‘Tis the Season
The Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy (MPC) is about to celebrate its 46th Christmas in Russia. Its newest local staffer, development director Lydia Troncale, told Passport about the group’s charitable activities and how anyone can pitch in to help during the Christmas season and all year long.
Text Isabelle Hale
Photos courtesy Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union in 1933, there has been clergy available to fulfill the religious needs of the American diplomatic community in Moscow. In 1962, the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy was founded to minister to Protestant members of the American Embassy community through the permanent position of a Protestant chaplain.
Over the years, the MPC has been housed at different locations — for its first 30 years on the embassy grounds and since 1992 in various spots around the city, including next door to a stolovaya [cafeteria] on Ulitsa Mosfi lmovskaya in Moscow. It is during the Mosfi lmovskaya era that MPC founded the soup kitchen program that has become a cornerstone of its charitable activities.
Today MPC’s food sharing ministry has expanded to include a second soup kitchen as well as a food pantry and a Meals-on-Wheels program to provide support to Moscow’s needy. The original location at the Mosfilmovskaya stolovaya (pictured below) provides hot meals to 200 pensioners on weekdays, while single moms and their kids are served at a facility near Kuznetsky Most in central Moscow.
In addition, MPC assembles and distributes weekly food bags to refugee families, biracial children and their families, students, and others who have trouble making ends meet in a Moscow that has become increasingly expensive and who find themselves outside of the available social safety nets. The contents of these packages consist of staples donated by various groups such as the International Women’s Club and foreign embassies such as the German as well as corporations like the Russian discount cash-and-carry chain Metro and Dutch dairy giant Campina, which runs a yogurt factory in the Moscow region.
Two years ago MPC began a Meals-on-Wheels-inspired “Adopt a Grandparent” program in response to the nourishment and companionship needs of the elderly as well as a desire among young congregants to get involved with the local community. The initiative pairs homebound pensioners with expat professionals who pay weekly visits in the evening or on weekends to deliver a food bag and sit down and talk.
More recently, MPC’s community projects have extended into new areas as well in order to address other perceived needs. For example, the Chaplaincy provides computer literacy and language classes, and on Monday, November 17 opened a brand-new parish center near the Aviamotornaya stop on the metro’s Yellow Line.
The chaplaincy constituency has grown to include many Moscow residents of African origin, some students who were left stranded here when the Soviet Union collapsed, others more recent arrivals who came to study or to escape war or persecution back home. Many come with hopes of eventually reaching the West only to find themselves stuck in Russia as their visas expire, leaving them in legal limbo. MPC provides support to this community in a variety of ways, including a student and refugee ministry.
It is through this segment of its congregation that MPC came to organize one of its more ambitious initiatives, the Task Force on Racial Violence. The project began in 2001, when African members of the MPC community were regularly experiencing violent racially motivated attacks. After one particular incident in which a member was brutally beaten on the way to church, the chaplaincy responded by establishing the task force, whose initial objective was to document these racially motivated attacks in Moscow.
Three years later, in 2004, MPC produced a report on the subject that was subsequently published by Amnesty International. Today the task force continues its monitoring and recording efforts, disseminating the information it compiles to various human rights organizations. Although the problem persists, the number of reported attacks has been on the wane in the past few years, said Lydia Troncale.
At present, MPC works in collaboration with a number of other organizations such as the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) and the Russian Orthodox Church, with which it has always had a close relationship. During the Soviet time, the Orthodox Church was an active participant in a number of worldwide ecumenical organizations, including the National Council of Churches of Christ (NCCC) in the United States, which appoints MPC’s chaplains. More recently, MPC has taken steps to build on that foundation to strengthen ties and increase cooperation with the Orthodox Church. For example, many participants in MPC’s social programs are referred by the Orthodox Church, which has been extremely supportive of the chaplaincy’s efforts here in Moscow, Troncale noted.
In the future, Troncale added, MPC aims to expand the services it is equipped to offer the city’s neediest residents by opening a shelter. She also talked about plans to establish a food program modeled on New York’s City Harvest, a non-profit that collects excess food from restaurants, cafeterias, caterers, and other suppliers and distributes it to emergency food programs.
In the meantime, however, the never ending drive to raise funds and recruit volunteers continues.
HERE’S HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Volunteers are needed to participate in all of MPC’s activities such as its soup kitchens and its Adopt-a-Grandparent program.
Demand for volunteers is particularly high on Thursdays, when food packages are assembled for distribution. Cars and/or drivers who can help with the pick up and distribution of donations are also needed.
Cash or in-kind donations of food or clothing from individuals and organizations
For more information, contact Lydia at email@example.com or visit www.moscowprotestantchaplaincy.org