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Luray United Methodist Church and Our Brothers and Sisters in Stavropol

By Walt Surratt, Luray UMC

(Editor’s Note: Some Virginia Conference congregations have an ongoing relationship with United Methodist congregations in Ukraine and Russia. A previous story focused on Blacksburg UMC’s ongoing relationship with United Methodists in Kiev, Ukraine; a future article will report Grace UMC in Manassas continuing partnership with a congregation in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. This story celebrates the partnership between Stavropol UMC in Russia and Luray UMC.)

Luray United Methodist Church began its involvement with United Methodist churches in Stavropol, Pyatigorsk, and Southern Russia following a short-term mission trip taken by the Rev. Laura Anne Whittle Stratton when she was an undergraduate student at The College of William and Mary. Following her trip, she spent a year in Pyatigorsk in ministry and thereafter became the leader of the Virginia Conference’s Russia Initiative. In 2009, Laura Anne was instrumental in fostering a trip to the US by a group of United Methodists from the South of Russia. From this trip, the Luray church began a close friendship with the churches in Stavropol and Pyatigorsk. Several members of the Luray Church made short-term trips to Russia and members of the church hosted pastors Alexander Kozerazov and Irina Mitina during their trips to the United States.

In 2012, the Luray church entered into its first five-year Partner In Ministry covenant with the churches in Russia. During this time Luray UMC provided financial support to District Superintendent Alexander of the Northern Caucasus District, where Stavropol and Pyatigorsk are located.

Irina on one of her visits to Luray

Following a leadership change, Pastor Irina became the new District Superintendent and Pastor of the church in Stavropol. Her arrival raised our relationship to a new level of engagement. Irina has made several trips to the US, coming to Luray to share in ministry and share greetings from her congregations. We undertook further short-term mission trips and recommitted our pledge to be a Partner In Ministry for an additional five years, beginning in 2017. We planned another trip to Stavropol in 2020 to help with their ministry to the Roma people living nearby, but due to COVID the trip unfortunately was cancelled.

For the past year or more we have held Zoom sessions with each other monthly. It is a wonderful time of fellowship and exploring our different cultural traditions as we acknowledge the same one Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Irina is fluent in English, so she is able to translate for us during our gatherings. We share with each other how God has been working in our churches and ministries and we share the love of Christ with each other. We recently shared Holy Communion which was particularly poignant. The same liturgy we use was shared in both Russian and English and we all were moved by the experience.

Over the past three of four years, Irina’s assistant Elena Uryupena has been able to attend seminary in Moscow and following her graduation has become the pastor of the Stavropol church. Irina has stepped down from her role as District Superintendent as well and has moved to Novotroitskaya, a village near Stavropol. She began a ministry to the Roma people there several years ago and now lives among them opening a new United Methodist church plant in the village. Although our last Partner In Mission covenant has expired we continue in fellowship and will again provide financial support in 2023 to the work in Stavropol and Novotroitskaya.

The conflict in Ukraine has made opportunities for travel impossible. We are uncertain of the future relations between our countries. But we know that the God we serve calls us to be one together in Jesus Christ our Lord, and we are!

Congregations wanting to know more about Lurary UMC’s partnership with Stavropol UMC and how they can also join in this partnership are invited to contact Walt Surratt at [email protected].

Irina and Elena celebrating Communion

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