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Celebrating Christmas in War-Torn Ukraine

Christmas worship in Odessa, Ukraine.

UKRAINE – The local Odessa congregation of the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) welcomed many visitors to worship in its chapel for Christmas.

The festival day brought many people to “Christmas markets” in this southern Ukrainian metropolis on the Black Sea, and the congregation has been active in distributing gifts and aid to nearby people. “We’ve never seen this many worshippers crowded into our modest worship space,” said Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, pastor of the congregation.

SELCU pastors and people have been busy providing groceries, clothing, and other forms of aid to communities in the eastern and southern parts of the war-torn country. Members of Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC), which has worked with SELCU in theological education for many years, have donated around $650,000 to support these efforts. Meanwhile, pastors and people in the Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (Selbständige Evangelisch Lutherische Kirche – SELK) have assisted SELCU members and other Ukrainian refugees to find housing as many were fleeing their homeland. 

Christmas worship in Odessa, Ukraine.

Though some of them would be eligible to leave Ukraine, SELCU’s pastors have chosen to remain in place to assist displaced persons whose communities and homes were destroyed in the Russian military onslaught. Many of them found temporary shelter and food at the SELCU seminary. Transportation was also offered, especially to women with children, to assist them in reaching border crossings so refugees could travel on to safer points farther west.

LCC and SELK are both members of the International Lutheran Council (ILC), a global association of confessional Lutheran churches. You can support continuing relief for Ukrainians through the ILC with a donation online (select “Mission in Mercy- UKRAINE”). You can also donate by mail:

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 10149
Fort Wayne, IN  46850


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.


Russian Lutheran laments “sinfulness of this war” during European ILC meetings

Destroyed buildings on the streets of Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2022. Photo: YuriiKochubey.
Destroyed buildings on the streets of Kharkiv, Ukraine on March 3, 2022. Photo: YuriiKochubey.

ONLINE – On March 21, 2022, the European World Region of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) held meetings online. The meetings were led by Chairman George Samiec of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of England (ELCE), who serves as the European representative on the ILC’s Board of Directors. Among other topics, participants discussed how churches might help people in Ukraine during the current crisis, as well as aid those who have fled.

ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt, Bishop of Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELK), attended the meeting as a representative of his church body. “What was particularly moving at this meeting was not only the great helpfulness of the ILC member churches,” Bishop Voigt noted, “but also a statement that a participant from a church in Russia made to the participants and which he also made available in writing after the meeting.”

What follows are the words of the Russian representative. For security reasons, neither his name nor the name of his church is given here.


The Russian participant reported: “The shock of what has happened is so grave that we will probably be able to realize it only years after. I think that at the moment we are going through the first four stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and depression. ‘It can’t be! We can’t have started a war!’ ‘Damn this war!’ ‘There must be some way out!’ ‘It’s all hopeless…’ The world we lived in has been shattered and there is no way to undo it.

One can hardly imagine the multiple layers of crisis that Russia and its people are now facing. It is not only political and economical, but foremost existential: the war has divided society. It has left honest, thinking people helpless and feeling fear and shame.

The current situation facing media is unprecedented. The censorship is monstrous. A new law allows people to be sentenced to 15 years in prison for sharing “fake” news about the war. That even includes just calling the “special military operation” in Ukraine a war at all.

People have to use VPN services to avoid bans of social networks. Most opposition media sources have closed down and journalists have left Russia. Those very few that remain are not able to cover the war.

People do protest. But all meetings are forbidden and people are immediately detained and fined. Those who are detained for a third time are imprisoned. Some of our congregation members went on anti-war strikes and have been detained. One Russian-Orthodox priest faces a charge because of a sermon where he urged people to pray for peace and sign a petition to stop the war. (By the way the petition was signed by 1.2 million Russian citizens. It could be even more popular but, as it requires personal information, people are reluctant to sign it—and the organizer of the petition has already been detained.

As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon—and we live-stream it too—I wonder: when will my turn come?

As I preach about peace and the sinfulness of this war in every sermon, I wonder: when will my turn come?

I would say that the main feeling people in Russia have now is fear. Firstly, it is the fear to speak up. People are afraid not only to publicly share their opinion but even to “like” or repost the opinions of others. Secondly, people feel a paralyzing fear for their future. With the rise in inflation and the consequences of sanctions, people are afraid it will cut down not only supplies to foreign goods and luxuries but also to necessities, and even lead to famine.

