Ukrainian Lutherans elect new bishop

Bishop Aleksandr Yurchenko preaches at his installation service.
Bishop Aleksandr Yurchenko preaches at his installation service.

UKRAINE – The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU), meeting in convention November 17-18, elected Rev. Aleksandr Yurchenko as its new bishop. He succeeds Rev. Dr. Viktor Gräfenstein, who served as bishop for 18 years and had declined to accept nomination for another term.

Bishop Yurchenko graduated from Odessa Theological Seminary in 2002. He currently serves as a missionary to prisoners in the Nikolaev region and as a temporary pastor at the newly organized congregaton in Nova Kachovka. He lives in Odessa.

The convention also elected Rev. Oleg Shewtschenko as Assistant to the Bishop.

Convention sessions were held at Concordia Seminary in Usatovo, a suburb of Odessa, located in the southern part of the country on the Black Sea. Long-time partner church Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) sent representatives to the convention, with President Robert Bugbee (Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council) and Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen (who has long served as Rector of the Ukranian seminary) in attendance. President Bugbee preached for the opening service of the convention, brought greetings from LCC, and was asked for advice periodically throughout the sessions on various business matters coming before the assembly.

President Bugbee (front left) struggles to read a portion of the Russian-language installation of SELCU Bishop Aleksandr Yurchenko (right). Standing between them is outgoing Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein, while Dr. Norman Threinen looks on.
President Bugbee (front left) struggles to read a portion of the Russian-language installation of SELCU Bishop Yurchenko (right). Standing between them is outgoing Bishop  Gräfenstein, while Dr. Norman Threinen looks on.

Among other things, the convention determined to resume instruction at Concordia Seminary in September 2015. The seminary had suspended classes in the past year due to the political instability caused by the Russian invasions. Odessa is fortunately far from the fighting, and so students and teachers should be able to do their work in a secure environment. The convention resolved to ask LCC to extend the appointment of Dr. Threinen to continue serving as Rector of the seminary as preparations are made to begin classes again.

President Bugbee took the opportunity of this visit to accept preaching invitations at local parishes in Nikolayev, Oktyabrskoye and Savran. He was also the featured preacher at an evangelistic service hosted by the congregation in downtown Odessa on a Saturday evening as it sought to invite unchurched people from the area.

“Our brothers and sisters here have gone through a very trying time in recent months,” President Bugbee observed, “but I am impressed with their willingness to carry on and make the best of the crisis besetting their country. They are deeply grateful for the attitude of support on the part of the Canadian government and people, and are glad for the partnership between LCC and their church. They took time during their convention to pray for the work we do in Canada, and I do hope our churches will repeatedly name them and their needs before the Lord in their public prayers. The relationship to this church remains one of our primary partnerships, and there’s still a lot of work to do here!”

Lutheran Church–Canada—a member church of the International Lutheran Council—has long supported SELCU in its outreach work, its social ministries, and its theological education. 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.

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Ukraine’s bishop asks for prayer

SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).
SELCU Bishop Gräfenstein (left) and ILC Vice-Chairman Bugbee in Ukraine (file photo).

UKRAINE – The situation in Ukraine continues to be tense, following the occupation of the Crimean peninsula by Russian military and pro-Russian militia. And things are only getting worse, according to Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU).

“The situation is deteriorating every day,” Bishop Gräfenstein reports in a March 4 letter. “Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. One of our brothers from Odessa, who is currently serving in the armed forces, reported that all soldiers are armed and constantly in a state of readiness for war.”

“Of course the Crimean Peninsula is the primary focus,” the letter continues. “Crimea formerly belonged to Russia, but was transferred to Ukraine in the Soviet period. Now, while Ukraine grapples with the question of whether to line up with Russia or with the European Union (EU), Russia threatens Ukraine with war, especially if Ukraine goes with the EU. Most Crimean residents are Russians who wish to be part of Russia. So now Russia uses this sentiment to hold the Crimea back from the EU.”

SELCU has five congregations on the Crimean peninsula, but Bishop Gräfenstein notes that, while the situation is tense, the people are still safe. “Our brothers and sisters are not doing badly at this moment,” he writes. “People in general are rushing to stockpile groceries, and nearly all the store shelves are empty. Everyone is concerned that, if it comes to war, a famine will break out.”

Bishop Gräfenstein ends his letter with a request for prayer: “We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace,” he writes. “Thank you for your prayer support.”

We pray that the Lord would give to the responsible leaders grace and wisdom to govern in peace.

SELCU is a young church body, with thirteen congregations throughout Ukraine. It has strong ties to Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) which has long supported its ministry, especially with theological education and missions. Late last week, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee (President of Lutheran Church–Canada and Vice-Chairman of the International Lutheran Council) called on the wider church to hold up Ukraine in prayer.

“We ask the Lord to comfort the sorrowing who have lost loved ones,” President Bugbee wrote. “We ask Him to meet the legitimate needs of the Ukrainian people, regardless of their preferred languages and political orientation. We implore him that the work of our mission partners in the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine may not be disrupted by the trouble.”

“Above all,” he continued, “we ask God to give courage to our pastors and people there in the mist of turmoil to point their neighbours to Jesus Christ, the great Prince of Peace.”

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Published concurrently at The Canadian Lutheran.