A former Mennonite church building in Ukraine is being restored and transformed, with the help of Canadian Mennonites, into a Greek Catholic church.
Observers call the project an example of Mennonite-Catholic collaboration in the spirit of other exchanges over the past decade or so.
The Mennonite church in the former village of Schoensee (now Snegurovka) was built in 1909. During the Soviet era, when Mennonites were forced to leave, the building was used for storage and then fell into disrepair.
Recently the Greek Catholic Church in Ukraine secured ownership. A retired Catholic priest from the Czech Republic, Peter Trenzky, is leading the restoration as well as the congregation, which has started to worship in the building.
In learning about the restoration project, individuals associated with the Mennonite Centre in nearby Molochansk (formerly Halbstadt) offered to help. The center was established in 2001 in the former Mennonite Girls’ School to provide a range of community services.
“Initially Father Peter was afraid that Mennonites wanted to take back the church,” said George Dyck, treasurer of Friends of the Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, the Canadian-based charity providing partial funding to the project over the past year.
Dyck describes the involvement as a “mutual embrace of returning Mennonites with their former fellow villagers.” According to Dyck, the official opening of the restored church will be held in July or August.
Darrin Snyder Belousek said the renovation “is the fruit of the renewal of the Catholic Church in Ukraine.” Snyder Belousek is executive director of Bridgefolk, a North American-based movement of Mennonites and Catholics with an annual gathering to learn from each other’s traditions.
He cited a parallel between the experiences of Ukrainian Catholics and Russian Mennonites. Ukrainian Catholics lost their churches, had no legal protection and survived as an underground church during the Soviet era. Russian Mennonites also were not officially recognized by the Soviets and assimilated with the Baptists.
“Both churches faced repression under similar circumstances from the same oppressor and had to make costly choices to keep faithful,” Snyder Belousek said.