“Russian Republic Recognizes the Church,” Ensign, Nov. 1990, 106
As far as religion is concerned, perestroika seems to be progressing well for Latter-day Saints living in the USSR. Official registration of the Leningrad Branch was approved in September after the Church received permission to register with the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, one of fifteen constituent republics that make up the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
On September 19, Elder Hans B. Ringger of the Seventy, President of the Europe Area of the Church, met in Moscow with Evgenii V. Chernetsov of the Council on Religious Affairs of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union. Mr. Chernetsov told Elder Ringger that the Council had approved registration of the Leningrad Branch, effective September 13. Mr. Chernetsov heads the Council section for non-Russian Orthodox religions.
Under current Soviet law, churches are registered with each republic on a congregation-by-congregation basis; at least twenty adult members are required in a given political district. Now that the first branch of the Church is registered, future registrations are expected to be routine. The Church also has small branches in Vyborg and Tallinn, as well as members in Moscow and some of the southern parts of the USSR.
In the September 19 meeting were representatives of the Soviet press; President Gary L. Browning, president of the Finland Helsinki East Mission; David P. Farnsworth, area legal counsel to the Church in Europe; and two young Russian members of the Church, Olga Smolyanova and Alexi Kostin.
Elder Ringger answered questions from press representatives about the Church’s position on a number of issues. In response to the question of whether the Russian people would accept the gospel, he answered enthusiastically that they would, saying, “We are all the same. All are children of our Father in Heaven and have the same needs and desires.” He added that the two young Russians who accompanied him to the meeting were shining examples of the truth of his statement. The two then added their testimonies of the truthfulness of the gospel.
During the meeting, Elder Ringger and Brother Farnsworth also discussed with Mr. Chernetsov the Church’s attitude toward a proposed new Soviet law affecting religious freedom and church organizations. The proposed law provides significantly increased religious freedom for Soviet citizens and greatly improved status for religious organizations.
The announcement that the Leningrad Branch was officially registered with the Russian Republic came after years of preliminary work. In June 1987, Elder Russell M. Nelson of the Quorum of the Twelve first visited Moscow with Elder Ringger, establishing contact with the Council on Religious Affairs. The two Church leaders returned to Moscow in August 1989. Then, on April 26 of this year, they met with the Leningrad Council for Religious Affairs and later held a fireside with members and other visitors.
That same day, while in Leningrad, Elder Nelson offered a prayer of gratitude and blessing at a summer garden beside the Neva River.
Accompanying Elder Nelson on that visit were Elder Ringger and President Steven R. Mecham, then president of the Finland Helsinki Mission, who was instrumental in establishing the Church in the Baltic district and in serving the needs of members of the Church in Leningrad and adjacent areas. Support for members in other parts of the USSR has come from President Dennis B. Neuenschwander of the Austria Vienna East Mission. There is at present no mission based in the Soviet Union.