Odessa pastor speaks about ministry in Ukraine war

16 Nov 2023

A crisis and a chance to be the church outside the stereotype of church in society: Pastor Oleksandr Gross of GELCU in Odessa, Ukraine, in a greeting to the VELKD synod spoke about the changes the war had brought to his church.

Pastor Oleksandr Gross

Pastor Oleksandr Gross (left) in discussion with Ralf Meister, leading bishop of the VELKD. Photo: VELKD 

"Witness love in the midst of hate” 

(LWI) - Because of the Ukraine war, the German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Ukraine (GELCU) lost 60 percent of its members, said Oleksandr Gross, GELCU pastor in Odessa. Many fled abroad, some were killed in the war. At the same time, the church found new ways to witness outside its congregations. On the closing day of the General Synod of the United Evangelical Lutheran Churches in Germany (VELKD), from 10-13 November 2023, he presented a greeting on behalf of his church, reflecting on its situation a year and a half after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  

Even before 24 February 2022, the church had lost congregations in Crimea and Donbas to Russian occupation, he said.  At the beginning of a full-scale war in the spring of 2022, many people left the country. The congregations in Zaporizhzhya and Cherson were under occupation, the majority of the Lutheran church members fled abroad. “The invasion one and a half years ago cost us at least 60 percent of our members”, Gross said.” Some congregations have become small groups, others don’t exist anymore.” 

“Where the Lord has called us” 

GELCU pastors stayed “where and to whom the Lord has called us” Gross said. The church is offering social support in their respective neighborhoods. “We are close, we bring help to the people in their homes – words, clothes, medication, food,”  the pastor explained. “95% of the people we serve do not share our confession.” 

Terrible as the war is, it has shown a different aspect of church ministry, Gross said. "More than ever, we have a chance not to be a culturally foreign church, but to be a church for all, to be close to those in need and to break the stereotype of church in society.” Oleksandr Gross said. 

Deeply grounded in faith, we witness to love in the middle of the hate that the war has brought.

– Oleksandr GROSS, pastor in Odessa, GELCU

Spreading faith and hope 

“Deeply grounded in faith, we witness to love in the middle of the hate that the war has brought,” Gross continued. “We learn to listen to the needs of others, when everyone tries to save themselves and their loved ones. We are living out of faith and hope, where people find it hard to envision a future. We are strong in the Lord,” he concluded.

The VELKD (United Protestant Lutheran Church in Germany) unites 7 churches of the Lutheran confession in Germany, representing 7.8 million Lutherans. The 4th session of the 13th General synod took place 10-13 November 2023 in Ulm, Germany. More information: www.velkd.de/generalsynode2023

LWF/C. Kästner-Meyer