City in Russia Closes Church-related Child-Care Center but Ministry to Continue
by Elliott Wright
New York, March 1, 2011--Grace United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Russia, will continue a ministry with at-risk children despite city action closing a child-care center closely related to the congregation.
The Spring Center was closed and its director, the Rev. Rauza Landorf, dismissed on February 17 on allegations of violating regulations on the separation of church and state. Rev. Landorf is also the pastor Grace Church.
Volunteers from the congregation played key roles at Spring Center, which this year was serving some 150 children and their families, a total of some 450 persons. The program was a partnership between the city and the church, with the government providing the building and hiring Rev. Landorf as director.
"Grace United Methodist Church will continue its children's ministry, though on a reduced level," said Bishop Hans Växby, leader of the United Methodist Church in Russia and other parts of Eurasia. "The church is looking for a new location to move into."
The closure of Spring Center came after city officials received an anonymous letter complaining that worship services were being held there and featured on the center's website. A February 17 letter from Pastor Landorf to mission partners said the websites of both the center and the church were shut down that day. Neither one was accessible on February 28.
St. Petersburg has an unusually high number of "street children," who may not be orphaned but have no care, especially during the day, because parents are working. Some are from dysfunctional homes. The estimates of such children vary widely, from 3,000 to 20,000.
Spring Center attempted to work with both the children and their families. It had been recognized for its effectiveness and its cooperative relationship with the city authorities.
"The United Methodist Church in Eurasia is committed to serve the society with a holistic ministry, caring for both body and soul," said Bishop Växby in a statement on Spring Center's closing.
"We are learning from our experience and gradually building relationships with all people of good will. Our ministry is well recognized in local circles, and we are certain that over time the official society will also appreciate our growing presence as a benefit and a blessing for its citizens."
The roots of Methodism in Russia, and notably the St. Petersburg area, are more than 100 years old. Suppressed during the Soviet era, the church reemerged in the early 1990s. The Russia Initiative of the General Board of Global Ministries promotes partnerships among the 120 congregations in Russia and components of the denomination in Western Europe and the United States.
Date posted: Mar 01, 2011