Baptist-State Tensions near Moscow

Rucheyok Church Camp Still Closed


Biannual Baptist congress has memorable aftermath


M o s c o w -- Vladislav Vovk, head of the Brethren church-aligned Rucheyok (Little Creek) summer camp in Rumyantsevo near Moscow, reports that his camp is scheduled to reopen for business on 6 September. Yet he has not yet been given formal, legal assurance that his camp will ever be able to reopen. Its closing occurred in connection with the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’ (RUECB) biannual congress, which had been held on its grounds from 31 July until 4 August. After a hastily-convened Istra city court ruled on 2 August (Saturday) to halt the congress, the camp was closed and sealed by the police for 30 days after the congress’ official end on 4 August. Over 2.000 Baptists attended the convention at a site with only 350 permanent beds; the closing cited issues of sanitation and fire safety.


Electrical power to the camp, which had been cut by the local government a few hours before the congress began on 31 July, was restored on 6 August. Restricting the camp to emergency electrical power had of course further endangered the safety of the congress.


Immediately following the conference, RUECB-leadership appealed to the courts to overturn the ruling, which they believed infringed upon Christians’ legal right to freedom of worship in private, non-public settings. Finally, during a 4th court hearing on 14 August, the regional court for Moscow district overturned the ruling on closure for reasons of fire safety. But it upheld the closure on grounds of sanitation and hygiene, which meant that the 30-day sentence remained in effect.


Vovk reports that the camp’s closing during its most lucrative month - August - has resulted in lost income totalling 2 mill. roubles (55.556 euros or $83.333 US). It also deprived hundreds of children from experiencing a Christian camp during 2008. Even if Rucheyok does reopen on 6 September, the school year will already have begun.


Vitaly Vlasenko, Director of the RUECB’s Department for External Church Relations, adds: “Please be assured that were are not giving up. The work of Christ remains on track. All things are possible with God and we retain a great deal of hope. We remain commited to changing things for the better.”


Charges Dropped in Klintsy

On 5 August, the court in the southwestern city of Klintsy (near Bryansk) ruled that the Baptist meeting of 28 bike riders in red T-shirts at the city square on 12 July did not constitute a public meeting after all. All charges against the person primarily responsible, Baptist pastor Evgeny Voronin, were dropped. He had been charged with holding a public meeting without prior police registration. The bikers had gathered at the square during a week of evangelistic meetings for a photo session; they had also sung and passed out leaflets.


The court ruling could not of course restore the health of Baptist deacon Vladimir Skovpen, a once-leading, Soviet-era cyclist. His collarbone had been broken in a work accident last February and was rebroken during rough handling by the police at Klintsy town square on 12 July. Following an additional operation, he was visited by city officials in the hospital on 30 July and is now continuing his convalesence at home. Skovpen has pressed charges against the responsible police officers – a verdict is still pending. The 50-year-old deacon has every intention to be back on the saddle in 2009.


William Yoder, Ph.D.

Department for External Church Relations, RUECB

Moscow, 27 August 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 #08-40, 553 words.