LCC has worked with the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine since the 1990s. Since the outbreak of war, LCC’s members have raised nearly $600,000 in emergency aid to assist SELCU.

Bishop Voigt noted the deep impression Rev. Schewtschenko made upon him during the phone call. “Here is a pastor continuing his ministry in a war zone, though he could leave without difficulty on a German passport,” he said. “But both he and his family have chosen to be separated for a long period of time. I have great respect for this. May God strengthen and protect him, his family, and all the sisters and brothers still in Ukraine.”

The Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK) of Germany, along with LCC and the LCMS, are member churches of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Eastern European Lutheran bishops meet in Ukraine

Caption: Back: Bishop Alexander Yurchenko (SELCU), Vice President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU), Rev. Daniel S. Johnson (LCMS-SELC), Bishop Mindaugas Sabutis (LELB), Rev. Olav Panchu (ELCIR), Valera Partizan (DELKU). Front: President Matthew C. Harrison (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), Rev. Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Rev. Andris Kraulin (ELCL), Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin (SELC).

UKRAINE – The heads of several Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union recently met together in Ukraine for the Eastern European Bishops Conference, along with the heads of their North American partner churches.

The conference, held in Odessa in late February, was hosted by the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) and its Bishop Sergey Maschewski. DELKU, long associated with the state (territorial) Lutheran churches of Germany, has in recent years begun aligning itself with more conservative bodies like The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) and Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC). In addition to the presidents of LCC and LCMS, DELKU also hosted the bishops (or their representatives) from several other Lutheran church bodies in eastern Europe, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (LELB), and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania (ELCL), the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU), and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). The conference also welcomed a number of ecumenical guests.

Ecumenical guests at the Eastern European Lutheran Bishops Conference. (Photo: Facebook page of the Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul).

During the conference, the bishops reported on their respective churches and the challenges they face. A number of these churches have to do their work over long distances: SELC, for example, is stretched out over a vast territory spanning 7,000 kilometers. DELKU, as another example, struggles with a severe clergy shortage, currently operating 28 congregations with only nine pastors. Many of these congregations are distant from the nearest neighbouring pastor or parish.

The bishops also discussed opportunities for future cooperation between their churches. “United by much of our common history and—what is of more relevance today—by similar theological outlook, we felt that there was a need for closer cooperation in the future,” explained Rev. Alexey Strelstov, rector of the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church’s seminary in Novosibirsk, Russia. Rev. Strelstov presented on education in a confessional Lutheran context on the final day of the conference.

Part of that future cooperation may well take place on theological education. One evening of the conference, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine invited participants to visit their seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa. Representatives of the Siberian church expressed interest in forging closer ties with SELCU on seminary education. There were discussions on assisting the Ukrainian seminary in procuring more Russian-language theological books for its library, as well as the possibility of SELC seminary professors coming to teach short-term courses in Usatovo. “The interaction between these Russian speakers, all keenly interested in the faithful biblical training of pastors, was a real joy to watch,” noted LCC President Robert Bugbee. LCC has long-supported SELCU’s seminary education program.

Morning and afternoon devotions at the bishops’ conference were held in DELKU’s Evangelical Lutheran Cathedral of the Apostle Paul in downtown Odessa, restored in recent years after having been destroyed by the Soviet regime decades ago. “Although this church was rebuilt on a somewhat smaller scale, it once seated 1,200 worshippers and was the centre for spiritual life of the entire German community before the communist repression,” noted LCC President Bugbee. Lutheran churches were severely persecuted during the soviet era.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia and the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church are both members of the International Lutheran Council, as are Lutheran Church–Canada and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine is a partner church of LCC, while the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Lithuania are partner churches of the LCMS. The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine, meanwhile, has been seeking closer relations to the LCMS in recent years.

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Lutheran churches sign agreement in Ukraine

Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).

Signatories of the Ukraine agreement: Dr. Albert Collver (LCMS), Bishop Serge Maschewski (DELKU), President Robert Bugbee (LCC), Vice-President Oleg Schewtschenko (SELCU).

Ukraine – Representatives of four Lutheran church bodies signed an agreement in Odessa, Ukraine on August 12, pledging closer collaboration with one another and setting the stage for possible deeper cooperation in the future.

The German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (DELKU) was represented by Bishop Serge Maschewski. Representing the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) were Bishop Emeritus Viktor Graefenstein and Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, SELCU Vice-President for Church Relations. Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver represented The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), while President Robert Bugbee attended on behalf of Lutheran Church-Canada (LCC). The protocol signing followed two days of meetings at SELCU’s Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, an Odessa suburb.

LCC has worked in Ukraine for more than 20 years, providing theological education for the SELCU since 1998. SELCU is a church body which began after a separation from the DELKU in the mid-1990s. Though the two Ukrainian churches have had occasional contacts since that time, the stage for stronger relations was set more recently when DELKU began expressing a desire to firm up its commitment to the Scriptures and the Lutheran confessions.

