The Church after Rush Hour is Over
Lutherans in Russia's Kaliningrad enclave have a new concept
M o s c o w – Things have settled down among the Lutherans in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad/Königsberg a quarter century after the political transformation of Europe. The throngs of tourists have shrivelled. Those aged, one-time residents from Germany who had planned to set up shop in the enclave have already done so. Due in part to a crises in leadership, donations to the region have dropped. One consequence of these developments is a new financial plan, a major downsizing which took effect on 1 October.
Superintendent (or „Pröpstin“) Maria Goloshapova explains that the provincial Lutheran church of North Germany had made a special contribution with the stipulation that the loan be transformed into a grant only if a genuine, balanced budget is produced.
On 30 September 2012, Thomas Vieweg of Kirchheimbolanden/Germany had been inaugurated as superintendent with the understanding that he would be the final one sent and paid for by the German church. Already on 9 June 2013, Maria Goloshapova from Astrakhan on the Caspian See was named superintendent. She thereby became the first native as well as the first Russian-educated pastor to be named to this position in Kaliningrad. Vieweg is to remain as vice-superintendent and mentor until he moves back to Germany in the summer of 2015.
Vieweg had been given the task of conducting a complete survey and using that information to develop a sustainable, financial plan for the future. Technical and administrative staff were dismissed; the beloved reception area near the entrance to Kaliningrad's „Church of the Resurrection“ is now only intermittently open. Pastors Alexander Burghart and Vladimir Michelis retired. A particular serious blow hit the well-known congregation in Gussev/Gumbinnen: Since they were the last clergy hired (in 2010), pastors Tatiana and Vladimir Wagner were released from their duties in mid-September.
Increased work for the remaining pastors and staff was combined with pay cuts of 5%. Pastor Igor Ronge now heads 11 congregations; Pastor Ruslan Semenyukov (the superintendent's husband) is responsible for a record 14 congregations. As pensioner, Vladimir Michelis is „only“ responsible for four. Vicar Svetlana Yanchurkina, based in the central region of Chernyakhovsk/Insterburg, is the sixth clergyperson. Only four of these six are paid by the church in Kaliningrad region. Workers in charitable programmes – Gussev as well as in the nearby „Carl-Blum-Haus“ retirement home and the orphanage in Slavsk/Heinrichswalde – are funded by other sources. The same is true for Varia Muradova, the new church warden in Kaliningrad and long-time head of the region's youth and children's programmes. But the downsizing has also left its mark on charitable work: Due to a drop in donations, Kaliningrad's programme for homeless youth, „Yablonka“, needed to be closed in February.
Worship services in villages are down to one every second week; city services remain weekly. A course for voluntary lectors is to start in December and should make weekly services in villages possible once again. One still spoke of 46 congregations several years ago. No congregations have been close recently, but that number is now down to 37. Total membership is listed as 1.000.
Operating costs – including salaries – are to be covered by the region's Lutherans themselves. A concrete contribution has been instituted amounting to 50 roubles ($1,32 US) for each member per month. Yet exceptions are possible in cases of extreme need. But a few complainers can be heard. They find it difficult to accept that they should be donating even if guests from the West have much more impressive bank accounts. Yet regional headquarters are also motivated by a spiritual principle: According to the New Testament, the whole is strengthened spiritually when even the „poor widows“ contribute their two mites.
Rev. Goloshapova explains: „Earlier, people contributed to all kinds of projects, but now we are requesting donations from the West only for specific projects.“ These include the realms of charitable work, children's and youth work as well as construction projects. Retired East Berlin pastor Thomas Passauer, a long-time helper in the region, assures that a strong PR programme will continue to be necessary for the sake of these special projects.
Rev. Vieweg adds: „This is by no means a matter of closing down shop here. We are instead transitioning to that size of programme which the locals can handle.“ Superintendent Goloshapova concludes: „Now we can guarantee our services for the programmes we still retain. We finally have a budget (roughly $152.000 US for 2013) which is understandable, transparent, payable and stable.“
Was someone deceiving themselves? A commentary.
It can be claimed that Western helpers mistook the flow of ethnic Germans from Central Asia and Siberia into the region beginning in the 1970s as a German colonisation comparable to the ones in Ukraine and on the Volga in the 18th century. But these new „colonists“ were departing – not arriving. As had also happened in the three Baltic states a few years previous, these new arrivals were essentially émigrés temporarily held up on their trek westward. And building a church with persons in the process of pulling up their stakes is of course nearly impossible. The result was that the wishful thinking of well-meaning German, former residents of Königsberg region led to more than a little money being wasted. The region did not contain sufficient industrious, local residents committed to staying who would have been capable of creating a return on investments.
Yet the superintendent does not intend to point fingers. „We want to put all projects under a magnifying glass. Each piece of real estate has its own special history. And we need to check whether there still is a congregation at that location. Are the building and its congregation also legally registered? There is no one standard answer in these cases.“ But haphazard efforts which involve taking all matters into one's own hands should be halted. „Let us here from the region also have a say,“ she pleads. Yet „all sponsors are invited to come here and check out what is being done with their donations.“
Maria Goloshapova is in any case convinced that the Lutheran church – only reinstituted after 1990 - has a future in Kaliningrad region. But that future will be much more Russian: „We have many young people, but they hail from Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. And we will continue to need foreign funds for our work with them and with children. We are not permitted to missionise openly, but we have contact to many people through our projects.“
Those members of the clergy serving in the region are also no longer beginners: Except for the vicar, all have served in spiritual ministries for over a decade. The superintendent and her Ukrainian husband have spent more than 10 years in the region of Chernyakhovsk. Even Moscow's Dietrich Brauer (born 1983), now serving as archbishop of Russia's „Evangelical Lutheran Church“, earned his spurs as a pastor in Gussev region from 2006 to 2010. The same is true for his spouse, Rev. Tatiana Petrenko.
Rev. Goloshapova is not the ELC's only female superintendent: Elena Bondarenko, the archbishop's right hand in Moscow, and Inessa Thierbach in Orenburg/Ural possess the same title. The ELC presently enjoys the services of roughly 12 ordained women.
The Kaliningrad enclave continues to be the area of Russia with the highest density of Lutheran congregations. Besides the Orthodox, the region hosts roughly 2.000 Roman Catholics as well as a total of 1.000 Pentecostals and Baptists. The ELC has approximately 25.000 members in all of Russia.
A note from April 2020: Maria Goloshapova and her family unexpectedly emigrated to Germany in 2014. The following year, Thomas Vieweg returned to Germany.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 25 October 2013
A journalistic release under the auspices of the Russian Evangelical Alliance. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of Alliance leadership. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #13-18, 1.254 words.