Written By: Yuri Novgorodov
In the days preceding the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions, a significant event is taking place in our Church. The assembly and tuning of the liturgical organ are in progress. Of course, in Europe, this is quite an ordinary thing, but for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kazakhstan, this is a unique event.
For almost a century and a half, the Lutheran Church has been leading its flock in the world’s 9th largest country, which became independent in 1991, shortly after the fall of the USSR. The first Lutherans appeared here at the end of the 18th century. They were engineers, doctors, land surveyors, and artisans. In the middle of the 19th century, the first Lutheran communities emerged.
But the mass settlement of Kazakhstan by Lutherans took place only in 1941, during the days of the deportation of the German residents from Russia. During that period, the Germans were the main carriers of Lutheranism and from the 1940s until the mid-90s, Kazakhstan was the most Protestant republic in the USSR. More than a million Germans were evicted to Central Asia’s largest territory, two-thirds of whom were Lutheran.
Nevertheless, between 1937 and 1957, the Lutheran Church was banned across the Soviet Union. By 1953, only three ministers survived in the USSR, out of almost two thousand. One of them, Eugen Bachmann, after a grueling journey, eventually achieved an official registration in the city of Akmola. It occurred in 1957 and was the first precedent after the ban. From Akmola, known today as Nur Sultan, the capital city of independent Kazakhstan, the revival of the Church began to spread throughout the entire post-Soviet space.
Until Kazakhstan gained independence, the Lutheran Church was under strict control and faced with many prohibitions and restrictions. If they were allowed to purchase or build houses of worship, it was limited to areas far from the outskirts of the city. Everything changed dramatically since 1992. The church came to life. Our voice, along with others, is heard in Kazakh society. Major social projects are underway to support the elderly, the sick, and people with special needs. Healthcare organizations and social protection institutions are prospering. Lutherans have always been great citizens of their country and good peaceful neighbors.
Since 2003, The Kazakh Lutheran Church was actively involved in activities related to the hosting of the all Congresses of Religious Leaders of World and Traditional Religions in our capital city, Nur Sultan, and was actively involved in the coming 7ᵗʰ Congress due to take place 13-15 September 2022. Our Church is a full representative of the World Lutheran Federation, uniting 80 million Lutherans from 149 Churches around the world. We are proud that our country has initiated a dialogue between the leaders of religions. The purpose of the dialogue is to have an open discourse, show the bright ideals of various religions, and stand firm against all those who seek to use of religious differences to incite enmity between peoples and countries.
So, I started with the liturgical organ, and the reader will ask – what is the connection? The anti-apartheid and equality activist Martin Luther King began his most famous speech with the words: “I have a dream…”
I hope he doesn’t get mad at me for using them. I have a dream. A few decades ago, an essentially provocative theory emerged about the inevitability of conflict and the clash of civilizations. I have always been a categorical opponent of it, speaking of the artificial introduction of grains of hate, rivalry, and hostility. Not being burdened with academic degrees in philosophy and political science, I looked for confirmation of my correctness in everyday life.
It is difficult to find more fertile land for this purpose than Kazakhstan. A heterogeneous society combining so many different peoples, ethnic groups, religions, and cultures living together in peace. Instead of conflicts and confrontations, exercising on a daily basis the enrichment of cultures, traditions, and customs. Specific proof of that reality was the construction of our cathedral church in Nur Sultan. It fulfilled the dream of several generations of Lutherans to have a permanent house of worship and prayer, and not a provisional building. Dozens of Kazakhstanis, representing almost the entire spectrum of nationalities, cultures, and religions, helped us to realize this dream.
The essence of any civilization is most concentrated and reflected in the soul of the people who make it up. And the soul of a person is clearly revealed in music. After all, the mind thinks, and the soul sings. I ask God that one day a musical composition – performed by an ensemble of Kazakh folk instruments, Russian folk instruments, and an organ – will be played under the arches of our Temple. It sounded like proof of the harmony of human souls, peoples, cultures, and civilizations. Natural harmony, unless it is destroyed on purpose, artificially introduces discord.
I believe that like-minded musicians, who are in tune with my thoughts and do not differ people by beliefs or faiths, will be found and will join the fulfillment of that wish. This will be our contribution to the ideas of the 7th Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. And the louder the music will sound, the less often cannonades will appear.
So let this music of the world’s peace and tolerance sound loud and clear in our capital city, Nur Sultan, through our efforts. For that sake it is worth living, working, sharing, giving, and the blessing of the Almighty. Nowadays, in the backdrop of our turbulent region and unstable world, with international conflicts shaking and shocking humankind, this is my self-configuration of the saying, this is probably naive, but “I have a dream”.
Yuri Novgorodov is the Archbishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELC) in the Republic of Kazakhstan, and a representative of the Lutheran World Federation. The Lutheran Church of Kazakhstan is represented by parishes in the capital, Nur Sultan, as well as in 7 regions of the country.