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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Church Marks 30 Years Of Ministry in Moscow

Thirty years ago, a small group of foreigners gathered together in a room at the American Embassy in Moscow for the first Protestant worship service in the former Soviet Union.

The service marked the beginning of the Protestant Chaplaincy, which was established by five mainstream American churches -- the Evangelical Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist churches. The chaplaincy, created under a special agreement between the two superpowers, allowed American diplomats to worship here despite the Soviet suppression of religion.

As the chaplaincy celebrates its 30th anniversary, about 40 percent of its participants are students from all over the world "who worship without fear, along with business people, diplomats and journalists", said the Rev. John Melin, current pastor of the chaplaincy.

The group, which numbers about 350, now meets in the UPDK Hall on Ulitsa Olofa Palrne behind the Swedish Embassy.

"For the first time, we have enough space for Sunday school for children and adults and a nice area for coffee and socializing", Melin said.

And though the church has broadened its scope within its structure, the group's mission outside has also changed. Once operating in virtual isolation, the chaplaincy is now involved with the Russian Orthodox church and Russian society.

Most recently, the chaplaincy moved about 500 homeless Somali refugees to two camps near Moscow. The group has raised more than $40, 000 to help the refugees, Melin said.

"This ministry to the refugees sought us out", he said, explaining that he has appealed to the United Nations to help find shelter for the Somalis and other refugees from Ethiopia, Sudan, Iraq and Nigeria.

It's not the first time the chaplaincy has reached out to help. Last year, the congregation established soup kitchens at three Moscow area cafeterias to serve hot meals to the elderly and needy. About 60 volunteers, including many from the Baptist Church and the International Women's Club of Moscow, serve about 1, 000 meals at three Russian stolovayas, or canteens, every day, Melin said.

"It all comes from a community that is willing to reach out", he said.

Over the years, the five churches have taken turns sending a pastor to serve the chaplaincy. Melin, the 12th pastor, will share the pulpit this Sunday with five of his predecessors: Donald Roberts, who served the church from 1962 to 1965; Rodger Harrison, 1967-1969; Raymond Oppenheim, 1972 to 1975; Michael Spangler, 1975 to 1978, and John Johannaber, 1983-1986.

Several events have been planned for the anniversary, including a special communion service featuring Metropolitan Opera singer John Anthony at the House of Scientists on Sunday at 10 A. M.

Anthony will also sing Monday, during an evening of music at the UPDK Hall at 7: 30 P. M. and at church services on Nov. 1.

The chaplaincy has planned a religious symposium on "The Future of Christianity in Russia" at the UPDK Hall on Oct. 28 at 7: 30 P. M. and an anniversary banquet at the Moskva Hotel on Oct. 30 at 6: 30 P. M.