A weekend full of blessing in Ukraine

August 24, 2010

Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, SELCU; Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, pastor of SELCU's Odessa congregation and LCC president, Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee

by Robert Bugbee

Treasured friends,

It is Tuesday morning as I write these lines from “my” dormitory room in the new Concordia Seminary at Usatovo, Ukraine, a suburb of the great city of Odessa on the Black Sea. International guests are gradually drifting away to Norway, Sweden, Kazakhstan, Germany and Canada after the dedication festivities this past weekend.

Saturday was the big day. There is no room in the new seminary building large enough to accomodate the number of worshipers expected, so the congregation of almost 175 met on the plaza facing the main portal of the building. The front steps served as chancel and preaching platform. A lengthy morning service (over 2 hours) began at 10 a.m., at which the building and its contents were dedicated to the service of the Triune God.

I had the honour of serving as the first preacher on the text from Genesis 28, “This is none other than the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Later LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Alexey Navrotskiy, preached a second sermon. A ceremonial key was delivered to Bishop Viktor Graefenstein, who conducted the Rite of Dedication. Greetings were brought by international guests in attendance.

In the early afternoon the many guests sat down at picnic tables on the grounds and ate dinner consisting of meat balls, potatoes, cold salads, Ukrainian bread, and sweets.

A second service commenced at 5 p.m., at which seminary president Dr. Norman Threinen was formally installed into office and also served as the primary preacher. Bishop Graefenstein followed this up again with an additional sermon. This service was the formal opening of the seminary session, where classes will start September 1. The young men who will constitute the incoming class presented themselves at the stage and were accepted into the school by Word and prayer. Among the congratulatory messages read in the evening service were letters from longtime LCC missionary to Ukraine, Rev. Roland Syens of Kitchener, Ontario, from Terry Goerz, president of the Concordia Lutheran Mission Society, and from LCC President Emeritus Edwin Lehman. Bishop Graefenstein concluded by telling the very strange and wondrous way in which President Lehman had established the first contacts between the Canadian and Ukrainian churches back in the mid- 1990s.

On Sunday at Noon, the local Odessa congregation began a communion service which included the installation of Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko, known to many LCC people from his three-year stay at Concordia Seminary in St. Catharines. Pastor Navrotskiy, Bishop Graefenstein and I all served as preachers for the occasion. After the installation rite, a very poised Pastor Schewtschenko presided over the communion service for the 90 worshippers. We did not leave the chapel until almost 3 p.m.

At long last, the building is done (well, except for a few “touches” here and there). It has been a long wait. Now the real building will begin. As the farm fields around Odessa are yielding mountains of tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelons right now, we trust the Lord to bring forth a rich harvest of faith and love from the Word seed which will be planted in the classrooms of this wonderful new facility. What a joy to be here!

Rev. Dr. Robert Bugbee, is president of Lutheran Church—Canada

Last minute preparations for celebrations in Ukraine

August 17, 2010

by Norman Threinen

Having suffered through many hot Ukrainian summers in cramped quarters, I was looking forward to teaching in the spacious new seminary and mission centre as I left home August 2. The new facility is in Usatowa, a suburb of Odessa. 

Concordia Seminary, Odessa, Ukraine will be dedicated August 21, 2010

On my arrival, I noted that a great deal of work was still needed in preparation for the dedication. The three paid workers from Western Ukraine were busy painting walls and doing cement work.  About a dozen volunteers from various congregations of the church were installing door frames and generally readying the grounds. We expect about 200 guests and visitors from Canada, Germany and Ukraine will attend the building’s dedication and the opening of the seminary August 21.

Although classes will not begin until September 1, my early arrival give me the opportunity to become acclimated and to interview and orient prospective students, develop budgets and buy a few books for the library. A week after my arrival, I moved into the two-room suite for instructors which, thankfully, is air-conditioned.  I was happy to have my wife Muriel join me August 13 to give a woman’s touch to make the suite more hospitable for future instructors. 

It was helpful that Rev. Oleg Schewtschenko preceded me by a few days and occupied an unused student room in the building. He will be installed as a co-pastor with Bishop Graefenstein of the Odessa congregation on August 22.  He has also consented to serve as my interpreter for the first round of courses when classes begin. 

There is a strong indication that the long-expected gas hook-up for the building will become a reality in September. The neighbour from whom the gas connection needs to come is now anxious to proceed and the political barriers have also been overcome.  We still don’t know the cost since much of the work to bring the gas line to the building must be done manually. Since finances have been stretched to the limit to finish the interior of the building and to equip it to a basic level for use, completion of this aspect of the project will be a great relief. 

Rev. Dr. Norman Threinen, is rektor of Concordia Seminary, Odessa and professor emeritus of Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.

Ukraine visit wraps up

January 19, 2009

After the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (SELCU) held its convention January 8-9 and I visitedNikolayev, I went south to the Crimean Peninsula, preaching in Armyansk on Saturday (a new mission start) and in the Black Sea resort town of Yalta on Sunday.

Monday we took a long train trip northward to Dnepropetrovsk to visit extensively with LCC Missionary Aleksey Navrotskiy. On Tuesday I lectured about 50 students at the “Alpha and Omega Student Society” about hearing God’s call to leadership and fulltime service in the ministry. Wednesday I preached a Christmas season message (here in eastern Europe it’s still Christmas) on a Dnepropetrovsk television station and also for an evening service at the new Lutheran congregation served by Missionary Navrotskiy.

Thursday I went to the town of Zariya and was given a formal ceremonial Ukrainian greeting by two girls in the school auditorium, dressed in folk costumes, presenting me with the traditional welcoming gift of a round loaf of bread topped with salt. We then proceeded to a private home in Zariya for an evening Bible class, which was held by candlelight because hydro went out! Two rooms in the home were jammed full of listeners.

Thursday midnight Pastor Navrotskiy, seminarian Oleg Schewtschenko and I boarded a night train with sleeping compartments and rode eight hours, arriving in Kiev by breakfast. We left Kiev very early—5:30 a.m.—Saturday for our return flights to Frankfurt, Toronto and Winnipeg.

I will look forward to reporting on everything in detail in The Canadian Lutheran soon. This has been a fruitful trip. It educated me well in the details of our mission enterprises in Ukraine, and helps me understand how we can help these treasured ministry partners.

President Robert Bugbee

Church convention begins in Ukraine

January 8, 2009

I write this from Nikolayev, a city of 600,000 people in southern Ukraine. The Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Ukraine (SELCU) held the first day of its annual convention today, Thursday, January 8. Pastors and delegates from all but one of the congregations attended. Bishop Viktor Gräfenstein greeted the gathering and spoke of the big decisions requiring discussion over the next two days. The conference was run on a more formal schedule, similar to the one seen by Bishop Gräfenstein at Lutheran Church–Canada’s convention last June in Winnipeg.
I was invited to bring formal greetings on behalf of LCC and presented a pectoral cross to the Bishop from our Synod. In addition, pictures of LCC’s national office staff were shared with all delegates, since the staff prays regularly for the work in
I have preached no less than five times in the first six days of my visit here. At a service on Sunday, January 4, the congregation at
Odessa decided to direct its Sunday offering to the work of LCC, and the funds from this offering have already been transmitted to me.
Among the problems here is the worldwide financial crisis, which, according to some estimates, may result in 70 percent unemployment in
Ukraine before long. One delegate from a rural congregation reported that there are absolutely no jobs available in his village.
This weekend my travels take me to
Yalta on the Black Sea. I then continue to Dnepropetrovsk to spend time with LCC missionary Pastor Aleksey Navrotskiy.


President Robert Bugbee

Christmas #2

January 7, 2009

I left Winnipeg on schedule New Year’s Day, but the plane leaving Toronto for Frankfurt was delayed. This cut a two-hour connection time in Frankfurt down to barely 40 minutes, but Oleg Schewtschenko and I flew the final leg to Kiev.  However, our suitcases were not so forunate. Lufthansa German airlines offered to bring our suitcases the 500 km to Odessa (that’s southward on the Black Sea), but because of the New Year’s holiday, they wouldn’t do it for four days. So we stayed over Friday night onto Saturday in Kiev and fetched the luggage ourselves from the airport when it came in.
It’s not nearly so cold here as in Winnipeg, but it seems colder because many dwellings, especially in the country, are barely heated. We had a Saturday afternoon service in a stone chapel near Savran in central Ukraine, and they didn’t bother loading wood into the stove until 20 minutes before church began. Outside it was minus 15C. 
On Sunday, January 4, I preached again at a 2 1/2 hour service here in Odessa, and on Tuesday we will be celebrating Ukraine’s Christmas Eve out in the country. This afternoon (Monday, January 5) we’re going to see the seminary building in suburban Odessa. 
If you want to remember us in your prayers, the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) has an important Synod meeting (something like a convention) Thursday and Friday (January 8 and 9) of this week in Nikolayev. Important and even sensitive matters could be discussed, so we’ll want God’s help for the discussions. 


President Robert Bugbee

Ukraine visit aims to build relationships

January 7, 2009

KIEV, Ukraine – Lutheran Church–Canada (LCC) President Robert Bugbee arrived today (January 2) for an extensive visit with the Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches of Ukraine (SELCU) and its bishop, Rev. Dr. Viktor Gräfenstein. Although LCC has not established formal fellowship between the two churches, SELCU and LCC have worked together for many years. LCC has provided seminary training for SELCU under the direction of Dr. Norman Threinen and Concordia Lutheran Seminary, Edmonton.

During his 16-day visit, President Bugbee will preach in Kagarlyk, Odessa, Yalta and Dnepropetrovsk, among other congregations. He will join Christmas celebrations on January 7, as many SELCU parishes still follow the Eastern church calendar. He also plans to address a two-day pastoral conference in Nikolayev. An important part of his time in Ukraine will be visiting LCC missionary, Pastor Alexey Navrotskiy in Dnepropetrovsk, who serves as a missionary to university students.

“I am especially eager to see SELCU’s new seminary building at Usatovo in suburban Odessa,” the president noted. “This facility is close to completion, but the final touches were delayed by rampant inflation in Ukraine, so that gifts from Canada were not quite able to finish the job.” The president added that Concordia Lutheran Mission Society (CLMS) has been especially helpful in channeling support for this project to Ukraine.

President Bugbee is accompanied on this trip by Oleg Schewtschenko, a native of Dnepropetrovsk, who is an LCC “foreign mission student” at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary, St. Catharines. Seminarian Schewtschenko, who has been in Canada since 2007, will provide translating and other support services during the visit, and will use this time to “re-connect” with co-workers in his homeland. He is expected to return to Ukraine after his studies in Canada to assist with theological education in SELCU.

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