Veronika Fjodorova, the wife of Russian congregation’s pastor Aleksandr Fjodorov and Director of the Children’s Lighthouse center, tells about how her parents Georg and Jekaterina Lanberg’s joining the Methodist Church in Tallinn was a starting point for Russian congregation work that today is a congregation with 253 members.
Talking about a congregation starts with its history, where it all began. The origin of Russian congregation work in Methodist Church is connected with an event that took place in 1955 when Georg and Jekaterina Lanberg joined the Estonian Methodist Church in Tallinn. Georg had Estonian nationality, Jekaterina was Russian. In 1952 after their graduation of Tallinn Mining College they were sent to work in the mining industry in Ida-Virumaa. In 1954, after having returned to Tallinn, they had to choose a congregation they could attend together. Jelena had been a member in a Russian baptist congregation of a church at Kalju street. Georg had originally been from Emmanuel congregation, which was by that time together with some other free churches incorporated into Oleviste baptist church.
Jekaterina didn’t dare to go back to her previous congregation, because there were “traitors”, who betrayed people and revealed them to Soviet authorities. The pastor of this congregation was imprisoned and many people, especially young people, avoided going to the church. Jekaterina was interrogated as well by KGB because of her faith before she married Georg. During a single month, she was interrogated every day from early morning until late in the evening. Psychoterror and exhausting her physically were used during interrogations. Still, she wasn’t imprisoned, because her father was a naval officer serving in Soviet Navy. They were hoping that her father would make her change her mind about her faith. At that time Georg’s mother Selma became a believer in Tallinn Methodist Church. Georg and Jekaterina decided to join her, and they also became members of Tallinn Methodist Church. Aleksander Kuum and Hugo Oengo were pastors of this church at that time.
Georg and Jekaterina both loved music and they began attending mixed choir of the church. During church holidays they sang and also gave short testimonies in Russian. A band was established where they sang both in Russian as well as in Estonian. Georg started translating Estonian songs into Russian. When songs and testimonies given in Russian were heard, many other Russian speaking people began attending services in this church as well. Mostly they were the ones who just happened to pass by the church and stepped into it out of curiosity. Most of these church visitors were from Ukraine and Belarus, who had abandoned their home country because of persecution or hunger.
More and more Russian speaking curious people began attending the services. They invited also their relatives and acquaintances, and so the information about Russian testimonies and songs began to spread. Sermons given by pastor Oengo were inspiring and attracted people, and via translation, it was now possible to communicate them into Russian as well.
After a while, it became impossible to translate quietly on the spot, because more people came to the services and simultaneous translation began disturbing the service. Since there were no technical devices at that time to facilitate the translation process, another option was to be found instead. Behind the main hall of the church building, there was a smaller room, where choir rehearsals took place. A decision was made, that the translator would stand at the door of this room, and simultaneously listening to the sermon in church hall would translate it into Russian for Russian speaking people in the small room. They listened to every word eagerly and each, in turn, looked through the door at what was going on in the main hall.
At one point, when more and more Russian speaking people gathered to the services, Georg had an idea: why not organize separate services in the Russian language? Also, some Estonian members of the congregation supported this idea. They liked the openness, warmth, and hospitality that the Russians had. In 1956 Georg talked about this idea to the pastors. Hugo Oengo thought there would never be separate Russian meetings, Aleksandr Kuum smiled and replied, we will see. Pastor Kuum had spent four years in a prison camp because of his faith, nevertheless, he felt no bitterness nor anger toward his persecutors.
After some time, Pastor Kuum announced, that pastors would call together brothers in the church to discuss the idea. Sister Maret Puu arranged a group of people to pray for a positive response. At the same time, she stood behind the door overhearing the discussion. A unanimous decision was made to allow organizing separate services in Russian, the task of which was given to Georg Lanberg.
In February 1957, Russian services began in Tallinn Methodist Church. This date can be considered to be the founding of the Russian congregation in Tallinn Methodist Church. After its first meeting Pastor Oengo, who initially probably didn’t believe that organizing Russian services would ever come true, admitted that it was “wonderful”. Thirsting after God’s Word was great. Russian services were simple in their nature. Local Russian brothers and sisters spoke to give their testimonies, recited poems, and sing. Each person was serving with the gift he or she had been given. Believers took part in every service and, whenever possible, also visited Estonian services. Translating Estonian services into the Russian language continued as well. At some point also technical devices facilitating the translation processes were provided.
Georg Lanberg was the first pastor of the Russian congregation, leading it nearly fifty years. In 2000 Aleksandr Fjodorov took over his position as a pastor. There are currently (last time estimated in January 2020) 253 witnessing members in the Russian congregation of Tallinn Methodist Church.
I like our congregation because I can be useful here. I can use my talents here and see, that I can be a blessing in a particular church ministry, and help and support other people in congregation. That creates in me a wish to develop further and practise something new in my church. For me it is a place, where it is possible to grow!
– Eduard Faizullin, a member in Tallinn Methodist Church
According to the vision of the congregation, which is “Church to all generations”, there are different types of ministries to involve different age groups.
Age Level MinistriesEvery Sunday there are Sunday school classes for children at the age of 3-11 in four different groups. There are about 20 children in each group, altogether 86 children are involved in children’s ministry. Every summer there is a summer camp for children, about 100 children participate in it.Worship services for young people on Sunday evenings, and homegroups during the week. During summer there are youth camps, about 120 young people take part in them. There is a special program for young people going on, called „A year to God“, during which young people commit themselves to daily serving the congregation for a whole year. Ladies Club is a special monthly fellowship for young girls, where topics relevant to them are addressed in light of Christian principles.There are worship services for teenagers on Sundays and a homegroup during the week. Camps for teenagers take place in school vacations during spring and autumn, about 30 teenagers participate in them, and about 70 participate in summer camp.Once a month after church service there is a special fellowship for middle-aged people, where topics and problems relevant to this age group are addressed.Once a month after church service retired people gather together for fellowship. They eat and sing together and share their testimonies.Pre-marital counselling and counselling for married couples; family seminars.
Devotion and FellowshipOn Sundays after church service there is a possibility to read and study God’s Word together.There are currently 10 active homegroups.Fellowship, conferences; preparing and distributing presents in hospitals and in shelters for mothers and children.
Worship and OutreachMission trips to Nepal and Jamal are organized; and there is The Good News club for non-Christian children outside the church.Various members of the congregation share gospel on a regular basis in nursing homes, prison, hospitals and schools; and also in Good News Clubs for children (in daycare centers, boarding houses, at children’s daycare center Lighthouse). They also distribute food packages for families in need.A dedicated team that is responsible for videos, photos, interviews, printed materials, lighting and other technical devices.Currently there are two worship teams and various musical groups in the congregation.
All these ministries reflect the vision of the congregation and help to accomplish its mission: bringing people to Christ, creating conditions for their spiritual growth, and helping them to find their own place in serving others.
This article is based on stories shared by Georg and Jekaterina Lanberg and Maret Puu (in 2007 and 2008); information about the congregation today provided by Vitali Baranov, Anton Djurjagin, and Aleksandr Fjodorov.
FOE Editor’s Clarification: The word congregation is used in this article as a group of people and not the organizational body. We asked for clarification in 2019, and the Estonian and Russian speaking people of Tallinn church conduct charge conference and church council together as a single church congregation.
Translated by Carmen Karabelnik with light editing by Andy Morris