RUSSIA: Church stolen at Christmas
Just before western Christmas, on 23 December, Forum 18 News Service has learnt that the new "owners" of a Methodist church in Moscow "violently and with the use of force" evicted Pastor Kim-Jun-Kyu, his family including two young children, and a range of other church officials, without even giving them time to dress before throwing them onto the cold street at 7 am. Church members immediately contacted the police, who have now sealed the building against both the new "owners" and church members. The church held a Christmas service on the street outside the church, and will be holding another street service this coming Sunday. Pastor Mikhail Kuznetsov, of the Moscow Interconfessional Pastors' Council, has told Forum 18 that "the violence was accompanied by nationalistic expressions and crude insults towards the Protestants," and has called for a special night of prayer for the church on 2 to 3 January 2004.
Church members said that the guards evicted the church members at 7 am local time on 23 December, giving them no time even to dress before throwing them out onto the cold street. At least ten guards from the Rodon security company "violently and with the use of force" evicted Pastor Kim-Jun-Kyu and his family (including two young children), as well as a range of other church officials. Pastor Valery He told Forum 18 from Moscow on 25 December that "the guards broke down all the closed doors, from the fourth floor down to the first floor". Church members immediately contacted the police, who took the guards to a police station but soon released them. Church members had to hold a Christmas service on 24 December on the street outside the church.
Problems began for the United Methodist Kwan Lim (Burning Bush, Kvanrim in Russian) church back in 2002, when, unknown to the church, a group of individuals held what they claimed was a valid church meeting which changed the church's founding document and replaced the entire leadership. Moscow's Justice Department registered the new founding document without checking the authenticity of it with church leaders or the United Methodist Church of Russia, a registered centralised religious organisation of which the Kwan Lim church is a part. The local city justice department has claimed to Forum 18 that it registered the new founding document in line with regulations, although the legality of both the "owners" and the department's actions is very strongly disputed. (see F18News 16 December 2003 http://www.forum18.org/Archive.php?article_id=215 ).
Rodon guards engaged by the company Khant, which claims it now owns the building, seized the church on 9 December, but initially took no action to evict church members inside. Some 300 people attended the most recent Sunday service on 21 December. The guards allowed in those listed as church members. However, church administrator Svetlana Kim complained that the guards had often made insulting remarks about the Methodists, calling them "sectarians".
Church members evicted on 23 December, who included 13 students of the Reformation College which is based in the building, have pledged to continue defending their church, Pastor He reported. They have begun staying the night in a bus parked outside the building in northern Moscow. The church's lawyers have already visited the site. At the 24 December service on western Christmas Eve, Pastor Kim called on church members to come to the church as usual for the next Sunday service. The security guards are also remaining in their own vehicle next to the church, as the police have now sealed the building against both the guards and church members.
Other Protestants have expressed support for the beleaguered Methodists, including Pastor Mikhail Kuznetsov, who spoke of his "deep sympathy over the sad incident". The Kwan Lim church is a member of the Moscow Interconfessional Pastors' Council, which Kuznetsov leads. "The violence was accompanied by nationalistic expressions and crude insults towards the Protestants," he complained on 25 December. He declared a special night of prayer for the church on 2 to 3 January.
For more background information see Forum 18's latest religious freedom
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18 December 2003
After today's funeral of Beijing's last Orthodox priest, it is still unknown when the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church will have a church in the capital. Visiting Russian Orthodox priest Fr Dionisy Pozdnyayev told Forum 18 News Service that Orthodox believers "have no priest now, no church and nowhere to pray", although he said the authorities were positive about the idea of Chinese Orthodox studying for the priesthood in Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church has being trying to help the Chinese Autonomous Orthodox Church, which the Cultural Revolution decimated, without success asking to send priests to surviving Chinese parishes, Forum 18 has been told. Several parishes still survive in Inner Mongolia and in Xinjiang Province in north west China. The only surviving Chinese local clergy are in the southern city of Shanghai, where St Nicholas' church has been turned into a French restaurant. Elsewhere, Chinese Orthodox churches are also being used for other purposes, in at least one case as a night club.
16 December 2003
Moscow city's justice department has failed to explain to Forum 18 News Service why it allowed the founding document of a Methodist Church to be altered without the knowledge or consent of the church, thus facilitating the "sale" of the building to new "owners". Guards hired by these "owners" have seized the building, with the pastor and church officials remaining inside. Aleksandr Buksman, head of the local city registration department for religious organisations, has claimed to Forum 18 that the demands of Russia's religion law "were fully observed by the religious organisation". This claim is very strongly disputed by the church, which points out to Forum 18 that a "meeting" Buksman refers to was not authorised by the church, did not involve church members, and was not held on church premises. Buksman has failed to explain why his department did not check any of this with the church leadership.
15 December 2003
A Methodist church may lose its church building after the local Moscow city justice department allowed outsiders to change the building's ownership without the church's knowledge, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Guards loyal to the new "owners" have seized the building, though the pastor and church officials remain inside. The local Moscow justice department has declined to explain to Forum 18 why it allowed the "ownership change" to happen without the church's knowledge. However, Maksim Zubov, of the federal Justice Ministry has pointed out to Forum 18 that "no-one has the right to change the founding document of a religious organisation without its knowledge." Church officials suspect that the reason may be local city corruption, and Bishop Ruediger Minor, head of the United Methodist Church in Russia, has told Forum 18 that "the whole thing could only happen because of some (at least silent) support from administrative and other structures."