Kirk minister with personal ties shares reflections on Ukraine
Published on 16 March 2022 6 minutes read
Rev Dr Robert Calvert, a locum minister at Orwell and Portmoak Parish Church, has a personal connection with Ukraine and its people after spending time in the country training student pastors in urban ministry. Here, he shares his reflections on watching the invasion of a country he knows and loves.
The awful apocalyptic portrayals of war with Russia on the media are hard to watch. This is a massive ramping up of war since the Russian-backed separatists made their insurgence in the east of Ukraine.
But it surprised me to find that so many Brits have connections in this far off corner of Europe. When my friend Charlie is not fixing slates on the church roof in Dundee, he is protected by United Nations peace-keeping forces to fix up houses and war-torn buildings in eastern Ukraine for prolonged periods.
In the last decade I've made three trips to the Ukrainian cities of Kyiv and Odessa (by the way, tourist guides were hard to obtain). I had been invited by a professor in the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Kyiv to help pastors in training engage with the diversity of city life. These courses in urban ministry were built upon my experiences on a Glasgow housing estate, the centre of Rotterdam and, latterly, in Dundee city centre.
The classroom was filled with Ukrainians, mostly aged 25-45 years old, who wanted to make a difference. On one occasion I took students to visit Pam d'Andre, who had recently qualified as a parish nurse. In a poor suburb she works with people with alcohol problems and supports those so rudely displaced from their homes in the east.
Kyiv is the capital city with a pre-war population of more than three million people. The historic church in Ukraine is Eastern Orthodox but many new kinds of church are appearing with new immigrants. There is a Reformed Church in Kyiv that holds weekly services on the lower floor of a central municipal building.
Five years ago, I travelled from Kyiv by overnight train to Odessa, port city on the Black Sea, to meet young Ukrainian Christian students. They wanted to share their faith with others, especially the large numbers of international students from Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
They took me to the Law Faculty where, on the strength of my recent PhD, I was invited to address the sociology department. I chose to talk about drug abuse and faith because, for me, it was more than an academic subject but a personal one. Afterwards, students from several different faculties shared their own stories and I tried to affirm them.
Ukraine is a relatively young nation and I read this experience as Ukrainians seeking recognition in the world. I had read of many stories of corruption in society but, on one trip, I left on the day Ukraine voted for a non-politician to be their prime minister.
Their churches try to offer much needed support to their communities but are themselves wrecked as people flee and as men aged between 18 and 60 years old are drafted in for war service. Alex from his village outside Odessa is trying to network with both churches and students. Some men have chosen to fight, whether with the army or the territorial defence force, while others don't want to.
We know of many Christians active in giving spiritual support and risking their lives to care for those with physical needs. In better times, I learned how most Ukrainians love Russia and the Russian people – politicians excepted. It isn't so surprising as many Ukrainians have families and business interests there. Some of the longest serving church pastors in Russia are from Ukraine.
The Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary is the largest of its kind in Kyiv and located in the north-west of the sprawling city. It has developed with a new classroom, refectory and dormitory buildings, but, as I write, Russian forces are nearby and the area is under attack.
My friend John in Chicago with his Ukrainian family reported how the seminary had been bombed. Windows and doors were blown out of the academic building and cafeteria. Nobody was injured as the cooking staff had left earlier. Recently the kitchen produced fresh baking that was distributed to people in the area.
The seminary decided to move its staff and students to Lviv in western Ukraine for safety but ten of the staff chose to stay to look after the campus. My friend Kyril sent his family to western Ukraine to serve the people of Kyiv who are under attack. I feel palpitations as I recognise the familiar buildings and tramlines on the media.
Last Thursday, Ivan Rusyn, rector of the seminary, was interviewed on BBC's main news bulletins. He once told me the seminary would make a change to use Ukrainian in lectures and publications (it is normal to translate into Russian). The big issue for Ukraine is identity and being recognised as an autonomous nation.
Working to support Ukrainian refugees
The Church of Scotland has watched the humanitarian crisis facing millions of Ukrainian people unfold with real concern and has quickly responded to offer both practical and spiritual support:
- Through Scottish Faiths Action for Refugees, the Church of Scotland is encouraging Scots to sponsor a Ukrainian family and open their homes to them under the UK Government's Homes for Ukraine scheme. Churches are already working to support refugees and stand ready to support refugees from Ukraine with some members indicating they are prepared to welcome them into their homes.
- Last week the Church sent a letter to the Home Secretary urging the government to speed up its efforts to provide safe routes for refugees so they can seek sanctuary in the UK and to clarify and specify more detail as to how churches can sponsor refugees.
- The Church is also working ecumenically to support partner churches in the region and to advocate for peace through personal contacts with faith leaders in Ukraine and across the region.
- Lord Wallace, Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and Very Rev Dr Susan Brown, convener of the Faith Impact Forum, have called for peace-making and repeatedly urged the UK Government to offer a generous welcome to refugees by removing all barriers for refugees seeking sanctuary in our country.
Donate through the Church of Scotland
The Church is supporting the Reformed Church in Hungary Aid emergency response and, across Scotland, presbyteries and congregations are collecting and distributing many thousands of pounds in donations to charities working in the region, who have the personnel and logistics in place to ensure aid reaches the people who need it most.
- Transfer your donation to the Royal Bank of Scotland Church of Scotland
- Account Number: 00134859
- Sort code: 83 06 08
- Reference: RCHA donation and the donor's name
- Find out more.
If eligible, please also complete the Gift Aid Declaration form by following this link to the HMRC gift aid form, ensuring the Charity Name is completed as "The Church of Scotland". The completed form can be returned to the Church of Scotland by email to email@example.com. Alternatively, a cheque can be sent payable to The Church of Scotland with an accompanying letter and completed gift aid form.
Donate to the Disasters Emergency Committee
We are also encouraging people to make a financial donation to the Disasters Emergency Committee.
- Online: Visit dec.org.uk
- Phone: 0370 60 60 900
Gift Aid can be applied to your donations.