Deep Sense of Calling
Photo provided by Matthew Laferty
Life in Moscow as an expat may be inviting, but also challenging. There’s a need for a lighthouse as you steer your ship in this sea, to keep you on course, to keep you safe, to shine the light of hope even through the fiercest of storms.
I talked to the Rev Matthew Laferty, the Pastor of one of Moscow’s key Christian churches that has become such a lighthouse for many in Moscow’s expatriate community.
Raised in Crestline, Ohio, the Rev. Matthew A. Laferty is a United Methodist Pastor, Chaplain of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy. Matthew holds a Master of Divinity degree from Yale University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Studies and Politics and Government from Ohio Wesleyan University. He has served as a pastoral associate at Tabor Lutheran Church in Branford, Connecticut, USA; worked for The United Methodist Church’s ecumenical commission, the Yale University Council on European Studies, and the Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition.
In 2011, he was awarded the Edward Downes Prize for excellence in worship leadership by the President and Fellows of Yale University.
Rather a typical question. How did Russia come into the picture of your life?
In July 2001 I participated in a church partnership program in the Kursk region. During that trip, our team worked with an orphanage and a vocational boarding school and provided funds for the restoration of an Orthodox church. Then, trips to Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kirov followed.
I also studied Russian for two years during college—frankly with no plans to ever live in Russia.
However, I began considering Russia later on, for only one year, as a transition year from graduate studies at Yale to a pastoral appointment in the United States. However, my fluency, or the lack thereof, in the Russian language was a hindrance to my usefulness to the church in Russia. My bishop recommended a six month internship at MPC to help increase my Russian. Instead of an internship, I applied for the chaplain position and was ‘called’ by the congregation in January 2011. I started my work in Moscow on May 29, 2011.
Your educational background is quite impressive. What motivated you to pursue this education, and what careers did you have in view while studying?
My keen interest in political systems, legislative processes, and international politics motivated me to study political science and international affairs.
As an undergrad, I had several careers in mind: law, diplomacy and international politics, and humanitarian aid economic development. While studying theology at Yale, my career aspirations focused more on the church. My decision to become a Methodist minister is rooted in a deep sense of calling but also flows out of an understanding that the Christian church has a unique role in proclaiming Jesus Christ and being the body of Christ in the world.
What does it mean to be the MPC Chaplain?
As the Chaplain I “conduct public worship, preach the Word of God, administer the sacraments, perform marriages, conduct funeral services, provide pastoral care for the members of the fellowship and the expatriate and diplomatic communities, supervise the ministries and activities of the congregation, supervise the work of all staff persons, and be the principal administrative officer of the congregation” (MPC Congregational Bylaws).
We work with the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, and the United Methodist Church, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church; and maintain a relationship with the Orthodox Church through our social ministries program.
I serve as the Executive Director of MPC Social Services, a charitable organization that serves the most vulnerable people in Moscow—Russian pensioners, children, refugees, and foreign economic immigrants.
Who are the congregation?
Our congregation is made up of traditional expats, students, diplomats, refugees, and economic immigrants. We are European, African, Asian, and North American.
How does MPC serve the needs of the congregation?
MPC brings together a wide range of people who otherwise may not have contact with each other… It is easy as an expat to develop relationships only within your surrounding area or nationality, but MPC tries to be a community that fosters relationships across socio-economic, cultural, national differences.
How do you see your role in the life of the expatriate community?
I see myself as bridging the cultural divides between the expat and local community as I foster MPC’s relationships with local partners. The most important thing is proclaiming Christ’s love and transformative power to the expat community as expats struggle to live in Moscow.