Combining the Old and the New
A New and Youthful Congregation in Kaliningrad
Kaliningrad -- Kaliningrad Pastor Vitaly Alexandrovich Gut wants to combine the old with the new. That’s why he regards his congregation as both Lutheran and charismatic. His services include lifted hands, a praise team and modern music. Yet his 25-member congregation is not overly-loud in a negative sense and anyone not choosing to lift their hands during worship is very free to do so. Neither the music nor sermons are loud and emotional.
During the last year, this congregation has begun meeting in the new, yellow Methodist chapel at Allee Suvorova 8a, a kilometre west of the Yuzhny Vokzal train station. It’s right beside the road from Kaliningrad to the border at Mamonovo. Yet Pastor Gut does not desire to be a Methodist. He loves the Lutheran dedication to history, tradition and the sacraments, and holds the continuity of a confession in high regards. “Psychologically, Lutheranism is closest to me”, he insists. “It’s more historical.”
Vitaly Gut himself embodies both the old and the new. He has a fresh, friendly and dynamic style; young people are attracted to him. His openness for the charismatic gifts is one aspect of his commitment to the world church as it currently exists. At the same time, he does not approve of women serving in a sacramental role. He shares Russia’s usual rejection of the West’s liberal-humanistic-secular form of Christianity. So he could be described as a Missouri-Synod or Ingria-Lutheran with an openness for the charismatic.
Russia has approximately five separate Lutheran denominations, and Gut’s congregation is the first Lutheran one in Kaliningrad region which is not a part of the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Russia” (ELCR). The ELCR is headed by Archbishop Dietrich Brauer. This congregation is instead a part of the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession” (ELTsAI in Russian) founded by Moscow’s Vladimir Pudov in 2006. From 1994 until May 2006, Vladimir Pudov, a former Soviet government official born in 1952, had served as the ELCR’s representative for relations with the national government in Moscow. After his retirement, he lived in Kaliningrad from 2015 until he returned to Moscow four years later.
During the crises year of 2018, the ELTsAI shrank from about 40 to six congregations, now including two in Moscow and one in Kaliningrad. Pudov believes most of “his” congregations were never accepted for membership within the ELCR because they were seen as insufficiently Lutheran. Indeed, Vladimir Pudov himself dropped out of his church in November 2018 when Moscow’s Pavel Begichev was confirmed in his function as metropolitan of the Old Catholic church without giving up his role as bishop and “„General-Ordinarius“ of the ELTsAI. In November 2014, Slovakia’s Old Catholic church had signed a partnership agreement with the ELTsAI. That was a breakthrough, for no other confession, not even a Lutheran one, had ever officially recognised the ELTsAI. This move also gave Slovakia’s Old Catholics their first-ever foothold on Russian soil. Vladimir Pudov calls this step nonsense: “How am I to explain to the Orthodox that an Old Catholic metropolitan is one of our bishops?”
Nevertheless, Vitaly Gut is not interested in the rough-and-tumble of church politics and remains a friend of Pudov. He also continues to have a close relationship with Begichev, a former Baptist and Pentecostal, and cherishes the freedom which this hybrid denomination offers. The ELTsAI is registered with the Russian government as a Lutheran denomination.
The pensioner Alexander Burgart, once a pastor of the ELCR in Kaliningrad region, served in this denomination until 2019. He is now again attending Resurrection Church in Kaliningrad.
Pastor Gut was born in 1975 at Gornyak on the Western side of the conflict-ridden Donbass region of Ukraine. His father was a miner and the family consequently moved to Yakutia five years later. From there, the family progressed even further east to the former Gulag colony of Magadan on the Pacific. That’s where the young Vitaly attended the Swedish-Reformed “St. James Bible College”, completing two years of study there in 1996. Previously, he had returned to Donetsk to study music and had been converted there in 1992. His parents were Orthodox – at least on paper.
After graduation in Magadan, he served in Methodist and Pentecostal congregations in Ural region, mostly in Yekaterinburg and Asbest. He first moved to Kaliningrad in 2003 under US-American “Church of God” auspices. But that effort did not succeed and he returned to Asbest and Yekaterinburg, where he met and married his wife, Nadezhda Yurevna, in 2007. They returned to Kaliningrad together and Vitaly began a house group there in 2013. He was ordained a pastor by the ELTsAI in Moscow two years later.
The pair now has two daughters: Eva is nearly five and Evelina is a year old. Sadly, Evelina was born with cerebral palsy and consequently occupies her mother full-time. Vitaly supports his family by working with an agency to locate short-term private housing for tourists. He is also involved in advertising projects on the Internet.
The services begin on Sundays at 16:00 hours. A prayer gathering takes place on Friday evenings. Services are held entirely in Russian, but Vitaly speaks good English. Visitors are always welcome; the pastor can be reached at “patrovit(at)gmail(dot)com”, also via the “booking.com” website. His phone is: +7 921 616 4962. His congregation has good relations with the local Roman Catholic church.
What are the pastor’s hopes for the future of the congregation? “Our stress is not in the social realm”, he explains. “We seek the face of God; we desire the fruits of the Spirit. We want to be more dedicated to Christ – we are not a social club. We seek the spiritual; we also believe that God heals people.”
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Berlin, 13 February 2020
A journalistic release for which the author is solely responsible. It is informational in character and does not express the official position of any church organisation. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #20-01, 935 words.