But the church has immunity against both of these types of fear. Firstly, we have been confessing our faith boldly for more than 2,000 years now. We have learned to preach the truth no matter how unpopular it is or how dangerous it is. “So every one who acknowledges Me before men, I also will acknowledge before My Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies Me before men, I also will deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

Secondly, we have learned to trust God and not to worry for He Himself will provide: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day” (Matthew 6:33-34). “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

So we continue to do what we are called to do: preach the Law in all its strictness and the Gospel in all its sweetness. As we preach the Law, we also point to the sin of the war and admonish all those responsible for bloodshed to repent. As we preach the Gospel, we remind people of God’s love for us sinners and His continual care.

In these days, we again think a lot about the Confessing Church (“Bekennende Kirche”) from the Nazi-era in Germany. But the main conclusion that I make is that the church should have preached the Law and the Gospel diligently and boldly before it came to the point when it was impossible. This is the only way to prevent society from turning to fascism.”

Bishop Voigt has expressed his admiration for the frank assessment of this Russian participant at the meetings of the ILC European World Region. “I am deeply impressed by the courageous and unflinching statement of our brother from Russia,” he said. “When I asked if we could publish his words, he answered ‘yes’ without hesitation.”

“In these days, with the horrific images from the Kiev suburbs circulating in the media, this Lutheran minister’s words show a different Russia,” Bishop Voigt continued. “Let us not tire of praying for the people of Ukraine, as well as for this ‘other Russia’


The International Lutheran Council is supporting relief efforts in Ukraine and refugee assistance. For information on how you can help, click here.

Mercy in Mission – Aid for Ukraine

UKRAINE – As the crisis in Ukraine continues to deepen, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) is soliciting support for emergency relief.

The United Nations reports that more than 3.5 million people have fled Ukraine since its invasion by Russian forces. An additional 6.6 million people in the country are internally displaced. Reliable counts of civilian deaths are not available at this time, but thousands are believed to have been killed in the conflict so far—with the number expected to continue to rise.

Lutheran churches in Ukraine continue to offer emergency and pastoral care to Ukrainians still in the country, while Lutheran churches in other European nations are offering physical and spiritual support to newly arrived refugees.

You can support Mercy in Mission work in Ukraine with a gift through the International Lutheran Council. Financial aid for Ukraine is being directed to Lutheran churches in Ukraine and ILC member churches with a history of direct work alongside Ukrainian Lutheran leadership. Aid is also being directed to neighbouring ILC churches who are assisting Ukrainian refugees with housing and other emergency needs.

Donate to emergency relief and aid for Ukraine online here. You can also mail donations to the address listed below (please make cheques out to “International Lutheran Council” and note the donation is for “Mercy in Mission – Ukraine”).

International Lutheran Council
PO Box 10149
Fort Wayne, IN 46850 USA

ILC member churches with an established history of work in Ukraine continue to provide direct support for relief efforts in the country. Lutheran Church–Canada, Germany’s Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church, and The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, for example, are supporting ongoing mission and mercy aid efforts inside Ukraine as well as refugee resettlement in neighbouring European nations. Check with these churches for further information on additional ways in which you can support their relief efforts.


Aid for the Ukraine crisis

The ILC’s Executive Leadership Group meet on March 2. ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt (right) speaks with Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee  (top) and ILC General Secretary Quill (bottom).

UPDATE: The International Lutheran Council is now accepting donations for Ukraine relief. Click here for details.

ONLINE – Immediately following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Executive Leadership Group of the International Lutheran Council (ILC) met online to assess the situation and identify preliminary steps that needed immediate attention.

These discussions were followed up with a meeting on Ash Wednesday to exchange follow-up reports gleaned from the field on the well-being of Lutheran pastors, their families, and congregations, as well as efforts already underway to assist refugees fleeing Ukraine. Reports indicate that more than one million Ukrainians have already fled the country.

The meeting also addressed immediate emergency needs and possible long range plans for rebuilding and restoration in Ukraine. A procedure for charitable donations was also discussed.

Additional information on the ILC’s aid initiatives, and how you can help, will be released as time goes on.


