Lutherans in Crimea to Decide their Church Affiliation

Bishop Serge Maschewski with members of the congregation in Simferopol. Photo: GELCU/Jevgenija Donetzkaja

Ukrainian Church Offers Continued Supervision

(LWI) – The episcopal supervision and pastoral care of the seven Lutheran congregations on the Crimea peninsula will remain with the Ukrainian Church, officially registered as the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Ukraine (GELCU). This was stated in a letter addressed to Lutheran congregations in Crimea following a meeting of the Bishop’s Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Russia and Other States (ELCROS) from 7-9 May 2014 in Tbilissi, Georgia.

ELCROS is a federation of Lutheran churches in the former Soviet Union, among them GELCU and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the European part of Russia (ELKER).

After a referendum on 16 March 2014 rendered Crimea to the Russian Federation, the Lutheran congregations on Crimea found themselves under Russia political jurisdiction. This raised the question of whether they would remain under the pastoral care of GELCU which has congregations in all the Ukraine or join ELKER, which supervises Lutherans in Russia.

According to GELCU bishop Serge Maschewski the congregations expressed the wish to remain under the episcopal supervision of the Ukrainian church.

“Situation Quiet Enough”

The congregations are however free to change their affiliation to another church, says the letter which has been jointly signed by ELKER bishop Dietrich Brauer and GELCU bishop Serge Maschewski: “We respect the decision of each congregation concerning their future affiliation with another church.

As Crimean congregations under the new political administration are required to register anew, they would choose their church affiliation in the process as well, Maschewski explains. Both churches have offered assistance in the legal proceedings. “I am confident that with the help of our lawyers we will be able to solve all legal issues pertaining to the new situation,” Maschewski stated in an interview with Lutheran World Information (LWI).

He also mentioned that the local pastor of those seven congregations, is back on Crimea after he left the country during the civil unrest. “Pastor Göring and deaconess Donetzkaja are at work as before, serving the congregations on Crimea”, he said. “Church events are taking place especially in diakonia and working with young people.”

“The situation is quiet enough. There is worship, bible studies, house calls etc. The people of Crimea are confronted with many new and different bureaucratic tasks, concerning the reception (or lack of reception) of identity cards and other legal documents.” Maschewski added.

Preserve Spiritual Unity

“We in ELKER are in full episcopal communion with GELCU, we are both part of the ELCROS federation”, Dr Elena Bondarenko, dean of ELKER, says.

“The most important thing for us now are these congregations. We stay in dialogue with the Ukrainian church GELCU. We pray for peace and hope that our communion with the Lutheran Church in the Ukraine can contribute to this peace, even though the situation in the Ukraine is extremely complicated.” Dean Bondarenko adds.

In their letter to the congregations, both bishops emphasize the aim to “preserve spiritual unity and an adequate pastoral care for our church members”.

“Considering recent events which led to a change of political and juridical facts in our countries“ both churches promised to assist the congregations in the necessary formalities with the new Russian authorities.

Strong Witness

Emphasizing on centuries of a “common history” as one church, they assure each other of full support in all matters pertaining to the new situation. “In spite of changes in the political life of our countries, we remain in spiritual and church communion”, the letter states.

“We recognize the strength of the recently formed ELCROS federation to join together in these difficult moments to support one another. They give a strong witness of our Christian faith in public”, Rev. Dr. Eva-Sybille Vogel-Mfato, The Lutheran World Federation Area Secretary Europe, says.

“Not knowing which choices the congregations will take, or will be able to take, they need to know that they will continue to be part of the LWF global communion of churches, which is praying for them and accompanying them.” Rev. Vogel-Mfato adds.