The Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Odessa, Restored and Rededicated

Horning, Erwin. "The Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Odessa, Restored and Rededicated." Mitteilungsblatt, October 2011, 18-19.

Translation from the original German-language text to American English is provided by Alex Herzog, Boulder, CO. Editing by Dr. Nancy A. Herzog.

Having visited Odessa for a few days, I would like to report on the rededicated St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church. I took many photos so that I would be able to take my memories home with me. Only five years ago I had stood in front of this same church—when it was still mostly a ruin.

St. Paul’s was erected in 1897 in the neo-Romanesque style. In 1937 the Stalin wave of terror caused it to be misused, community members were persecuted, and pastors and organists and others were either banished or killed. The church was turned into a television studio and a gymnastics center. In 1965 it was about to be razed, but students, prominent artists and architects managed to keep that from happening. However, an act of arson finally did turn the church into a ruin. And as a ruin, stretching high into the sky, it tended instead to serve as a memorial. Finally, when the church was returned to the faith community, it was time to begin the restoration. The Church of the State of Bavaria financed the reconstruction effort, and private initiative and donations managed to secure many millions in funding.

St. Paul’s Church was rededicated on April 16, 2010. It was a great and festive day for the community. The Regensburg church community, commenting on the rededication, reports that Professor Yiriy Dickiy had tears in his eyes when he said, “This day of dedication of our church is, for us and for the entire city of Odessa, a great and festive occasion.”

After seven years of reconstruction and renovation, the church now stands in full splendor and beauty and is visible from afar. The steeple reaches high into the sky. And here it stands as a true emblem of the city. And here there will again be divine services, celebrations of feasts, and organ concerts. Now St. Paul’s church once again has a real home. People care about it. It is honored and cared for, and inside there is singing, music, and prayer. It is connected to neighboring buildings. And this complex happens to serve as the seat of the Ev.-Lutheran Church of Ukraine, which now enjoys close partnership with the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of the State of Bavaria. It also houses the pastorate. The three-story building complex also houses offices and seminar and conference rooms, and other German companies and societies are expected to move in as well.

With astonishment I enter the church. As I open the portal to the interior of the church, a whiff of holy breath meets me. A soft breath of air caresses my skin, and I feel the rustle of the air, that is, of God’s breath. Just as much as humans need air to live, so the breath of God enters our soul, and just like that it comes and it goes. In this newly renovated church of St. Paul in Odessa, God’s breath is palpable. This is my own personal experience, which I am happy to pass on.

The community’s pastor, Andreas Hamburg, welcomes a group of visitors, which includes me. We go back to the entrance, where he begins with the story of  the construction of this house of God. On the wall we see a small memorial plaque decorated with a cross, and next to it the inscription: “In memory of all victims who lost their lives during decades of repression; and in grateful memory of Karl K. Vogel, Pastor of St. Paul’s, who was shot to death on October 27, 1937, and of Theophile Richter, organist at St. Paul’s, who was shot to death on October 3, 1941.” [Although Stalin’s active wave of terror had ended a few years before, and the Germans and Romanians had taken full control of SW Ukraine by October, 1941 and would not have shot Christians, a possible explanation for this late shooting is that it occurred in a place of banishment to which the organist may have been exiled during those late 1930s. – Tr.]

Pastor Hamburg asked us to move into the large church nave, and there he spoke about St. Paul’s Church and what has been happening with it. ”The church has always been an emblem of Odessa--before its renovation from ruins, and certainly now as the German Evangelical-Lutheran Church. It is here where the German community finds its home,” declared Pastor Hamburg.

Situated at the highest elevation of the city, St. Paul’s is visible from all directions to anyone approaching it. Looking at its interior, one immediately notices how bright and friendly it is. The walls are painted white and are very plain. The windows are by the painter Tobias Kammerer of Rottweil, tinted with red and yellow colors, so that the light penetrating from the East provides special warmth for the visitor.

The ceiling carries an image of the sea and a ship. People wade toward it through the water to save themselves. The image depicts the time of Noah, when people found refuge in the Ark. Represented in modern style, it symbolizes the ship of church according to the hymn, “Ein Schiff, das sich Gemeinde nennt [A ship that calls itself community].”

The altar, the chancel, and the baptismal font are all fashioned from stones of the former apse (in the fashion of a semi-rounded vault).

Behind the altar there is a large red spot symbolizing the blood of the crucified Jesus. The cross of Christ, all in gold, reaches high up to the center of the red blood spot, which in turn is white, according to John’s crucifixion story: “…one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34, RSV). The colors of gold and blue symbolize the following: as yet invisible, but soon to be present, the Kingdom of God on earth via the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

To the left and below the blooded spot there are figures of the Apostles, baroque-style. The “galleries,” too, are bright and very plain. The entire church space, presented in modern and presentable style, holds about 250 persons.

“Sunday services are attended by between eighty and ninety people. For organ concerts, as many as a few hundred visitors are in attendance. The organ was a gift from the Church of the Cross in Nuremberg, and the pews from St. Ulrich’s in Augsburg. The large cross on the altar wall was donated by the Wenzenbach community. The two baroque figures of Peter and Paul are from the Diocesan Museum of Regensburg, and the large bell was donated by the City of Regensburg, a sister city of Odessa,” reported Pastor Andreas Hamburg.

In brief, Pastor Hamburg then told us that he was a German Russian and that he had come to Germany with his parents many years ago, studied theology, and served as a pastor in Bavaria. His state church leadership asked him to take the pastorship for several years at St. Paul’s Evangelical-Lutheran Church. He did so with great joy and is grateful for the position. In reply to the question of how long he and his family might stay in Odessa, he said simply, “Only God knows!”

uncaptioned photo of the church.
uncaptioned photo of the church interior.

Our appreciation is extend to Alex Herzog for translation and to Dr. Nancy A. Herzog for editing of this article.

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