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Pastor Andrei Ivolga Meets with the Students

Fr. Andrei Ivolga, pastor of the SELC parish in Angarsk, in the Irkutsk region, and also parishes in Buryatia (Petropavlovka) and the Chita region (Chita and Edineniye), gave a presentation to the students at the weekly meeting of seminarians with the clergy. Fr. Andrei has served in Angarsk since the fall of last year; Previously he was the pastor of Tuims Transfiguration Parish in the Republic of Khakasia for several years. Accordingly, the greatest part of Fr. Andreis address dealt with his experience in his ministry in Tuim.

The present pastor of the Transfiguration Parish, Fr. Pavel Zayakin, had already met with seminarians in December of 2004. Fr. Zayakin founded the Tuim congregation in 1996. At the meeting several months ago, he explained to the students what his mission methods were: a big role was given to using the scout movement and drawing youth and teenagers through mountain tourism and cave exploration. At the recent seminar, Fr. Andrei took his turn and spoke about what he has been doing in the Tuim parish since he arrived there to replace Fr. Pavel, who served as ground-breaker in the ministry in that place (Fr. Pavel at that time left for Abakan, the capital of Khakassia).

"Every minister has his gifts," Fr. Andrei said to the students. "Some are more inclined toward missionary work, and some fit more into a regular parish ministry." Fr. Andrei himself is better suited for the ministry in the parish. His arrival at Tuim was in the context of some turmoil: the initial funding provided by an American Lutheran mission in Novosibirsk was stopped and the people no longer had the enthusiasm of new converts. Fr. Andrei began to give greater attention to the internal questions of church life, and a firm congregation, gathered around the Word and the Sacraments, came into being. Heavy emphasis was placed on the liturgy: besides Sunday services, Matins, Vespers, and Compline were regularly held. Fr. Andrei took some teenagers from Tuim along with him on the trips to congregations in the nearby villages of Kirovo and Vlasievo to try to impart his love for the liturgy to these young men. During Fr. Andreis service, the average attendance on Sundays was 20 communicants, reaching 35 communicant members during the celebration of holy days. During the years of Fr. Andreis ministry, these people learned to value the Lutheran liturgy and realize the importance of Lutheran doctrine.

Fr. Andrei has served in Angarsk for the past half of a year. There are some complications as well. The Angarsk parish does not have its own place to conduct services, therefore Sunday services are held at the local Art School where the church rents a dancing room for a couple of hours on Sundays. It creates some great difficulties, as people have to move an altar and a piano from a small room on the second floor through the whole building to this dancing room, besides, it is difficult to organize a time for informal fellowship of parishioners apart from the liturgy. Nevertheless, in the last half year, due to the constant presence of the pastor in that place, the congregation virtually doubled in size (today there are about 30 members in this congregation), although this was not a goal in and of itself. Fr. Andrei makes an effort to explain to parishioners that they should come to the church to meet Christ, and not because of a feeling of sympathy toward a particular pastor. Faith based on the personal traits of a priest cannot be certain. Fr. Andrei explained to the seminarians that they would have to consider this in their future ministry.

Fr. Andrei actively implements music in his parish work. Both Fr. Andrei and his wife Venera, a student of the Novosibirsk Biblical school (pre-seminary) program, have wonderful musical abilities. It enables them to conduct home concerts where classical Christian compositions are presented. These concerts became very popular in the short time that Fr. Andrei and Venera Ivolga spent in Angarsk. People from the art circles of Angarsk learn about the Lutheran church in this way. The LTS Library director, Alexei Vinogradov (Seminary graduate) and the fourth-year-student Andrei Faist went to Angarsk for Holy Week to help organize the Easter Service and also to participate at the Easter concert, Fr. Andrei said.

The Angarsk parish hopes that the temporary difficulties will be eventually resolved, and the congregation will be able to acquire its own building to conduct liturgy and catechetical classes. This would provide a significant impetus for the further development of this congregation.

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