Jan. 10 – Our Last Full Day in Moscow – On Sunday, our team split into to three groups to attend different churches in the Moscow area. I went to a church in northwest Moscow with three other team members. It was located near the last stop on the Green Line of the Metro. The church is named after the area in which it is located – Golovinsky. New Orleans Seminary has been praying for this church from its beginning. Teams from the seminary have prayerwalked and distributed flyers in the area and played baseball with children and teens in a nearby park. The church started in an apartment and during its short time as a church, the group has met in a number of different locations. This is a common problem in Moscow. New churches often have to move numerous times. Leases come and go without much warning.
Currently, the church meets in the second floor lobby of a garage and veterinary clinic – yes, a veterinary clinic. We don’t have garages like this in New Orleans. People from apartments nearby store their cars here because of limited parking availability and the cold weather. They walk or take a bus to the garage when they need their cars. It is a unique place for a church.

Wait, it gets better. The vet’s office is not closed on Sundays. During the service, people bring in their pets – dogs, cats, ferrets, you name it – walk beside the rows of chairs to vet’s door back of the meeting room.

The service started with singing – a woman sang while a man played the accordion. The music and singing was good. I especially enjoyed hearing “Silent Night” sang in Russian. Then there was a time of open testimony. Several people shared. Prayers were offered between testimonies.

It was during this testimony time that the first pet owner entered with his pet. He was not the last to bring in a pet. As they walked in with dog, cat or ferret in hand (or crate), the pet owners would look at whoever was speaking, praying or singing.

This was a not so subtle reminder that the church is not the building – the church is the people. Oh, if the American church could understand this principle. Would we see more churches sharing their buildings? Would we see more churches renting public spaces? Anyway, my concept of church grew that day. It was refreshing to see a church meeting in a dingy, reception hall – a church not tucked away from the world, but visible, if only to pet owners visiting the vet that day.
Back to the Market
After church, we headed back to the souvenir marketing at Izmailovo. I found out that it is called the Vernisage. It is part of a complex known as the Izmailovo Kremlin (http://kremlin-izmailovo.com/Souvenir-Market-English). Dr. Roudkovski raved about the shashlik (grilled, skewered meat) at the market. He said it was the most authentic shashlik he had found. So we went to try it.

All of us bought lamb shashliks hot off a wood-fired grill. The vendor sent us upstairs to a second-floor dining area and told us she would bring us our food. It was like stepping out of the 21st Century and into a scene straight out of a Dostoevsky novel. The rustic dining area was filled with small wooden tables and chairs. The room was dimly lit and there was no heat. As we sat at a corner table and waited for our food our warm breath was visible in the frigid air. Steam billowed from the cups of hot tea on our table.

A man, probably a craft vendor, leaned around a small partition and extended a small bottle of vodka. He was Russian, but spoke in his best American slang, “Would you guys like to warm up?”

“No, thanks,” I said.

Soon our plates arrived and I quickly discovered that this indeed was the best shashlik in the city. The lamb meat was high quality, better than any I’ve had in the U.S., except for the lamb we raised on our farm when I was a boy.

When we finished eating a babushka cleared our plates. Apparently she cleared tables for tips. We were impressed with her work ethic. Dr. Roudkovski tried to give her a good tip, but she won’t take his first amount. She said it was too much. He finally convinced her to take a second amount. Then they had a deep conversation in Russian. I didn’t ask what was said and he didn’t tell us what was said, but it seemed spiritual in nature. Her eyes were tired, but kind.

The whole thing – the room, the food, the steaming cups of tea, the tromping of boots on the wooden floor – reminded me of scenes in rustic inns and upstairs garrets from Crime and Punishment, Brothers Karamozov and The Idiot. It was a neat experience.

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