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Ingrian Lutheran Church celebrates 400

After years of communist control that decimated the Ingrian Lutheran Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia (ELCIR) is now being “reborn” while celebrating the 400th anniversary of its founding. From 10 congregations in 1990, the church has grown to 100 congregations today scattered all over Russia, with 16 in the Province of Karelia.

New church buildings have been built for some congregations; others are house churches. A small seminary was established in the early 1990s near St. Petersburg. Ministry is now focused on strengthening the faith of existing congregations with emphasis on stewardship, discipleship and servant leadership.

Members of the Lutheran church at Petrozavodsk, Karelia, gather for worship in their new sanctuary. Photos provided by Paul Anderson

The Ingrian Lutheran church in Petrozavodsk has a unique historical place in this journey of resurrection: It was the first congregation in the Soviet Union permitted to register as an active church. Maria Kajavna, a member who had survived the difficult years under Joseph Stalin, recounted a life of relocation, disappearances, and underground worship, including meeting in cemeteries for services. Kajavna eventually procured a meeting with a Kremlin official, at which she made a request for recognition of the church. The official relented, and a small church was built and opened in 1969. (Kajavna’s life is chronicled in her biography, Maria Kajavna—Pitka Taivä, published in Finnish.)

Bishop Arri Kuggapi of the ELCIR envisions the Ingrian church as a spiritual leadership “center” connecting all the churches in Karelia.

“The progress of ‘rebirth’ of the ELCIR is encouraging, but it is important to note that most of the funding to support it to date has come from churches and individual Christians outside of Russia,” explained the Paul Anderson, a member at First Lutheran Church (ELCA), Duluth, Minnesota. The income of most members is simply not adequate to provide self-sufficiency, let alone building a church building, according to Anderson. For instance, teachers earn about $400 per month, but the cost of living is similar to that of the U.S.

There is hope for an improved economy and the ELCIR is emphasizing stewardship, leading to self-support, though this will take much time. Anderson noted that “Christians like us from outside of Russia can help by walking in ministry with our brothers and sisters in Christ to help that happen: prayer, exchange visits, mentoring, encouragement, providing much-needed interim financial support.”

Americans in Karelia

Anderson and Pastor Dick Stadler, Saint James Evangelical Lutheran Church (independent), West St. Paul, Minnesota, were invited to the anniversary celebration at the Petrozavodsk church on the basis of an informal partnership between U.S. churches and the Petrozavodsk congregation. First Lutheran in Duluth established a friendship relationship in 1992, which blossomed in 2004 when Anderson and his wife Carol met and worked with Nadia Krongolm from the Petrozavodsk Church to direct a “Lutheran Friendship English Language Camp” sponsored by East European Mission Network (EEMN).

Shortly thereafter, Saint James Lutheran joined in the support of Krongolm’s youth ministry in Petrozavodsk. Today the partnership includes four Lutheran churches (ELCA, independent, and LCMC), EEMN, the Suomi Conference of the ELCA; and the Northeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. They provide support for both Nadia and her husband, Pastor Alexei Krongolm (first as youth pastor for Karelia from 2007 to 2010 and now as pastor of the Petrozavodsk church), and two part-time youth workers.

Nadia Krongolm, youth worker with the Petrozavodsk church in Karelia, translates Rev. Dick Stadler’s explanation of the donation of a stained glass Luther Seal from Saint James Lutheran Church in West Saint Paul for the Ingrian church’s new sanctuary.

“Christians like us from outside of Russia can help by walking in ministry with our brothers and sisters in Christ to help that happen: prayer, exchange visits, mentoring, encouragement, providing much-needed interim financial support.”

The desire of members of the church in Petrozavodsk is to become a self-sustaining Spirit-filled community of faith and outreach with the Gospel in word and deed in Petrozavodsk and Karelia. Bishop Arri Kuggapi of the ELCIR envisions the Ingrian church as a spiritual leadership “center” connecting all the churches in Karelia in visioning, programming, training, and retreats, with the Krongolms providing leadership.

