The Ingrian Lutheran Church in Russia is proud of its Finnish background but realizes that its future must focus on Russians. Finns living in the St. Petersburg area are dying out, and school children of Finnish background are learning Russian.
"The Ingrian church is evangelical and mission-minded," Aarre Kuukauppi, its bishop, told The Lutheran. "We are moving strongly toward Russia--its language and its customs." The church's efforts to start new congregations outside of St. Petersburg and Moscow have drawn complaints from the Russian Orthodox Church that the Ingrians are proselytizing.
Centuries ago, the Finns were a district of the German-background Lutheran Church in Russia. During the communist era, the church survived because women hid the Bibles and hymnals and met in cemeteries under pretense of ancestor worship. Today Finnish- and German-background Lutheranism is developing separately.
The Ingrian church now has about 12,000 members in 40 parishes, chiefly in the St. Petersburg area. Three new churches were dedicated last year and 10 more are under construction. An education center has been established to teach Sunday school teachers, youth workers, pastors and musicians. Three modular buildings were shipped from Finland for the center.
The church also has established five eldercare centers. A sixth center is being developed because a bank organization in Finland shares its profits with the Ingrian church for social ministry projects.
Help also has come from overseas. First Lutheran Church, Duluth, Minn., gave $50,000 to build a new church in Petrozavodsk. Peter Strommen, then the church's pastor and now bishop of the Northwestern Minnesota Synod, along with biochemist Paul Anderson, helped baptized 150 persons there several years ago. Walter J. Kukkonen, retired professor from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, taught in the Ingrian seminary seven months. The ELCA's Suomi Interest Conference also sent $30,00 to the Ingrian church.
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