Total Number of Baptist Congregations Endangered
Moscow’s Baptist congregations confronted with skyrocketing real estate prices
M o s c o w – Only six of the 24 congregations belonging to the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists (RUECB) located within Moscow city limits own their own premises. That’s major progress compared to the situation as late as the 1970s when Central Baptist Church located at Maly Trekhsvyatitelsky Pereulok 3 just east of Red Square was Moscow’s sole, officially-registered Protestant congregation. Then, thousands would gather for church services; even today the congregation has roughly 2.700 members. But the total number of 24 congregations is now endangered.
A 100-member Baptist congregation in the north of the 16-million metropolis will still be able to meet in its dark basement during the month of July. But there is a “For Sale” sign displayed up top at the entrance. Ten years ago, an inter-confessional US mission had bought the 267 m2 (886 ft2) area for approx. $150.000. The mission is now aiming to sell for $1 million. The congregation’s lay pastor reports: “It hurts us that the mission in USA is not willing to talk with us.” The mission has designated a Russian lawyer to be the intermediary between the two.
The pastor adds that a theatre hall in the neighbourhood could be rented for 6.000 roubles ($255) per event. But this assumes that city officials would give the congregation an official letter of approval and that they would indeed be capable of paying the rental fees. The congregation cannot afford a salaried pastor and the rentals fees for an entire month would exceed the salary of a Russian Baptist pastor. The remote hope remains that another US mission interested in local church growth might purchase the property.
An additional possibility would involve subletting from another Baptist congregation near the Voikovskaya subway stop, which is less than 10 kilometres away. But merging with another congregation is not what the congregation has in mind: “That’s not the intent behind church planting.” Mergers would further dampen Baptist hopes of attaining full geographic coverage in Moscow. “We also want to preserve the open, inviting atmosphere we have,” they add. Though the congregation is less than six years old, its members insist: “We have become a genuine family.” The group chuckles regarding the proposal that they gather in the great outdoors whenever the sun is shining: “We have too many aged for that.”
No sector of church work is free from the constraints of finance: Employees at RUECB headquarters in Moscow are in the process of squeezing in shoulder-to-shoulder. Two of the five floors at headquarters are to be rented out to cash-heavy, secular firms. Protestant institutions – and their workers – are suffering from skyrocketing real estate prices. The Internet claims Moscow’s cheapest one-room flats are now going for $160.000. (Salaries for secular jobs are relatively high in Moscow – around $900 a month.) Moscow is regarded as the world’s most expensive city for new arrivals. There are Protestants who have emigrated to the West citing Moscow real estate prices as their reason for departure.
The RUECB, Russia's largest, unified Protestant church, represents approximately 80.000 adult members in 1.750 congregations and groups. Its President is Yuri Sipko.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 4 July 2008
A release of the Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. It is informational in character and does not express a sole, official position of RUECB-leadership. May be published freely. Release #08-29, 515 words.