Ukraine’s Lutherans meet in convention
UKRAINE – The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU) held its annual convention November 25-26 in Odessa. Lutheran Church–Canada’s (LCC) Executive for Missions and Social Ministry, Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel—along with Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen—was present to convey greetings on behalf of President Robert Bugbee and the Canadian church.
SELCU took the opportunity to express its gratefulness to LCC for its support throughout the years. LCC has been a strong partner to SELCU, supporting it in missions, social ministry projects, theological education, the construction of church and seminary buildings, and a variety of other projects.
The convention opened with prayer, singing, and a message delivered by SELCU’s Bishop Viktor Graefenstein on 1 Peter 4.10: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.” Bishop Graefenstein emphasized three points from this text: (1) that we work faithfully in the Lord’s building; (2) that we invest the variety of gifts He has given to His church; and (3), that we support one another in the Lord’s service. This text and message served as the overall theme of the convention.
SELCU is a young church, having been founded as a separate church body 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 the convention. In total, approximately 30 people were in attendance.
Business at the convention touched on a number of areas, including:
• Mission reports: Each congregation reported on its mission and ministry focus in 2013, focusing on both challenges to and opportunities for the proclamation of the Gospel and the delivery of ministry in their areas.
• Synod’s Financial report
• Bishop’s Report
• Evaluation on mission and social ministry projects and plans developed in 2013
• Administrative business
Delegates heard positive reports on SELCU’s prison ministry, care for the elderly, and ministry to orphans—all projects supported by LCC. There is a large prison near Nikolaev, with about 1,500 prisoners. Pastors lead services in small cells to groups of about 20 people on a regular basis, 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. “
As the convention evaluated the past year’s ministry, it also considered some difficulties the church had faced. Some main problems cited during the 2013 period were:
• Lack of commitment or involvement of people in the church’s programs in general;
• Difficulties with people not being able to commit to church activities due to work schedule, distance, etc;
• Lack of volunteers and leaders to be in charge of the programs;
• Lack of trained leaders to work with children and youth;
• In some communities, because the church meets at the homes of members it is seen by the surrounding community as a sect rather than a church;
As the convention looked for answers to the above problems, it also looked forward to 2014, planning to focus in the following areas:
• Christmas outreach to communities around the congregations;
• Days of Faith: An intensive week of Bible studies, prayer, worship and singing;
• Summer camps, VBS, youth Bible camps;
• Prison ministry;
• Seminary education, with a new round to begin in September 2014;
• Transition home for orphans and support for orphans in general.
A highlight of SELCU’s Convention was the ‘round table’ atmosphere with open and frank discussion on the church’s work together in the proclamation of the Gospel and in mercy ministry. While sometimes diverging opinions, attendees nevertheless kept God’s mission and joint responsibility in ministry always at the centre of discussions.
“We thank Christ, the Lord of the Church for LCC’s opportunity to serve in Ukraine,” Rev. Dr. Leonardo Neitzel said, “and we pray that the Lord continue to strengthen our partnership and fellowship in the Gospel. Through the efforts of our brothers and sisters many may receive the Gospel of Jesus through the proclamation and acts of mercy from our brothers and sisters in Ukraine.”