An Update on the UMC in Ukraine

People pray at a shrine set up in the Lviv city center, to mourn those killed in the recent protests. Photo: Ullas Tankler

People pray at a shrine set up in the Lviv city center, to mourn those killed in the recent protests. Photo: Ullas Tankler

The United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries continues to monitor the standoff in Crimea between Ukraine and Russia. Ullas Tankler, the program executive who overseas mission projects in the area, has been connecting regularly with the United Methodists there, including district superintendents Aleksandr Merzlyakov and Vasiliy Vuksta. According to Tankler, who is currently meeting with church leaders in Ukraine, “this political crisis has made their churches pray as never before.”

Tankler is also maintaining communication with the three Global Ministries missionaries serving in the country. John Calhoun is based in Kiev and serving in partnership with The United Methodist Church in Ukraine as the director of a United Methodist Church center. Michael Airgood is serving with an interdenominational student ministry in the western city of L’viv. Young adult missionary and Ukrainian national, Nazar Yatsyshyn, recently returned home to Ukraine after 18 months of mission service with the World Council of Churches in Korea. He will begin his service in Lugansk when the political climate is more secure. All of the missionaries have safety plans in place should an emergency arise.

Last week, Calhoun shared that he had spoken to the United Methodist district superintendent Aleksandr Merzlyakov, who serves eastern Ukraine, which includes Crimea. According to him, the pastors of the two small congregations in the area reported “that the situation is calm in their immediate communities.” Merzlyakov had not received any reports of disturbances affecting United Methodist congregations.

Calhoun says that church leaders and members in all regions are praying for peace but notes differences in opinions. In an email he wrote,

There is a great divergence of opinions between United Methodists in western and eastern Ukraine regarding the policies and methods that would best achieve peace in the country. As there is divided opinion in the country about the relationship that Ukraine should have with Russia at this moment of transition, so too are there different views among United Methodists on this important issue.

A referendum vote by Crimean residents on whether the Crimean Peninsula should become part of Russia has been scheduled for Sunday, March 16. According to Calhoun, there is concern that if residents of Crimea vote to join Russia, tensions all across Ukraine may escalate.

The ecumenical community is watching and waiting. The World Council of Churches’ general secretary has expressed concern over Ukraine in a recent press release. Global Ministries is monitoring the situation closely as new developments arise.  In the meantime, General Secretary Thomas Kemper reminds us to, “Please keep the people of Ukraine and our missionaries serving there in your prayers. Let us pray for a non-violent solution to this political crisis.”

General Board of Global Ministries

The General Board of Global Ministries is the global mission agency of The United Methodist Church, its annual conferences, missionary conferences, and local congregations. A major responsibility of Global Ministries is to connect the various parts of the Church as United Methodists engage in global mission. The aim of Global Ministries is to be a biblically rooted, historically informed, and organizationally flexible means of spreading the good news.

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