MOSCOW (BP)–To call Golovinsky Church unique would be an understatement. How many other churches meet in the waiting room of a working veterinarian’s office?
Golovinsky Church does. Pet owners carrying dogs, cats and ferrets through the room during Sunday morning services are a common sight.
Even before the church’s launch in 2005, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary teams traveled to the area to prayerwalk and distribute literature in support of this Russian-led congregation. On several occasions, seminary volunteers have even played baseball with Russian teens in the nearby park.
“About four years ago, we participated in the planting of Golovinsky Church in the Northern District of Moscow,” NOBTS professor Jake Roudkovski said. “It was fascinating to see the church growing and reaching their area for Christ. Even though they are meeting in a veterinarian clinic, the church is not using their current circumstances as an excuse for not fulfilling the Great Commission.”
The church never planned to meet in an animal hospital, but members are thankful for the meeting space. Finding a consistent place to meet is a common problem for evangelical churches in Moscow, where few churches own buildings.
Finding a building or room to rent does not guarantee a consistent place of worship. Leasing rules in Russia are different than in the United States, and leases can be revoked with little warning.
Golovinsky Church began as a house church. For a while the church met in a local library on a monthly basis. Soon they were back in a home, meeting in pastor Genday Krechin’s apartment. When the landlord revoked Krechin’s lease, they had to search for space yet again.
That’s when the church found their tidy but unique rental space. The second floor meeting room is part of a large garage complex nestled among the rows of Soviet-era high-rise apartments. People from nearby apartments store their cars here due to the limited curbside parking and the cold, snowy weather. They walk or take a bus to the garage when they need their cars. The building also houses the vet’s office.
“The connection came through a believer who parks his car in one of the garages,” said Brad Stamey, an International Mission Board worker who helps launch Russian-led churches like Golovinsky. “It’s not the ideal location, but the hall is nice.”
In Moscow and other Russian cities, the city government is divided into smaller geographic districts known as okrugs. Moscow has 10 such districts. According to Stamey, the Northern Administrative District of Moscow is home to 1.2 million people. The Northern District is divided into 16 smaller regions. Golovinsky, with a population of 80,000 people, is the name of one of these smaller regions.
Golovinsky Church is the only Protestant church in this large area. In this respect, Golovinsky Church is not unique. There are few evangelical churches and evangelical Christians in Moscow.
The city’s lostness is one of the primary reasons New Orleans Seminary comes to Moscow, Roudkovski said. NOBTS President Chuck Kelley and seminary leaders want to see this vast city turn to Christ.
“Dr. Kelley’s vision for NOBTS students is to make an impact on the city of Moscow,” Roudkovski said. “There is a great need for more mission trips, more missionaries and more resources to be channeled to the work there. In the city of 15 million, less than 60,000 attend Protestant churches.”
Roudkovski was encouraged by the outcome of the January trip. He believes the group accomplished the type of goals set forth in the seminary’s original 2004 commitment to support and assist IMB church planting efforts in the Russian capital.
“The group from NOBTS made a real difference in Moscow,” he said. “In addition to encouraging missionaries, we conducted a soul-winning clinic for pastors and church leaders, engaged in prayerwalking and worked with churches in the area of evangelism. I have been taking groups to Moscow for the past eight years and this trip was one of the best.”
The church will soon face a significant challenge. For more than a year, Krechin, the pastor, has sensed God’s call to start a new mission work in southern Russia. This summer Krechin will leave Golovinsky Church to follow this new calling.
During the service, Krechin recommended a young man to serve as pastor after he leaves. Stamey and the members of Golovinsky are praying for the man Krechin has recommended for the pastoral role and for God’s guidance during the time of transition.
Another prayer need for this church and others is an increased focus on personal evangelism, Stamey said. Earlier in the week, Roudkovski led a personal evangelism training session for pastors and church leaders in Moscow. Roudkovski, who was born in Kazakhstan, taught the lessons in Russian. During the five-hour session, more than 50 pastors received seminary-level evangelism training.
For now, church leaders don’t see their current rental space as a challenge. In some ways, meeting in such a public space may be an advantage.
During the worship service Jan. 10, numerous pet owners shuffled through the room to the vet’s office in the back. Whether singing to accordion music, sharing personal testimonies or listening to the sermon, the church members didn’t miss a beat as people brought in their pets.
At least to the handful of pet owners who walked into the hall that day, this church is not tucked away from the world. It is visible. And Golovinsky Church knows firsthand that the church is not the building; it is the believers who gather together in the name of Christ.
Gary D. Myers writes for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.