UKRAINE: Public Prosecutor Halts Pentecostals' Healing Ministry.

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service, 19 February 2001

The healing ministry to drug addicts and alcoholics offered by a Pentecostal church in the town of Vinnitsa, 220 kilometres (140 miles) south west of the capital Kiev, is under threat after the regional prosecutor issued a banning order. The Resurrection of Christ Church was instructed on 13 February immediately to halt `the medical treatment of citizens at religious services - until receipt of a licence from the Ministry of Health'. The order sent to the church's pastor, Frederick Ankai-Taylor, of which Keston News Service has received a copy, warned that failure to comply `will carry with it accountability to the city administration'. The ban on treating the sick through prayer and confession has been rejected by the local religious affairs official, who complained to Keston that his office had not been consulted. The church hopes the ban will be overturned soon so that the ministry can resume.

The Resurrection of Christ Church, registered in Vinnitsa in 1992, now attracts a weekly attendance of around 1,000. Pastor Ankai-Taylor told Keston that `over the past two years' the church has been using a building provided rent-free by the city council for its ministry to drug addicts and alcoholics.

The prosecutor's order is based on the findings of a medical commission of six people (of which Keston has also received a copy), established under a decree of the regional administration of the Ministry of Health of 4 October 2000. Using `video-tape materials' and `after visiting the so-called rehabilitation centre', the commission concluded that the building `does not meet sanitary standards' and the `methods' employed by the pastor were `unscientific'. It also ruled that `the pastor, while himself holding a high level of medical education, was deceiving people', and his `method of "prayer and confession" had not been approved by the Ministry of Health or by any other medical establishment'.

Prosecutor's aide Natalya Krapivnitskaya told Keston she believed `the order to stop healing work did not constitute interference in the internal affairs of the church'. `It's the pastor who is interfering with our state and breaking its laws,' she declared on 15 February by telephone from Vinnitsa. She says the church published announcements about its healing ministry, but that `a licence was needed for that', adding that the prosecutor intervened after allegations by `numerous' citizens and organisations. She declined to say how many such complaints had been received, but said `there were enough of them'. `People fell down in a heap during prayers with the laying on of hands,' she complained. `The prosecutor talked with the pastor several times and I thought they understood one another, but evidently not absolutely, as the pastor has appealed to Keston.'

The head of the department for religious affairs, Yevgeny Zaremba, disagreed, telling Keston by telephone on 16 February that the order `constitutes state interference in church affairs, given that the church is separate from the state'. `We have never received any complaints about this denomination,' he added. `If there are complaints, they should be considered in court.' He confirmed that an Adventist community carries out a similar ministry and `to forbid them to do that would be tantamount to forbidding the church from existing. The prosecutor should seek a decision from us or from the expert commission of the State Committee for Religious Affairs.'

'We cannot conduct prayers with the laying on of hands because of this order,' the assistant pastor Aleksandr Bondar told Keston by telephone on 15 February. He said they had just lodged a complaint with the United Independent Charismatic Churches of Ukraine. `We hope we can resume our ministry.'

Pastor Ankai-Taylor blames the dispute on the `intolerant attitude' of the Orthodox Church and officials of the city administration which, he says, they have experienced from the beginning. The prosecutor's order was preceded by an anti-Charismatic campaign in the local press. Pastor Bondar told Keston that on 12 February their church had issued a writ against the local newspaper Kanal 33, which was forced to print a retraction. However, neither Krapivnitskaya nor Zaremba would say if the Orthodox Church had exerted any influence on the decision.

Pastor Ankai-Taylor reported that an auction due on 29 January, at which the community was expecting to buy the building housing the rehabilitation centre, was postponed, although the reasons were not divulged. He maintains the postponement came precisely when `the next step would have been the purchase of the building'. (END)