Dust to Dust: A Solemn Response to the Invasion of Ukraine

Rev. Dr. Timothy Quill.

by Timothy C.J. Quill

On February 24—the day the Russian military attacked Ukraine—I was enjoying a delightful glass of beer with a small group of German “conversationalists” at a stimulating Stammtisch at the Old Latin School in Wittenberg, Germany.[i] The conversation flowed spontaneously from one topic to another: art, classical and pop music, American movies, and international politics. Then, out of nowhere, the German artist asked: “You are a Christian pastor and professor, so what side of the Russian Ukrainian conflict is God on?” The question came from one of two regulars at the Stammtisch who also happen to be atheists. And so, the discussion was off and running in which the real issue proved to be the existence and nature of God and religion.

Over the next twenty-four hours, alarming details began to emerge revealing that the assault was indeed a major, comprehensive invasion by more than 150,000 Russian air, land, and naval forces on Ukraine from the north, east, and south. It was bad. People huddled in basements. Thousands of refugees were fleeing to the Polish and Rumanian boarders. Among the masses were members of several small Lutheran Church bodies—the remnants of what was once a large Lutheran Church before its destruction by the Communists.

Christ victorious over death and the devil. Detail from “Law and Grace” (Prague type) by Lucas Cranach, 1529.

So, what is the position and response of the International Lutheran Council, its 60-member church bodies and seven million members in regards to the Russian invasion? Rather than begin by wading into the swamp of international relations, politics, economics, and sanctions, or by considering questions like “Which side is God on?” and “Why does God allows evil?”, I will begin in another place. The right place to start is always with the God of grace and His Son, Jesus Christ, who was sent by His heavenly Father to do battle against sin, evil, suffering, death, and the devil.

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Lent is not a time for power plays by the mighty and powerful with their military weapons and political sanctions. Lent is a time of “self-sanctioning”—that is to say, Lent is a time of self-denial, fasting, and repentance for our sins: for the sinful conflicts we have caused in our lives and the lives of our loved ones, families, friends, church, and community.

Lent is not a time for power plays by the mighty and powerful with their military weapons and political sanctions. Lent is a time of “self-sanctioning”—that is to say, Lent is a time of self-denial, fasting, and repentance for our sins: for the sinful conflicts we have caused in our lives and the lives of our loved ones, families, friends, church, and community.

These are solemn days in Ukraine, Russia, and other European countries. The fear is palpable. How long will this conflict last? A week? A month? A year? Years? Lent is also a solemn time. It lasts forty days from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday. It is a time of solemn, serious repentance in which we take an honest account of the state of our sinful hearts, desires, and actions. And yet, amid this darkness in our hearts and in this fallen world, Lent does not extinguish but brightens the light of God’s love and grace. Lent is about our heavenly Father sending his only begotten Son to carry our sin within Himself on the cross. Ash Wednesday and Lent is a time of both repentance and absolution. Not just penance. Not just forgiveness. There is no season of Lent without both repentance and forgiveness. During Lent, we prepare our hearts to receive the crucified and risen Lord. To receive Jesus is to receive the forgiveness of sins, and where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life—real, eternal life!

Christ crucified. Detail from “Law and Grace” (Prague type) by Lucas Cranach, 1529.

During these unimaginable dark and horrible days in Ukraine, the light of Christ must and will again shine and bring life and joy and peace. Look at the ravaged, dead body of the pure and holy Lamb of God on the cross. What do you see? You see Ukraine. You see the suffering and death of all those engaged in the battle, those on both sides and their families in Ukraine and in Russia. Isaiah depicts a heart-wrenching picture of what Jesus carried within himself on the cross: “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… He was wounded for our transgressions… upon Him was that chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:4-5).

Black ashes on our forehead are a sign of penitence and a reminder of death. When the ashes are imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the pastor says, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Even if we escape the bullets and bombs of war, we will all most certainly die one day, and we therefore need the forgiveness of sins from Jesus.

After black come white. The blackness of sin, guilt, regret, despair, and the utter darkness of hell is replaced by the white of Easter Sunday and the resurrection. In Holy Baptism, we are covered with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness and purity.

Whose side is God on? The battle between the armies of Ukraine and Russia is real, brutal, and tragic. Soldiers and non-combatants, young and old will suffer and die in this heart-breaking travesty. And yet what we are seeing in Ukraine is only the tip of the iceberg—a horrific, destructive, painful tip of the iceberg, yet only the tip. The Apostle Paul describes the rest of the deadly iceberg in Ephesians 6:12ff: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present age, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” This war is far worse and has eternal consequences. But the battle has been won by Christ.

