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Russia Initiative event highlights youth


Andrey Tatchin of Lviv, Ukraine, speaks at a service marking the 100th anniversary
of Methodism in Czarist Russia. UMNS photos by Jan Snider.

By Elliott Wright*
March 13, 2009 | SAN DIEGO (UMNS)

The importance of youth and young adult ministry held center stage in San Diego at the 2009 consultation of the United Methodist Russia Initiative.

Fourteen students and young professionals brought a spirit of newness and a sense of continuity to the March 5-7 event, the 14th such consultation since The United Methodist Church was reborn in former Soviet territories.

"We are at a time of changing generations," said the Rev. Sergei Nikolaev, president of the United Methodist Theological Seminary in Moscow. "Young people born into or joining the church are becoming mature leaders."

The denomination in Russia was reactivated almost 20 years ago, having once had mission work in St. Petersburg and on the far east coast around Vladivostok. The Russia Initiative includes Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, and is part of the United Methodist episcopal area of Eurasia. It is sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

Today, the initiative covers 116 United Methodist congregations, all with indigenous pastoral leadership, according to Bishop Hans Všxby, leader of the Eurasia Area. The United Methodist seminary currently has 48 students in residential and extension programs. A second seminary center is located in Almaty, Khazakstan.

Delegation from Russia and Ukraine

A delegation of 27 from Russia and Ukraine and some 140 U.S. participants attended the consultation, sponsored by the California-Pacific United Methodist Annual (regional) Conference. The conference is deeply involved with the United Methodists in the Vladivostok area.


A choir composed of singers from Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. performs during the 2009 consultation of the United Methodist Russia Initiative in San Diego.
  

Four of the young adults at the consultation were from Ukraine, the others from Russia. They spent a week prior to the meeting as the guests of San Diego's Foothills United Methodist Church, a congregation engaged in the Russia Initiative.

All of the young adults took part in a consultation forum, where they spoke and answered questions. Two young pastors, the Rev. Natalya Botova from Samara, Russia, and the Rev. Kira Volkova from Kirov, said they had been in the church since they were young, having been guided by family. On the other hand, Anton Kuzmin, a college student from St. Petersburg, came to the church only last year.

"Some of my friends make jokes about me going to the Methodist church," said Kuzmin, "but I keep going because going to church changed my life. My mother, who is Orthodox, did not understand what I was doing. I finally persuaded her to go with me to church once, and now she knows what I do on Sundays. I am trying to influence my friends and my family because they also need to know Jesus Christ."

The panel was moderated by the Rev. Michael Ratliff, an executive with the Division on Ministries with Young People at the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, and Elena Kim, director of education and church development of the Eurasia Area. Ratliff and Kendra Dunbar of the Board of Global Ministries served as staff for the young adult delegation.

Prior to the panel, Ekaterina Pugacheva of St. Petersburg told the consultation that she sees great promise for successful youth ministry in Russia because younger people do not have the same hostility to faith that was common in the communist era. "People are coming to church through their children," she said, noting that she first went to a United Methodist church when she was seven years old.

The St. Petersburg District sponsors an annual student forum that each year has an increase of participation, up to 150 in 2008.

Methodist way

The four Ukrainian students said that they came to the small United Methodist community in Lviv several years ago because they wanted to learn English, and classes were offered by missionaries. They found the Methodist spiritual and social way appealing.


"We are at a time of changing generations," says the Rev. Sergei Nikolaev.     
  

"Student ministry is still the heart of the mission in our city," said Iryna Pyrch. "It is an ecumenical Protestant work, but some of us have joined The United Methodist Church and are hoping soon to have a church of our own."

Andrey Tatchin, also from Lviv and enrolled part-time in the Moscow seminary, spoke at a special service marking the 100th anniversary of the official registration of Methodism in Czarist Russia. He said that young people in his culture are looking "to know God with their hearts, their minds, and their hands."

The anniversary year also marks the 120th year since the first Methodist church opened in Czarist Russia, in present-day Lithuania. A new book on the history of Methodism in Russia from 1889 through 1931 was unveiled at the consultation, and its author, the Rev. S T Kimbrough, gave a talk on this history at the anniversary service. The book is published by the United Methodist Commission on Archives and History.

A consultation highlight was a presentation on the introduction into Eurasian United Methodism of The Upper Room, a daily devotional guide and the Walk to Emmaus, an experience in spiritual growth. Both are ministries of the Board of Discipleship.

In his report on the church in Eurasia, Všxby reviewed financial challenges caused by global economic conditions and declining contributions from U.S. churches. He said that Russian congregations are trying to become more self-sufficient, and he forecast positive outcomes for the church despite a weaker economy.

Information on the Russia Initiative can be obtained by contacting the Rev. James Athearn at jimathearn@gmail.com or Vladimir Shaporenko at vshapore@gbgm-umc.org.

*Wright is the information officer of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Video Highlights

Bishop Hans Vaxby: “We are not a big church in Russia.”

Dr. S.T. Kimbrough, Jr.: “What they accomplished in that short period of time was phenomenal.”

Related articles

Conferences sign partnership for mutual support

Nikolaev heads Moscow United Methodist seminary

Russia Initiative emphasizes ministry with young people

Resources

Board of Global Ministries

Board of Discipleship

Russia Initiative

United Methodist Church in Eurasia

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