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New Building of St. Mary Evangelical Lutheran Church Dedicated in Tomsk

In the city of Tomsk, Christians of the Evangelical Lutheran confession will long remember April 27. On that day a new building of the Lutheran Church was dedicated. The Lutheran faith is one of the traditional confessions of Tomsk. Though Lutherans first appeared in the city soon after its foundation, a Lutheran congregation was not officially founded there until later, in 1751. A stone church building was built in 1859. This building lasted for 70 years, until 1930, when under the Soviet regime the services were discontinued, and then in 1936 the building was dismantled, and a city park was placed there, with a ferris wheel standing on the exact spot where the church had been. As fate would have it, the Soviet regime lasted also for 70 years, and now, 70 years after the demolition of the old Marienkirche, the new church of St. Mary has been erected and opened for the needs of believers.

The goal of the architectural project was to make the church look as much as possible like the old building. It is indeed hard to miss the external similarity. There are two serious differences, though. The old church was situated on Lutheran Street near Novosobornaya Square. The new one is located on the edge of Buffsad (a city park). The old church was constructed of stone. The new church is made of wood. Time will tell whether this new structure will hold up. The builders assure that despite the quick pace construction was meticulous, and so the building will be in good shape for a number of decades. We hope this time it will be longer than 70 years.

For a long time the Lutherans of Tomsk had dreamed and prayed for a restoration of the church building, but the reality has exceeded their wildest expectations. The regional administration deserves its reputation as a democratic, tolerant power with a respectful attitude toward different religious confessions. External circumstances aided this event as well. A top summit between the governments of the Russian Federation and Federal Republic of Germany was planned for these days in Tomsk. Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the ministers of their governments arrived in Tomsk to discuss current political and economic issues. Angela Merkel originally comes from East Germany, and her father served as a Lutheran Pastor there.

There are two Lutheran congregations active in Tomsk: The Evangelical Lutheran congregation of Tomsk (ELKRAS) and St. Mary Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC). Services are held on Sundays at 10 and 12 accordingly. The bishop-elect of SELC, Vsevolod Lytkin, serves as the pastor of St. Mary. SELC Deacon and LTS graduate Rev. Alexander Hahn is engaged in parish work in both congregations. He had to combine preaching and catechesis with construction oversight in the past months, and it appears that he handled this situation very well.

The Bishop of ELKRAS from Moscow (Church of European Russia), Sigfried Springer, conducted the dedication of the church. Besides him, ministers of the Evagelical Lutheran Church of the Urals, Siberia, and the Far East (ELKRAS) Michael Fendler, August Kruze, and Diter Grimmsman participated at the ceremony. The Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church was represented by bishop-elect Rev. Vsevolod Lytkin and Rev. Alexander Hahn. The organist of the SELC parish in Novosibirsk, Natalia Sheludyakove, accompanied the liturgy on the new organ.

Not only pastors and laymen from SELC and ELKRAS, but also guests from other Lutheran churches such as ELCIR and LCMS were present at the dedication of the church building. Bishop Joseph Vert of Transfiguration Diocese of Novosibirsk, priest of the Tomsk parish Antoniy Gsel, and Director of Caritas charity foundation Elizaveta Yakubovits represented the Roman Catholic Church. Priest Alexandren Klassen, tutor at the Tomsk Ecclesiastical Seminary, was present on behalf of the Russian Orthodox Church. Also present among the guests at the dedication of the church was the Ambassador of Germany in Russia, Mr. Walther Schmidt.

The new Church of St. Mary is destined to become one of the citys highlights. Residents of Tomsk and tourists alike come to admire the building and take pictures both in the daylight and at night when the church is beautifully lighted. One can be sure that in the future no set of Tomsk postcards will be complete without this building.

Following the dedication, hundreds of people visited the new building. Many of them were asking questions about the Lutheran faith and about the history of the Lutheran Church. Copies of the Small Catechism and the Good News journal were distributed to visitors. An open house is also planned for the whole of Saturday. Lutheran clergy will talk to people, and also visitors will be able to watch the Luther movie. For many stepping across the churchs threshold it will be a return to their roots, but some will hear the Gospel for the first time. The following months will present a wonderful opportunity for evangelism.

We express sincere gratitude to the administration of the Tomsk Region and the city of Tomsk: Governor Victor Kress, Mayor Alexander Makarov, Chairman of Public Relations Committee Andrei Kuzichkin, and the builders and sponsors. May God bless all those who worked in the noble work of returning of the House of God to the Lutherans in Tomsk!


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