20.11.2014

Lesser-Known, but Not Necessarily Smaller

Report on the Church of Ingria in Russia

S t.  P e t e r s b u r g – The „Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia“ may be less well-known than the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Russia”; but it is not necessarily smaller. Both are based in St. Petersburg. According to Ingria bishop Arri Kugappi; both churches possess 10-12.000 active, adult members. The 1996-elected Bishop made this statement at his church’s annual synod in St. Petersburg on 17 October.

On its webpage, the ELCR (once known as ELCROS) lists a membership of 25.000 in 430 local congregations. This does not refer to a single church, but rather to a “Federation of Evangelical-Lutheran Churches in Russia and Other States”. Since changes in its constitution in 2010/2012, ELCOS is no longer a single church, but rather an umbrella for independent Lutheran churches in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Georgia. Bishop Kugappi attributes numbering gaps to ELCR’s less exact style of counting.

Ingria lists only 75 congregations and 100 prayer groups, mostly in Petersburg region and in Karelia along the border with Finland. Yet its list of congregations stretches all the way from Moscow to Ulan-Ude in the Far East and to Simferopol in the Crimea. It is involved in missionary projects in Uzbekistan and Bulgaria as well as among the Russian-speaking minorities in the three Baltic states.

Yet Ingria can point to an institution in the Petersburg suburb of Koltushi, which the ELCR no longer has: a functioning seminary with 27 students studying on-campus. The report for this year’s Ingria synod lists 156 pastors – a number leaving the ELCR far behind. Yet only a small minority of these pastors are employed full-time.

During the 1990s, the mostly ethnic-German Lutherans – later known as ELCROS – spoke of as many as 250.000 adherents. The ability of the partially-Finnish-speaking Ingria to approach ELCR size could be attributed to the geographical proximity of congregations and their greater theological unity. One report at the synod claimed: “We’re a vibrant church – but poor!” The Bishop added: “Even with these numbers we can do a lot.” Yet these leading Russian Lutheran churches are both relatively small and impoverished.

In theological terms, Ingria is more conservative than the ELCR. Yet the old fear that North America’s wealthy and large conservative-confessional Lutheran churches would take over the Russian churches has not been confirmed. Kugappi described cooperation with the 2.2-million member “Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod” as “nearly zero”. “They too went through a hard-for-us-to-understand Perestroika”, he reported. “All those with whom we had once cooperated, have been sent elsewhere. We now lack those old contacts.”

The major drop in funding from Finland’s Lutheran state church has alarmed the 1953-born Bishop. Recently for ex. funding promised for a programme to socially integrate the male “graduates” of children’s homes was suddenly dropped. Kugappi assured: “We will probably still be able to locate funding for this project elsewhere. The work will somehow manage to survive.” Ingria’s official budget now shows foreign donations only from four Finnish, Lutheran missions. Due largely to the lack of funding, church building projects in Murmansk and Kazan are proceeding slowly; the project planned for Ulan-Ude is held up for the same reason.

Citing their  liberal position on the issue of homosexuality, the Orthodox Moscow Patriarchy broke off its theological talks with Finland’s Lutheran state church in early September. In this matter, Ingria and the Russian Orthodox are on a similar wave-length. Yet Kugappi assumes the cause for the dearth in foreign funding to be a resurgent “Russophobia”. “We feel discontent in Finland and we can think of no other cause.” The new Cold War “affects people, and particularly clergy at the base level now expect me to take on Putin.” The Bishop continued; “But why should we climb up on the barricades? We have religious freedom and Vladimir Putin has done nothing against us. Instead, we are considered a traditional religious community. Relations with the Orthodox are good. Where else in the world do churches get real estate for building churches from the state for free?”

Arri Kugappi clearly does not belong to the theological hardliners. This church is now discussing issues such as divorce and euthanasia. Women are active in various church ministries. Although the synod council has female members, the church does not ordain women. 

