Below are some of the highlights of the ELCIR St. Petersburg Deanery meeting held at the ELCIR Theological Institute, Koltushi, Leningrad Oblast, on January 18, 2022.
• Bishop Laptev introduced a new coworker of the ELCIR Headquarters in St. Petersburg—Bishop’s Secretary Yelena Novichkova, 33, who was born in St. Petersburg, but now lives in Vsevolozhsk and is a member of St. George’s Lutheran Church of Koltushi. Yelena holds a master’s degree in political science from St. Petersburg State University and knows English. She and her husband have a 7-year-old daughter. Yelena loves and has pets, indoor plants, and flowers. Also, she loves music, reading, traveling, and mushrooming. She collects little bells and is a fan of the moomins.
• Marina Mikhalitsyna shared about the family ministry she and her husband Vitali have been doing as volunteers for several years. By the time Vitali and Marina married in 2011, they had been active in youth ministry and so had many friends among young church members. As more and more of their friends got married, had children and their families grew, so that Marina and Vitali’s house had barely enough room for all the guests at birthday parties, Marina and Vitali got the idea to get together as families and go for outings. To do that, they completed a family worker course at the ELCIR Theological Institute. As they began to do family outings in 2019, they found that their unbelieving friends were also interested in spending time together like that. The outing in 2021 gathered a total of 20 families, of which 6 families were not from the church.
Marina and Vitali have been doing two events a year. They have scheduled a family camping in July 2022 and a family outing in winter. In addition, the couple will be happy to help church congregations organize Family Day.
• Dean Ivan Hutter proposed resuming regular seminars on biblical thinking for married couples to provide them with an extra opportunity to discuss the Christian view of family. Bishop Laptev stressed that family ministry is one of those important and needed things we can give the modern world.
• Yelena Tatti, training coordinator with the ELCIR Children & Youth Department, shared about ways to make Sunday school more efficient by taking into account the different phases of adolescents’ psychological development—moving from class-type meetings for younger adolescents toward club-type meetings for older adolescents, putting more emphasis on discussion and seeing more value in questions rather than in readymade answers. Yelena reminded the meeting that there is a very motivating and inspirational course for children & youth workers in The Church of Ingria taking place every month.
The deanery meeting made a decision to create a new position—deanery children & youth work coordinator. Darya Shkurlyatyeva proposed that the new servant also help enhance music work with children.
• Anastasia Medvedeva, specialist in church property with the ELCIR Headquarters, shared about the recent developments in Russian laws. Starting from July 1, 2021, there are more types of real property of religious nature in public ownership that can be turned over to religious organizations. In the new version of Federal Law 327-FZ, this includes real property built for charity, social service, and pilgrimage, such as historical almshouses, poor asylums, orphanages, and pilgrims’ shelters. Before the 1917 Revolution, religious organizations owned many such facilities, especially in St. Petersburg. Church congregations need to identify such real property items with the help of historians or on their own and communicate this information to the ELCIR Headquarters. Since those are not worship facilities, such property may be rented out and bring extra income for the church congregations. During the past year, the real property department and the legal department of the ELCIR Headquarters have been working hard to reclaim property of religious nature in Priozersk, Vyborg, Melnikovo, Kanneljärvi, Vuoksenranta, Pavlovsk, Moloskovitsy, and Druzhnaya Gorka / Leningrad Oblast. In some of those locations, their legal efforts are close to successful completion.
• Bishop Ivan Laptev talked about the need of church congregations to work toward self-support and take care of their minimum financial security in order that they can continue their work in any circumstances.
What does it take?
– Grow in numbers of church members;
– Conduct seminars and other trainings for church members;
– Implement congregational projects, seek partners, seek diverse forms of financial support.
One way congregations can enhance their growth in numbers is the Basics of Christian Faith course which is currently taught in 60 percent of ELCIR congregations. There is also a churchwide online course which anyone interested can join in on.
As some of the ways to help critically diminishing congregations the deanery has boards of trustees and intercongregational associations for mutual help.
Bishop Laptev proposed to declare the year 2022 a year of self-support. Goal: achieve minimum financial self-sustainability in 50 percent of the ELCIR congregations by 2025.
While St. Petersburg is a touristy region, nevertheless the bishop called all of the ELCIR congregations to be active in holding music concerts, excursions, and work together with tour operators. It’s important to make it easy for any visitor of the church to learn about the basics of Christian doctrine. The congregations should have enough copies of the catechism available and teach the Basics of Christian Faith course on a regular basis. The pandemic has shown, however, that we can’t rely only on donations from tourists, concert-goers, and partner churches. Church members should take the chief responsibility for their churches. Rev. Dean Hutter and Rev. Camp are willing to conduct training seminars to show how to take responsibility for the congregation and ensure its minimum self-sustainability.
Many thanks to St. Petersburg Region Dean Rev. Ivan Hutter for the excellently organized, vibrant, helpful, and very exciting deanery meeting! Many thanks to the lady chefs for the delicious breakfast and lunch and evening tea & snacks!