RUSSIA: Chief Architect Blocks Protestants from Using Own Church.

by Aleksandr Schipkov, Keston News Service, 14 May 2001

A Protestant church in Vyborg, a town in Leningrad region 30 kilometres (20 miles) from the Finnish border, has been unable to restore or even use a building it bought in 1998, as the region's chief architect has blocked the transfer of the site from industrial to public use. Chief architect Anatoli Dychinsky told Keston News Service he will make `no concessions', but it remains unclear how much he was influenced in the decision by a letter he allegedly received from the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksi, warning against transfers of land to Protestant churches.

The Christian Church, one of the largest Protestant churches in Vyborg, bought a former workshop put on the market when the owner, an instrument-making factory, went bankrupt. According to the church's pastor, Andrei Furmanov, in order to meet pastoral and social challenges the church purposely bought the building on the edge of an industrial area near a new residential complex `Yuzhny Posyolok' (Southern settlement), where a large number of under-privileged youth live. The building needs restoration.

Pastor Furmanov told Keston in Vyborg on 27 April that although the church's draft plans were approved by the town's health and safety officials, for work to begin the church required permission for `a change to the designated use of the land' from industrial to public.

The church's administrator, Yelena Chernyshova, who was also present when Keston spoke to Furmanov, reported that when she met chief architect Dychinsky on 27 February to discuss a change in the designated use of the land, he `curtly' refused permission. According to Chernyshova, Dychinsky said he had received a letter from Patriarch Aleksi asking him not to give land to Protestant churches. Chernyshova thought this claim absurd and asked him to show her the letter, but Dychinsky refused.

Speaking to Keston by telephone, Dychinsky admitted that the former shop building did indeed legally belong to the church, but said he would never allow a church to be set up there as the site was in an industrial area.

Asked whether, in principle, churches - along with other public buildings, such as clubs, shops and clinics - might be located in an industrial zone, Dychinsky replied in the affirmative, but added: `We have not planned for a church to be built on this particular site. As an architectural building, a church should embellish the city, but here there is nothing to embellish, so let the Christian Church use its property for industrial purposes.' Pastor Furmanov reported that the church plans to have a hall for services and a psychiatric support centre for young families in the building, and that it is not planning to engage in manufacturing. `The church has other tasks.'

Chernyshova said the church is currently renting various halls for services, while all its social work is carried out in the private apartments of church members, whose numbers are, she said, rising constantly. She stressed that the church had not experienced any opposition from Vyborg town administration.

Asked what must happen before he would change his attitude to the church, Dychinsky told Keston: `I am not a believer, I am responsible for town planning, and I won't make any concessions for the Christian Church.' (END)