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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Farewell to a '31-Flavors' Congregation

The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy, one of the city's oldest expatriate congregations, was once known as an "embassy church" that primarily served English-speaking Westerners.

That has changed, dramatically, as much of the congregation is now made up of Africans, some of them diplomats but mostly students struggling to survive.

"We have a lot of university students and refugees in our congregation. They are really the majority," said Wayne Pipkin, the congregation's minister. "When we first came here we were referred to as the embassy church. I think that has pretty much stopped."

After close to two years in Moscow, Pipkin, 55, an American Baptist, and his wife, Arlene, 52, are set to leave later this week for Lincoln, Nebraska's Second Baptist Church. One of their most rewarding experiences in Moscow, the couple said, has been serving an ethnically diverse congregation with people from over 20 countries.

"It is the difference between going to the grocery store and seeing only chocolate or vanilla ice cream and going to Baskin-Robbins and having 31 flavors. Here it's 31 flavors," said Arlene Pipkin, who has been director of the chaplaincy's soup kitchen program, which feeds about 1,000 elderly Russians a day. "God is much more the God of the whole world, not just America and white Baptists in America."

The soup kitchen, which expects to serve its 1,000,000th customer in October, went through a period last summer when there was only enough money to serve meals three times a week. But now, Pipkin said, there is currently sufficient funding for the soup kitchen to operate five days well into the fall.

One five-year member of the congregation, Sierra Leone's Ambassador Olu Harding, praised Arlene Pipkin's management. He cited a new code of conduct she introduced for the kitchen's staff: "She told them to be courteous and patient and to realize that they were dealing with old people. She said those who could not comply should resign."

Among expatriate clergy in Moscow, Wayne Pipkin is in a distinct minority. He does not proselytize and makes an effort to separate the church's religious activities from its humanitarian side.

"We used to give out food at the Sunday service when we first got here, but we changed that quickly," he said, noting that the change is one factor in the drop in the average Sunday attendance from about 260 people to 210. "People get relief because they deserve it not, because they are part of your church."