Perhaps our move north of the border in 2015 was just the preparation I needed before making a two-week visit to Russia in winter! I returned on Saturday night from a fascinating and wonderful adventure – I feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity to build on the good relationship the Methodist Church in Britain has with our sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church in Eurasia.
In my fifteen nights in Russia I slept in five different beds and encountered many facets of life and faith, so this blog can only open tiny windows into the experience:
Red Square! I was really there… I had to pinch myself to believe it! I began with a weekend in Moscow, meeting the office staff, visiting a children’s club run by a missional and growing congregation on the outskirts of the city, sight-seeing and preaching at the city centre congregation, which meets in the Methodist seminary building there.
Vibrant youth! The next five days were spent at the annual Youth Forum for students from all over the Eurasia area. Many of the youngsters had travelled much further than me to attend, including one young girl who had flown through nine time zones from the far east of the vast land. Worship was led by groups from Samara (about 1000km from Moscow), the Ukraine and Estonia – they were brilliant! I was so impressed by the faith and devotion of these young Christians.
Recovery time: On to St. Petersburg where I was thankful to have a whole day to myself before preaching on Sunday. I walked quietly in the streets of the city centre, slippy from the lightly-falling snow. All around were banners from the recent commemoration of the ending of the Leningrad Siege of 1941-1944; “900 days and nights”; I commend Helen Dunmore’s brilliant novel, “The Siege” on this horrific chapter of European history.
Friends reunited! For the final week I was joined by Rev. Nicola Vidamour who served as a mission partner in Russia from 2003-2009. What a blessing it was to have her company (& her fluency in the language!) as she helped me to reflect on all I had experienced, and took me to her old church and congregation in Pskov, several of whom welcomed us into their homes. Not sure if it was the beauty of the Trinity Cathedral or the minus 21C which took my breath away!
Finale: We spent the final three days back in St. Petersburg, meeting other ministers, hearing more about congregations which have grown through relationships, and (of course) seeing the sights. We spent hours in the Winter Palace/Hermitage, where I fulfilled my dream to see the original of Rembrandt’s “Return of the Prodigal” – a profoundly moving moment. Next day we spent hours in the Russian Museum and loved that too with its huge collection of marvellous Russian art … We even fitted in “Swan Lake” at the Mariinsky Theatre on our last night!
Wherever I went the warmth of the hospitality I received left me with a warm glow, despite the freezing conditions… I have a feeling I’m going to be talking about this visit for a very long time… Jill