DELKU Bishop Maschewski had been an early student in the “Russian Project” of Concordia Theological Seminary at Fort Wayne, Indiana (CTSFW), as the LCMS began working with developing Lutheran churches after the breakup of the Soviet Union. “It is such a joy to see to see these long term relationships grow and blossom,” noted CTSFW President Lawrence Rast. “It shows us how the gospel is ‘in the whole world’ and ‘is bearing fruit and increasing’ (Colossians 1:6), just as the Scriptures promise.” The Fort Wayne Seminary provided several continuing education seminars for DELKU pastors in the past year.

Since LCMS and LCC have a long-standing practice of cooperation in world mission areas, the recent discussions sought to foster cooperation and avoid misunderstandings in Ukraine, which has historically been an LCC mission field. President Bugbee observed, “When these talks began, the participants did not expect that we would end up signing an agreement to keep each other thoroughly informed of the work we’re doing, and to consider stronger joint efforts in the future. The discussions were marked by a great brotherly spirit. I thank God for that!”

DELKU includes congregations with history reaching back to the Lutheran Church in the Russian empire, which was extensive and well developed until the communist revolution of 1917 ushered in decades of repression. After dissolution of the USSR and Ukrainian independence, DELKU worked extensively with the Lutheran (State) Church of Bavaria in Germany, but recently began cultivating ties with the LCMS and its partners, like LCC.

LCMS and LCC are both member churches of the International Lutheran Council, a global association of confessional Lutheran church bodies.

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Ukrainian Lutherans band together in face of conflict

SELCU’s new Commission on Theology and Practice: Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein, Rev. Alexander Yurchenko, and Rev. Alexey Navrotskyy.

SELCU’s new Commission on Theology and Practice: Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein, Rev. Alexander Yurchenko, and Rev. Alexey Navrotskyy.

UKRAINE – While conflict continues to rock the eastern border of Ukraine, Lutherans are firm in their resolve to remain united, even as recent events have made that goal more difficult.

Earlier this year, Ukrainian citizens of the Crimean Peninsula participated in a disputed referendum to join Russia. While the vote passed and Russia officially accepted Crimea as a member of the Russian Federation, its legitimacy has been challenged by the international community, given the presence of suspected Russian military in the region during the vote.

The move has led to increased difficulties for the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU). SELCU is a young church body, with thirteen congregations throughout the region. Five of these congregations are in Crimea. Consequently, the emergence of a new federal border between these congregations and the rest of SELCU’s congregations (in Ukraine) has created significant difficulties for the church. Where the churches could formerly visit together easily, the new militarized border makes passing from one area to the other significantly more difficult. Moreover, as SELCU’s Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein is a German citizen (and thus a member of the European Union), he is unable to cross the border into Crimea without acquiring a visa.

Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC)—a member church of the International Lutheran Council—has long supported SELCU in its outreach work, its social ministries, and its theological education. LCC helped found Odessa Seminary in 1998, and provides visiting theological professors to instruct students at the school. In 2013, the seminary celebrated the graduation of six students who went on to begin two-year vicarages in SELCU congregations. Prior to the unrest in Ukraine, the seminary planned to welcome a new class of students to begin studies this September. The new border-crossing realities, the conscription of a number of SELCU members (including one pastor) into military service, and battles between the government and pro-Russian rebels in Eastern Ukraine has put those plans on hold.

Despite these difficulties, Rev. Alexey Navrotskyy— LCC’s missionary in the region—reports that SELCU congregations on both sides of the Crimean border continue to express their desire to remain one church body. And the church continues to operate as normally as possible given the situation. Acting on a directive from its 2013 Convention, the church recently appointed a Commission on Theology and Practice (CTP) in June to help the church better define and understand its work together. Members appointed to the commission include Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein, Rev. Alexander Yurchenko (missionary pastor), Rev. Alexey Navrotskyy, and Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko. Rev. Schewtschenko was selected to serve as the CTP’s Chairman.

The CTP is schedule to issue a report in advance of SELCU’s upcoming 2014 convention, set to take place in Odessa in November—assuming all congregations can attend. In the meantime, SELCU congregations continue to reach out to their communities with the Good News of the Gospel—a message sorely needed in these difficult times.

Lutheran Church–Canada is calling on members of the International Lutheran Concil to remember the Ukraine in their prayers—that God would allow SELCU churches on both sides of the Crimean border the ability to work together for the sake of the Gospel; that political leaders in Russia, Ukraine, and the West would all work earnestly for the re-establishment of peace; and that further bloodshed in disputed areas may be avoided.

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via The Canadian Lutheran.

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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