It is significant that the war in Ukraine is being fought during the season of Lent. This sends a powerful message from God to all of us—Russians, Ukrainians, Europeans, Americans, and all nations—that it is a time for us to repent. The Lord declares that now is the time “to return to Him with all our hearts, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; a time to rend our hearts and not our garments. A time to blow a trumpet in Zion.” Not a war trumpet but to “consecrate a fast, a solemn assembly” (Joel 2:12-19). Ash Wednesday is a solemn assembly, and it is more than a brief one-day event. It marks the beginning of a season of forty days of special devotion, self-denial, and humble repentance born of a faithful heart that dwells confidently on the holy suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ and from Him draws life and hope. Lent likewise is more than just forty days. Rather, the forty days of penitence shape every day of life as one lives in repentance and forgiveness, hope, and joy. This is how the Small Catechism instructs all who have been baptized to live each day:

What does such baptizing with water indicate? It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

The ILC is preparing to assist refugees and others in need once the chaotic events make it possible to undertake concrete acts of mercy for those devastated by the conflict.

Since the day Russia attacked Ukraine, the International Lutheran Council (ILC) has included a Litany for Ukraine on its homepage and encouraged churches and individuals to pray. The ILC is also preparing to assist refugees and others in need once the chaotic events make it possible to undertake concrete acts of mercy for those devastated by the conflict. Ora et labora. Pray and work. Since its founding following World War II, the ILC has committed itself to the Gospel of Salvation through Jesus Christ through both the serious prayerful discussion of theology and works of mercy. Great effort, time, and money were given to help the immense refugee problem caused by the Second World War. The ILC retains the same commitment today.

Grant peace, we pray, in mercy, Lord; Peace in our time O send us! For there is none on earth but You, None other to defend us. - LSB 778


Rev. Dr. Timothy C.J. Quill is General Secretary of the International Lutheran Council.

1 The Old Latin School International Lutheran Center is located adjacent to Martin Luther’s St. Mary’s parish church in Wittenberg. The Old Latin School is managed by the International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg gGmbH (ILSW).  This German non-profit organization is a partnership of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), the Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (SELK), and the International Lutheran Council (ILC).

Prayer for Peace in Ukraine

UKRAINE – The International Lutheran Council (ILC) is urging prayer, following the beginning of what some are suggesting may be the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Media reports indicate that Russian forces have invaded Ukraine from three sides, using ground, air, and naval forces. There have been airstrikes and shelling in numerous areas.

“We ask our members to pray for peace,” said ILC Chairman Hans-Jörg Voigt. “May God bring an end to the hostilities and prevent further bloodshed.”

Congregations are encouraged to use the following intercessory prayer for peace:

Intercessory prayer for peace

Liturgist: In peace let us pray through our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world.

Lector: For peace in Eastern Europe /that the Lord may bring an end to the war and restore peace and freedom to the people of Ukraine / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For the children and young people / that the Lord may preserve them in body and soul from suffering and injury /let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For the brothers and sisters in the churches of Ukraine and Russia / that God may keep their hearts from hating one another / that He may show them ways to serve peace, proclaim the Word of God, and celebrate the sacraments / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For all who have political responsibility / that the Lord may direct their hearts to peace / that He may help them to serve truth and justice / that He may guard the hearts and minds of people from error and falsehood / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For peace and harmony in our country / that the Lord may prevent the polarization of society into opposing interest groups / that He may give and keep peace in workplaces, universities, and schools / that He may give new strength to teachers and keep their love / let us pray:

Congregation Lord have mercy.

Lector: For peace in our homes and families / that the Lord may help spouses who have a hard time with each other / that He may give good understanding between generations / so that children may grow up in peace, and for unborn children / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For an end to the worldwide pandemic / that the Lord may preserve people from sickness / that He may give new strength to nurses and doctors / for all who are sick, and whose names we mention here in silence… / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Lector: For our church and congregation / that the Lord may keep us in His truth / that He may raise up young people willing to enter His service / for Lutheran Seminaries worldwide / that the Lord may establish teachers and learners in His Word / let us pray:

Congregation: Lord have mercy.

Liturgist: Merciful God, keep us in Your peace, and grant peace to all people for whom we have prayed, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.

All: Amen.


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.


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.



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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