The Public Council has a New Head
Pastor Alexei Smirnov elected Secretary
M o s c o w – At a meeting in Moscow on 23 February, Alexei Vasilevich Smirnov was elected Secretary and head of the “Public Council”. Though Smirnov is a pastor in a congregation belonging to the “Association of Brethren Congregations” (ABC) in Dedovsk near Moscow, he has also served as Director of the “Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists’” (RUECB) Pastors Department since 2006. This makes him particularly well-suited to lead this umbrella organisation of 10 church unions of Baptist tradition - most of whom departed from the All-Union Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists following the USSR's demise. At the same meeting on 23 February, Vera Yurevna Katko, who stems from the underground “Initiativniki” movement, was named the Council’s first-ever Secretary for Communication.
Smirnov stressed that even though the official structures will remain at a minimum, these 10 churches will strive to present a unified form and appearance to the outside world. Valentin Vasilizhenko (Moscow), who had served as the Council’s Secretary since its inception in 2006, explained after the meeting: “We in the Council will be speaking of each other as brothers, for we are not adversaries. We form a common front and accept each other just as we are.” The Public Council sees itself as a common platform for dialogue and for achieving consensus, which is badly needed among these churches.
Pastor Smirnov announced the expansion of the Council’s work in two directions. He called the initial one “the enlightenment of society” – precisely for this reason a Secretary for Communication has been named. These small, Baptist-minded denominations must expend much greater effort in introducing themselves and the life-saving values they represent to society in general. Council and agreement on legal issues are also greatly needed. General practices should be developed for unresolved matters. The Council will need to take on the “unspiritual” tasks which these churches have until now attempted to avoid.
The second direction involves theology. Smirnov stated: “We have never seriously dealt with theology. Our theology has often been homespun and primitive. We will not be able to created a joint seminary, but we do want to agree on a “unified concept” of evangelical teaching. “There can be no binding law for us all, but we want to at least offer a general course of direction.” That which we jointly conclude must become of increasing significance.
Vasilizhenko supports the belief that agreement would be much more difficult “if our theologies were different”: “A discussion on Calvinism would be a pure waste of time among us. We agree on all of the major issues. Our differences in opinion only regard form and practice. There are also administrative issues involved – how we for ex. react to state pressure.” He explained further: “Our form of clothing does not determine whether we are conservative or liberal.” The length of dresses or the wearing of pants by women “are not an expression of liberalism, but rather of fashion. We respect each other and accept each other as we are.”
The Public Council is also considering a geographical expansion of its work. Pastors in remote parts of the far-flung country are especially in need of dialogue with other Baptist-minded pastors. Yet for now, the rhythm will remain four meetings per year in the Russian capital. Vasilizhenko reported: “We have agreed that church members can be given a letter of recommendation when they move elsewhere.” They should be equally welcome in any Baptist-minded congregation.
The Ukrainian pastor Valentin Vasilizhenko himself emigrated to the USA along with his wife Svetlana and their five, mostly-adult children on 25 February. They will reside initially in Columbus/Ohio.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Department for External Church Relations, RUECB
Moscow, 27 February 2009
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 #09-06, 593 words, 3.760 strokes and spaces.