Registration of the Leningrad Branch of the Church has been approved by the Council on Religious Affairs of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union.
Evgenii V. Chernetsov, head of the Council section for non-Russian Orthodox religions, announced approval of the registration, effective Sept. 13, at a meeting with LDS Church leaders in Moscow on Wednesday, Sept. 19.The Council is the highest body in the Soviet government concerned with religious affairs.
Announcement of the registration was made at the meeting to Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy and president of the Europe Area of the Church on his recent visit to Moscow. He was accompanied by Pres. Gary L. Browning, president of the Finland Helsinki East Mission; David P. Farnsworth, Area legal counsel to the Church in Europe; and Olga Smolyanova and Alexi Kostin, two young Russian members of the Church.
Written confirmation of the registration will be delivered by the Leningrad Council on Religious Affairs in the near future to Yuri Terebinin, president of the Leningrad Branch, and his counselors.
Under current Soviet law, each congregation of a religious organization must be registered separately. When 20 or more adult members reside in any political district, they may apply for recognition. Missionary work by the Church is proceeding on a limited basis in the USSR. Missionary efforts are conducted privately in the homes of the members. Church worship services are also held in members' homes.
The Leningrad Branch is a unit of the Baltic District of the Finland Helsinki East Mission, presided over by Pres. Browning. Small numbers of Latter-day Saints also reside in more southern sectors of the USSR, Church officials said. Their needs are served by the Austria Vienna East Mission, over which Pres. Dennis B. Neuenschwander presides. There is no mission based in the Soviet Union.
Representatives of the Soviet press, the Moscow News, and Science and Religion, were also at the meeting where the announcement was made. Elder Ringger discussed with them the position of the Church on a number of issues. In response to the question of whether the Soviet people would accept the gospel, he responded enthusiastically that they would, pointing out that in spirit "we are all the same - all are children of our Father in Heaven and have the same needs and desires."
He said that the two young Soviet members who accompanied him to the meeting were shining examples of the truth of his statement. Each of them bore testimony to the reporters of the truthfulness of the gospel.
At the meeting, Elder Ringger and Brother Farnsworth were able to discuss with Mr. Chernetsov aspects of a draft of a new Soviet law on religious freedom and Church organizations. They presented comments on the position of the Church toward the new proposed law and were informed about the development of the law and its intent.
The statutes under consideration would provide significant progress toward full religious freedom for Soviet citizens and greatly improved status for religious organizations.
Prior to this important announcement, much preliminary work has been done. Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Ringger first visited Moscow in June 1987, establishing contacts with leaders of the Council on Religious Affairs. They returned to Moscow in August 1989. On April 26, 1990, they met with representatives of the Council for Religious Affairs in Leningrad and held a fireside with members and non-members.
Also on April 26, Elder Nelson offered a prayer of rededication for the land of Russia in Leningrad at the Summer Garden, adjacent to the Neva River near the site where Elder Francis M. Lyman of the Council of the Twelve initially dedicated the land Aug. 6, 1903.
Accompanying Elder Nelson on this visit were Elder Ringger and Pres. Steven R. Mecham, president of the Finland Helsinki Mission, who had been instrumental in serving the needs of members of the Church in Leningrad and adjacent areas. Pres. Mecham, who was recently released as mission president, was directly responsible for teaching, baptizing, fellowshipping, and establishing the Church in the Baltic District of the mission.
Pres. Neuenschwander, president of the Austria Vienna East Mission, has served members of the Church in this and other parts of the USSR, and has been of great help in laying the foundations of the Church in these areas.