A Drop in the Sea: Stories of Ministering on Maidan from the Lutheran Church
Every day any Maidan participant can go to one of the capitals’ many churches to get not only spiritual care, but also material aid: a place to warm up, eat, and sleep. One of these shelters is the small German Lutheran Church of St. Catherine, located right at the epicenter of events on Lutheran Street.
Only two pastors minister in the Lutheran church so the Lutherans are unable to help the Maidan as much as some of the other churches. “We are a small church, not very well off; I understand well that our actions are a drop in the ocean,” said a member of the church council, Kostiantyn Burlov.
The usual aid given is thermoses of hot tea, hand and foot warmers, potatoes baked with pig fat, and medicine. Additionally, the Lutherans were able to buy instruments for measuring blood pressure, which have been helpful for many protesters.
During the daily service (or the diakonia as it is called by the priests) all kinds of different situations occur that will forever remain in my heart. When the first barricades were built on Lutheran Street, Christmas trees for the holiday decorations were being brought to the church. One of them was left in the backyard, and was supposed to be shipped to Odesa the next day. A young activist asked the ministers whether it was their fir tree. Later the tree ended up in the barricade to help fortify it. Upon learning that tree was supposed to go to the church, the barricade was dismantled and the forest beauty was returned intact.
“Our help is often reminiscent of the Last Judgment in the sense that it is comprehensive. The church helps all people, regardless of our position, for absolutely everyone needs help. We offer a place to warm up not only to the protesters, but to the soldiers who sit here and drink tea. I am deeply convinced that sooner or later I have to say who I helped, who I did not help, and why I did not help,” says a volunteer.
A case in point occurred when the church needed a new kettle for the previous one could not cope with the flow of guests in want of tea. One of the protesters offered to buy it, so he was given money and left. He was supposed to go just a couple of blocks away to Bessarabka bazaar, but 30 minutes went by, an hour, an hour and a half, and he was still gone. Suddenly he returned, panting from having run back. It turned out that at the bazaar the kettles were too expensive, so he went to the supermarket where for the money he had he was able to buy three kettles instead of two.
It was not uncommon for the security forces to visit the church. First they came there to see who owned it. The priests brought them tea, and some commanders, who softened up a bit, allowed their troops to warm up. Later they began to come to the church not just for the warmth, but also to pray, carefully leaving their helmets on the pews near the entrance. Eventually a routine was worked out where the ministers gave the security forces thermoses of tea, and an hour later the commanders gratefully return them to the church.
Priests from other denominations have also been guests. Deacon Ihor Shemihon describes how one morning he saw a sleeping man who looked quite worn out. He offered him tea and suddenly noticed that he was wearing an Orthodox cassock. It turned out the overnight guest was a minister from Lutsk, from the UOC-KP. The Orthodox priest thanked the Lutherans for having a place to rest and returned to the barricades.
The situation after the meeting of the Ukrainian Council of Churches with the opposition was quite special. Earlier, they had met with President Viktor Yanukovych in the presidential administration building, but only churches “selected” by the state leadership were allowed to attend. On the other hand, all clerics were allowed to attend the meeting with the opposition. But right in the middle of their conversation, the head of the Presidential Administration Andriy Klyuyev called and said that the leadership was ready for a new meeting to be held in a half an hour, says Ihor Shemihon. The opposition did not want to go to Bankova Street without the Maidan’s permission, but the ministers took it on themselves to explain this to the people.
Thus the politicians went, and the church delegation, which comprised Roman Catholic Bishop Stanislav Szyrokoradiuk, Greek Catholic priest Oleksa Petriw, UOC priest Mykola Danylevych, and Ihor Shemihon from the Lutherans, went down to the Maidan. Bishop Szyrokoradiuk was the first to speak from the stage; he read an address from the AUCCRO and then explained why the people should trust their churches. The ministers stepped down from the stage to shouts of “thank you!”
There were many more interesting incidents in the more than two months of active struggle on all fronts. But this Lutheran church remains one of the main shelters for anyone who is looking for support, aid, and warmth. And when I left, I looked at a dog and cat, the Lutherans’ special guests who arrived with a friend of the church from Simferopol.