Russia Day 7 – Houses of God

You can tell a lot about people by the homes that they build. In Voronezh, we visted five churches, each reflecting the unique circumstance of their congregations and pastors.

Transfiguration UMC in the village of Novogremyachenskoe reflects the grace of God that shines through its pastors, the husband and wife clergy team of Tatyana Nazintseva and Vladimir Nazintsev. The pair lives with their three children and his mother in a modest home. Attached to the house is a worship center Vladimir and his son helped to build.

On Sunday mornings, the people crowd into the small, 16 square-meter room, and time flies as they praise God. Healing happens in this room as parishioners confront the challenges of their lives with faith and prayer. People also come to know the life-saving love of Christ, said Nazintsev, who was a well-known physicist before become a pastor.

Their home is a modest one. Receiving just $300 a month salary, Nazintseva grows a garden to help feed her family. With no indoor plumbing, the family and parishioners brave -30 degree temperatures in the winter to use the squat toilet in their backyard, where kittens are born on a regular basis.

But a portion of their income usually seems to find its way into caring for the village’s school children. Sacrificial giving comes as naturally to them as breathing.

But the congregation requires a house of worship, Nazintsev said. “I can say that for a Russian person, a church is always a building. In our village, if the church had a building, it would become the center of spiritual and cultural life in the village.”

Also on the church tour was Resurrection UMC, a three story building, which was bought in 2000 for $60,000. While it is still be renovated, the church has a hundred small touches, from framed calendar prints to beautifully tiled bathrooms, which reflect the spirit of Irina Mitova who even grouted the tile on the floor with her own fingers.

St. Peter and Paul, UMC, reflects the creative spirit of the congregation. The church started in 2000 and met in libraries and schools, but people kept asking them to leave. In 2004, Mary Wood, from Georgia, gave them enough money for a sanctuary. “It’s a slow, step-by-step process,” said the Rev. Igor Volvodov, in part, because the church is intent on spending its time and resources on starting new churches. It already has two daughter churches, and one of those in beginning a daughter church.  Today, St. Peter and Paul has “a door into the future,” and is well into a new building project to create a new sanctuary.

New Commandment UMC, the first church in Voronezh, is on the first floor of an older three story building. The rooms used to be a space where Communist party members met. To the church is plagued by financial problems, caused by having to replace sewage pipes, which run from the apartments upstairs and installing a mandatory fire response system. The basement of the church is home to a cat and her new kittens, whom the pastor now takes responsiblity for feeding.

In the village of Latraya, Revival UMC, has put up the walls of a new brick building, which was built, in part with assistance of United Methodists in Mississippi. The 12-member congregation continues to meet in one tiny room of the Rev. Galina Kolesnikova’s home.

An old icon hangs in the corner of the room, left by a previous owner. The contrast of the two spaces is dramatic. It points to a future the congregation has just begun to dream of.  “Step by step,” all of the pastors say. “Step by step church a Russian United Methodist church is being created in the Central Black Soil District.

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