Like Jacob’s monument at Bethel recorded in Gen. 28, the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy (MPC) is a monument to God’s faithfulness in this difficult if not hostile place, the Rev. Matthew Laferty told a near-overflow crowd at a worship service here Oct. 14 marking MPC’s 50th anniversary.
Founded in 1962 ― during the height of the Cold War ― MPC has had an up-and-down journey during its half-century as the oldest English-language Protestant congregation in the Russian capital, but today it is a multi-national, multi-cultural church with a wide array of religious and social ministries. It is co-sponsored by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Churches and the Reformed Church in America.
The 50th anniversary service drew a crowd of religious and political leaders from throughout Russia and Central Europe. The epistle lesson was read by Michael McFaul, the U.S. ambassador to Russia and a frequent worshiper at MPC with his wife, Donna, and their children.
Laferty ― a United Methodist pastor ― noted that Moscow, like any other capital city, is full of memorials and monuments. In his children’s sermon, he told at least a dozen little ones that there’s a difference between a memorial and a monument. “A memorial,” he said, “reminds of something that has happened in the past. A monument reminds us of the past but points us toward the future. We want MPC to be a monument, not a memorial.”
Like Jacob at Bethel, Laferty said in his sermon, “we remember that God has been faithful to us for these many years, but we also praise God for God’s promises going forward into the future. God has been and will continue to be faithful to MPC.”
It took 29 years from the signing of the Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreements that normalized relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union in 1932 for MPC to be established. For many years MPC was housed inside the U.S. Embassy due to restrictions on the movement of Americans and other Westerners during the Soviet period. Worship was held at Spaso House, the home of the U.S. ambassador.
The first pastor of MPC was the Rev. Donald Roberts, a Presbyterian. Through the years, each sponsoring denomination has supplied the pastor for MPC. The most recent PC(USA) pastor was the Rev. Robert Bronkema, who with his wife, Stacy, served from 2006-2011.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, life for MPC changed dramatically. Today the congregation worships at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in the heart of Moscow. In 1991, MPC began its charitable programs in Moscow with a soup kitchen for impoverished Russian pensioners. Since then more than 2 million hot meals have been served. MPC’s other social service programs serve women and children, pensioners, refugees, immigrants, victims of violence, hunger and poverty and those needing basic medical care.
“God has put in our hearts not just to preach, but to serve the poor in Jesus’ name,” Laferty said. “This is the kind of monument that we will continue to seek to build in this place, giving thanks to God for lives transformed.”