With this in mind, the focus of the mission of the “partnering churches” has broadened from simply supporting the youth ministry work of the Krongolms to a broader vision of accompanying them in mission in the context of their ministry within the Petrozavodsk church and Karelia. In addition to much needed financial support, members of several of the churches participate in the Friendship English Language Camps each year. Last summer seven youth and six adults from Saint James Lutheran participated in ministry with the youth program in Petrozavodsk during a two-week visit. In 2008, the Krongolms visited the partnering churches and participated in the ELCA Northeastern Minnesota Synod Assembly.

The future of the church in Karelia

Stadler and Anderson participated in the 400th anniversary celebration October 1 and 2 as representatives of the partnering churches. Saturday’s program was attended by about 400 people from the Petrozavodsk congregation, other Ingrian Lutheran churches, some neighborhood residents, and churches in Finland. The program included several talks about various aspects of the church’s history. Pastor Stadler presented a workshop on the characteristics of liturgical practices of Lutheran churches in North America. Congratulatory remarks and gifts from Petrozavodsk city officials, the Russian Orthodox and Catholic churches, a Finnish Consulate official, and others were also offered.

The celebration concluded on Sunday with a worship service, including a sermon by Kuggapi. He mentioned that, when he preached at First Lutheran Church in Duluth several years earlier, he had been surprised at how many children attended each of the three worship services. He challenged ELCIR churches to view youth ministry as the key to rebuilding and renewing the ELCIR.

The celebration coincided with the opening of a much needed new church building for the Petrozavodsk congregation. The service included a ceremonial handing over of the keys by a building committee from Finland that had worked eight years on this project, paid for entirely by churches from Finland and elsewhere, including support from the Northeastern Minnesota Synod.

The service ended with the presentation to the Petrozavodsk Church and the Karelian Deanery of the gift of a stained glass replica of Luther’s Seal by Pastor Stadler, made by a member of his congregation on behalf of the partnering churches.

The Rev. Dick Stadler, right, distributes communion during the service of celebration for the 400th anniversary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ingria in Russia.

The desire of members of the church in Petrozavodsk is to become a self-sustaining Spirit-filled community of faith and outreach with the Gospel in word and deed in Petrozavodsk and Karelia.

“Christians like us from outside of Russia can help by walking in ministry with our brothers and sisters in Christ to help that happen: prayer, exchange visits, mentoring, encouragement, providing much-needed interim financial support.”

Nikolai Rappu, the new president of the Petrozavodsk Church Council, emphasized the value of visits by American Christians, not only for building mutually encouraging faith-supporting relationships, but also as a means of outreach. For instance, Rappu cited the opportunity to invite the community to a concert by an American choir.

The new church building is located within easy walking distance of the railway station, the local university, and the city center. It is surrounded by many older and newly-constructed apartment buildings and is set near a beautiful rushing stream. In contrast, the old historic facility, which had been condemned by the city, was located at an edge of town that is not developing and has limited public transportation.

Acceptance of the “keys” to the building, however, came with an unexpected financial liability for a small youthful congregation with current annual contributions of less than $10,000. It has a “mortgage” of $120,000; a street to be surfaced by 2013 at a cost of $130,000; unfinished offices and guest flat; and a highly inefficient heating system.

Thus, the Petrozavodsk congregation is faced with some immediate and daunting financial obligations, especially given that salary support for needed staff is woefully inadequate. (The accountant and secretary salaries are only $250 per month.) Partnering churches have prioritized these needs and will provide support for outreach ministry that will grow the church, leading to self sufficiency.

With new energetic and capable spiritual leadership by Nadia and Alex Krongolm and capable lay leaders now in place, and a new church building, the American church leaders returned home with confidence that the Petrozavodsk congregation is entering an exciting new period of ministry. Anderson concluded that the Petrozavodsk church is “uniquely poised at this time for ministry that can meet the goal of ‘rebirthing’ the congregation as a self-sustaining community of faith.”

For more information about the informal partnership of churches supporting the ministry of the Krongolms and Petrozavodsk Lutheran Church, contact Paul Anderson (panderso@d.umn.edu; 218/728-5853); Pastor Richard Stadler (rstadler@saintjameslutheran.com; 651/457-9232), or Pastor Bill Moberly, director of EEMN (pastorbill@eemn.org, 505/803-5271).

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