Not Your Church – It´s Our Church
M o s c o w – On 3 May, the opening service was held in a Moscow Baptist congregation with big plans. It is stated partly in jest that this congregation intends to become a megachurch. Nearly 60 persons attended the first service in the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists´ (RUECB) Moscow seminary. Referring to the congregation´s unusual name – it calls itself “Your Church” - RUECB-President Yuri Sipko exclaimed in his opening sermon: “This is not your church - this is our church!” He stressed that this congregation is anchored in the RUECB and in the world Baptist movement in general.
Pastor of this fledgling congregation is Leonid Kartavenko, for the past six years Director of Missions at the RUECB`s Moscow headquarters. As a gesture of thanks for their birthing help, Yuri Sipko, Kartavenko´s former superior, and Seminary Director Dr. Peter Mitskevich were both presented with flowers at the service.
In an interview, Kartavenko, now pastor of Russia´s tiniest megachurch, described his most recent strategy. “We don´t want church members, we want servants. Every member will receive some task, even if it might be a very small one.” Every member will be expected to belong to a small group; the musical offerings are to of professional quality. “Your Church“ plans first-of-all to advertise its cause on the Internet. Placards will point to its Internet site: “www.yourchurch.ru”. The latest news – including the location of services - will always be listed there. The pastor explains: “Interested people will be able to ask questions on the Internet. That will allow personal contacts to happen – which is already the case. We know that people most readily appear in church if they already have contact with a believer.”
Regarding background events: The Baptist businessman and philanthropist Alexander Semchenko and the Union´s President parted ways in mid-February. Reports indicate that Semchenko had requested powers which he as a non-elected Union helper did not have the right to expect. This was the assessment of President Sipko – a vote later seconded by the 54-member RUECB-Council. Sipko and Semchenko have also disagreed on the degree of cooperation necessary with the state.
Sipko dropped Semchenko as Secretary of the Department for External Church Relations. Semchenko responded by cutting off his financial support for the Union. That left a major hole in the Union´s budget. Many Union projects were suddenly put on hold – including the mission department and its evangelistic expeditions. After several months as Financial Director, Kartavenko, who sympathised with some of Semchenko´s concerns, resigned from all Union responsibilities in March. In April, Pastor Simon Borodin, Kartavenko´s successor as Director of Missions, also departed. New Missions Director is Ruvim Voloshin, one of the Union´s Vice-Presidents.
By now, normalcy is returning - the mission department is busy preparing the national Union conference for late July. At its mid-March sessions, the Union Council opted to transfer more financial responsibility to the local congregation (as we reported). The required annual contribution of the congregations per member for the work of central offices was boosted threefold to 150 roubles (4,30 euros or $6,25 US) - a big step for the local congregation. Russian contributions along with continued foreign support and the planned renting of two of the Union´s five-storey headquarters to secular firms should restore financial viability.
Alexander Semchenko, a youth director during Soviet times, did much following perestroika to bring Baptists into the mainstream of Russian society. He can be thanked for strengthening inter-confessional relations – also with the Orthodox and Catholics. Yuri Sipko stated: “I highly esteem Alexander Semchenko´s gifts and the fact that he has dedicated himself and his resources to the service of the church.” The National Prayer Breakfast and the vibrant Protestant Easter concerts for ex. have profited from his support.
Leonid Kartavenko admits that he had dreamt of planting a new congregation well before February. The unhappy events of the current year have now resulted in the creation of a new congregation. He adds: “God leads his work right through the midst of all crises.”
Russia´s largest „megachurches“ have roughly 4.000 members. Two of the most prominent ones are Charismatic congregations located in Moscow and Perm/Ural. Moscow´s historic and well-known “First Baptist Church” had 2.719 members in 2005.
Dr. William Yoder
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 6 May 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of
Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and may be published freely. Release #08-20, 695 words.
All persons listed reside in Moscow.
Note from December 2020: This group remains a small congregation (despite its loud music) and is still headed by Leonid Kartavenko. It now meets in the Evangelical-Christian headquarters in the vicinity of the Belorusskaya railroad station. It's Russian-language site is: "yourchurch.ru".