Michael M. Miller
Germans from Russia Heritage Collection
North Dakota State University Libraries
1201 Albrecht Blvd.
Fargo ND 58105 - 5599
Dear Mr Miller - Dear Michael,
For many years, we have been sharing the same love and commitment for the German heritage of the Black Sea region and the South of what is today Ukraine. Therefore, despite the fact that we have not been in touch before, I have chosen this more personal form of address common in your context. I am writing to you today with some information, which I brought back from Odessa, and a special request, which I shall present in a separate letter.
You may have heard that, as part of the leadership of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bavaria (ELCB), I was responsible, from 1992, for rebuilding the German Evangelical Lutheran Church in the Ukraine (DELKU) – refounded in 1992 – both as regards its organization as well as its spiritual life. After my retirement, Bishop Friedrich and DELKU’s bishop appointed me liaison person to coordinate reconstruction of the old German church of St Paul’s in Odessa. I now travel to Odessa every two months to spend a week there. This past July and August, I spent five weeks standing in for Pastor Karl Heinz and the bishop.
Karl Heinz shared your email correspondence with me and also told me about your group’s visit in May. He sends his kind regards. Unfortunately he has contracted a serious case of tuberculosis during his ministry in Ukraine. Treatment is painful and progress slow. We do not know when he will be able to return to Odessa. He requests your thoughts and prayers asking the Lord for his recovery. I have been visiting him regularly at the specialist hospital here in Munich. Now our church, which is twinned with DELKU, needs to consider if, next year, a successor may need to be chosen for Odessa.
Reconstruction of St Paul’s as a combined center of church life, culture, encounter and business is making good progress. This is the good news that I can share with you and your friends from Odessa. The plans regarding St Paul’s were communicated to you in July 2004, when Bishop Friedrich wrote about this major project, attaching some background documentation in English. I do not know if you still have that brochure, so I am therefore including it again in this letter. The idea is to rebuild the front part of the church as a church hall/concert hall, restoring the outside structure of the church as a whole. In the back, in place of the apse, which was badly damaged, a new building, in a style to match the old architecture, will provide office space. It will be home to Bayerisches Haus Odessa (Odessa Bavarian House), its library and staff, as well as some German organizations supported by the German government. Some offices will be rented to businesses, to ensure sustainable funding for “St Paul’s German Center” in the future.
Since the visit of the GRHC group in May, a lot has been happening. The spire of the main tower is currently being rebuilt so the gilt cross can be put back on top. Inside the church, plastering is making progress. Decisions have been taken concerning artwork and we hope that by the end of the year a total of 36 (!) stained glass windows, some of them very large, will be fitted. The new section has now reached the fourth floor level. Restoring the façade is a very labor-intensive process; the utilities needed throughout the building come at substantial cost. Funding has been secured insofar as the German government and the Bavarian Ministry of Social Affairs are giving substantial amounts towards the new construction. This means that the ELCB only needs to fund reconstruction of the church itself. Still, the global price increases are also felt in Ukraine.
If God blesses this endeavor, we hope to be able to inaugurate the Church and “St Paul’s German Center” in the fall of next year, or in spring 2010. During the past decade, reconstruction of the old Kathedrale der Schwarzmeerdeutschen has become my main calling and mission, which the Lord has laid upon me. It is my hope that I will have the strength to complete this mission, for reconstruction of St Paul’s means preserving the most important architectural monument that Germans have left in what, historically, used to be the South of Russia, and the greatest German heritage in modern Ukraine. After all St Paul’s Lutheran Church in Odessa was the third largest Lutheran church in Tsarist Russia - after St Peter’s in Saint Petersburg and St Peter and St Paul’s in Moscow.
The other day, I spent a long while researching the GRHC on the internet. I am deeply impressed by the wide range of activities you organize to preserve the German-Russian tradition brought to the USA by immigrants from Bessarabia and the Black Sea coast. At first I was under the impression that you did not have access to the many German publications available. But now I realize that you can access all the publications produced by Verein der Russlanddeutschen and Verein der Bessarabiendeutschen. I myself have written a number of papers on life in DELKU and particularly on the reconstruction of St Paul’s. I will send a few of them – in German only, unfortunately – together with the brochure presenting our project. In Odessa, there have been a few people in recent years who write in Russian about the history of Black Sea Germans. DELKU itself is a small church, which at the moment does not have the capacity to address the history of its predecessor church. Martin-Luther-Bund, an independent Lutheran organization supporting Lutheran Christians and churches in minority situations, has repeatedly assisted in this context. I am president of this organization, which is based in Erlangen. Our general secretary, Dr Stahl, is in touch with Brother Reuben Drefs, who in turn seems to maintain contacts with you. From time to time, Martin-Luther-Bund publishes literature and papers on the history and present-day life of Lutheran congregations in Ukraine.
Dear Michael, I am writing this letter to let you know that I would be happy to continue sharing information on DELKU and reconstruction of St Paul’s in particular. Please do get back to me if you have any specific questions or would like me to send more recent pictures from the construction site. After all, email has made this type of sharing of information so much easier.
With very best wishes,
Dr Claus-Jürgen Roepke
President of Martin-Luther-Bund
ELCB and DELKU Liaison Person for Odessa