In the ecumenical realm, the Bishop defines his church as open for dialogue from a confessional, Lutheran position. His church belongs (along with the ELCR) to Geneva’s “Lutheran World Federation” (LWF). But it is also a member of the conservative “International Lutheran Council”. The ILC’s present chairperson is Hans-Jörg Voigt, bishop of the German free-church “Independent Evangelical Lutheran Church” (SELK),.Although Ingria does not belong to the “World Council of Churches”, it is a member of the “Conference of European Churches” (CEC). Kugappi and his deputy, Propst (Superintendent) Olaf Panchu of Samara, were present at the Pope’s reception for the LWF in Rome in late October.

During and after his visit in St. Petersburg in mid-September, Martin Junge, the LWF’s Chilean-born general-secretary, appealed for stronger cooperation with the LWF. Kugappi hopes to fulfil those wishes as best possible within the existing restrictions.

Ingria’s bishop does not impress one as a defensive nay-sayer. He describes meetings with foreign church leaders as an opportunity to better explain his church’s conservative convictions.

Background info
Russia has four Lutheran denominations. The other two are the “Siberian Evangelical-Lutheran Church” (“www.lutheran.ru”) based in Akademgorodok near Novosibirsk and the largely-isolated “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of the Augsburg Confession in Russia” (“www.luther.ru”) formed in 2007.Lytkin’s church has roughly 20 congregations; Pudov’s has at least 10. 

The existence of these denominations is due largely to the leadership of two potent and controversial personalities: Bishop Vsevolod Lytkin in Akademgorodok und Church President Vladimir Pudov in Moscow. Lytkin has apparently succeeded in his attempt to create Russia’s most conservative-liturgical Lutheran denomination. It has been allied closely with the Lutheran Church of Estonia since its inception in 1993. Pudov’s church is lonelier. It remains outside of regular ecumenical discourse and appears strongly concerned about pushing patriotic, pro-Russian convictions.

Neither of these two leaders stems from Lutheran circles. Kugappi points out Bishop Lytkin “claims to adhere to Lutheranism’s oldest traditions. Yet his thesis that a true worship service can only occur in the presence of a bishop, is not a Lutheran teaching.” He added: “But the church of Ingria is willing to participate in open dialogue with the Siberian church.”

Vladimir Pudov concedes that he was still a member of the KGB secret service in the 1980s. Hardly controversial among Russia’s Lutherans though is Pudov’s approval of the Crimea referendum supporting its independence from Ukraine. On 19 March he penned a protest note to the “Evangelical Church in Germany” (EKD): “The separation of the Russian nation was not of its own doing. So for years, the people in Crimea have been dreaming of reunification with Russia, perhaps even more strongly than the Germans were when they were striving for their reunification. The Germans can understand better than other nations the desire to be together.”

Moscow also has a Lutheran grouping gathered around Moscow pastor Dmitry Lotov, who was until 2010 pastor of St. Peter-and-Paul Cathedral (as we reported). Today, Bishop Kugappi states clearly that his denomination is willing to accept this congregation as a member. Yet no representative of this grouping appeared at the synod on 17 October. Apparently, more time is needed for the Moscow fellowship to find itself.

The history of Ingria Lutheranism can be traced as far back as 1611. Following the years of Soviet repression, an initial congregation was allowed to officially re-register in 1970 (Petrozavodsk). The official re-founding of the church occurred in 1992.

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Changes in Kaliningrad region (Königsberg)

From June 2013 until July 2014, the theologian Maria Goloshapova served as Superintendent (Pröpstin) for the Kaliningrad region of the “Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Russia”. At the end of July, she and her husband emigrated along with their minor-aged children to Bavaria in Germany. Her spouse, Ruslan Semenyukov  had served as pastor in Chernyakhovsk (Insterburg) for more than a decade. Formally, Rev. Goloshapova will remain Superintendent until the next synod in April 2015. Until then, the spiritual responsibility for the regional church will remain in the hands of retired local pastor Vladimir Michelis. Responsible for administrative matters is Olesiya Zadoroshnaya. Thomas Vieweg, a citizen of Germany, remains as Vice-Superintendent.

William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 20 November 2014
Journalistic release #14-14

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