Come and See  -- the Re-consecrated St. Paul’s Church in Odessa

Holzwarth-Kocher, Angelika, "Come and See  -- the Re-consecrated St. Paul’s Church in Odessa."Volk auf dem Weg, December 2010, 22 & 27.

Translation from the Original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, Colorado

Newly Consecrated St. Paul’s Church.

There it was for everyone to see – finally the scaffolding that had surrounded the church for years, and without the construction fence – a completely new view that evoked feelings to move a person.

Odessa in 2010 – the former German Ev.-Lutheran St. Paul’s Church was re-consecrated on April 18 and 19 [2010]. Originally erected according to plans by Hermann Scheurenbrandt, the church was first dedicated in 1897, closed in 1937 [by the Communists – Tr.], and had burned to the ground in 1976.

In today’s Ukraine, about 3,000 Ev.-Lutheran Christians are scattered in more or less tiny communities across the entire country. There was a time when Odessa, with its 10,000 Lutherans, was a stronghold of the Lutheran faith, but today’s number of faithful barely exceeds 250.

In 1992, by approving an application by the German Ev.-Lutheran Church in Ukraine, the appropriate authorities released the ruin and the neighboring former seniors’ home to its proper use.

The Bavarian Ev.-Lutheran Church assumed most of the costs for renovating and restoring the church. The agreement was facilitated by the partnership between the cities of Odessa and Regensburg, and the state of Bavaria also assumed some of the costs. [It should be noted that Bavaria is generally Catholic – Tr.].

I arrived on a Thursday afternoon, and in the plane from Prague there were also a number of dignitaries and musicians from various communities of the Bavarian Ev.-Lutheran Church. Some traveled by train. They all came to Odessa to help with the dedication of the restored St. Paul’s Church with church services and concerts.

Through several earlier visits we had been able to follow the church’s construction progress, and by June of the previous year final problems had been taken on and solved so that the church would subsequently be ready to be a church again.

Final work tasks were still finished during Saturday before the dedication, Flower beds were still being planted in front of the church, and the walkway in front of the church had been rebuilt entirely. The Odessa Lord Mayor had given “fast-track” approval for all that work. Inside the church there was still some cleaning going on, the choir of the “Bavarian House in Odessa” was rehearsing, final touches were being made, there was coming and going, and all that activity foreshadowed the great celebration and its significance on Sunday.

On Friday an official “Open House” was held, during which not only the church was open for inspection, but also the newly built structures behind it, in which the “Bavarian House Odessa” and the “Association for Development” were to be housed. Along with the church itself, which constitutes a center for the spiritual and worship life of the Lutheran community, an all-encompassing ecclesiastical, cultural and encounter center has been created.

The artistic rendering of the church was created by the young artist and painter, Tobias Kemmerer, of Rottweil, Baden-Württemberg. He and his parents were all present. His assistant, Tobias Schickinger, reported to me on the many weeks of difficult, but unique pieces of work

The interior of the church is dominated by the colors red, blue and gold. Nothing separates the worshipper and church visitor from the altar space. Truly with reverence and astonishment, the visitor stops and considers how wonderful it is to be able to sense: “Come and see --!” – “Soli Deo Gloria! – Solely for the Honor of God!”

Finally, on Sunday, April 18, the big day had arrived. For the occasion, the sky was steeped in spring-like blue, the sun was shining, and near the church a trombone ensemble from Munich was playing songs by Paul Gerhardt – right in the center of Odessa! [To this reader, the connection is not entirely clear. – Tr.]

Long lines of people in front of the still closed church building were an indication of how significant this day was for many people of Odessa.

The current bishop, Uland Spahlinger, along with the community’s pastor, Andreas Homburg, opened the ceremonies, not only the former bishops of the previous ten years. Edmund Ratz and Georg Güntsch, were in attendance, but so were all the pastors of Ev.-Lutheran communities from Kiev to Simferopol. Representatives of other church communities in Odessa had also come for the ceremonies.  

Relatives of Herbord Bienemann, pastor and provost of St. Pauls’ Church between 1868 and 1891, presented his bishop’s cross to Bishop Spahlinger as the representative of the new community.

High Church Counsel ret., Claus Roepken, who had supported the project for years with all his energy and strength, was now able to experience its successful completion. Because the Bavarian Church leadership, including its Bishop Johannes Friedrich, had been prevented from being able to travel on Friday, due to the outbreak of the Icelandic volcano, Roepken had delivered a festive sermon on Saturday in their stead.

[The then] German President Horst Köhler [a man with Bessarabian German roots – Tr.] sent a message of greeting, which was read by the German Ambassador to Ukraine, Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth. The Lord Mayor of Odessa honored the occasion with his personal attendance.  

Fifty journalists reported the event country-wide. More than a thousand people were present for the festive ceremony on April 18, when the altar, the baptismal font, and the chancel were consecrated. In the evening a concert for trumpets, organ, and drums was performed.

The first worship service with a baptism and with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper took place on Sunday. Again, a thousand people or so attended the festive concert with music by Johann Sebastian Bach and with orchestra and the choir of the Bavarian House.

Do visit Odessa! St. Paul’s Church welcomes you!

More on the past and present of St. Paul’s Church can be read in the commemorative brochure “St. Paul’s Odessa,” published by the Kunstverlag Josef Fink, 88167 Lindenberg [Germany]. ISBN: 978-3-89870-634-6.

Our appreciation is extended to Alex Herzog for translation of this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller