Sunday morning began with worship at Aspiration UMC, which also serves as a Conference Center of in St. Petersburg. The state of the art building was built in partnership with the Minnesota Annual Conference.
United Methodists from Austin, Texas were also in worship, having just arrived for a mission trip to several orphanages. The Rev. Irina Margulis preached on Jacob wrestling with the angel. Jacob, and we and the church tend to live in comfort, she said. But when we move to the margins, crossing borders into unknown lands and situations, something new happens to us. God works in new ways when we change our point of view, she said. “We may find ourselves wounded, but we also discover a new names, new lives and ultimately a new world.”
In the afternoon, some of the group visited the Hermitage Museum, which features more than 3 million works of art. It is located in the former Winter Palace, home of Russia’s emperors.
Among the highlights of the tour was Rembrandt’s painting of the Return of the Prodigal Son, created in 1668. The painting, critics say, is “endowed with the sense of great tragedy elevated to a symbol of universal significance. Complex emotions are expressed in the figure of the bent old man and his suffering, kneeling son: repentance and charity, boundless love and regret at the belated spiritual awakening.” It is simply beautiful – a biblical story made masterpiece.
All that was left was farewells to Russia – and the knowledge that United Methodists in the Baltimore-Washington Conference has embarked on partnership with people who are seeking our prayers and resources to assist them in creating disciples to transform the world. Our faiths combined have limitless potential to glorify God.
Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish diplomat, had a prayer that summed up the trip and the partnership: “For all that has been, thanks. For all that will be, yes.” Amen.