Russia’s Evangelical Alliance is on the Upswing
11th Annual National Conference held in Moscow
M o s c o w -- On March 1, the inter-confessional “Russian Evangelical Alliance” celebrated the 10th anniversary of its founding during the annual national conference in the Moscow headquarters of the Russian Baptist Union (RUECB). Only 40 persons attended, but thanks to new participants from the Baptist, Evangelical-Christian and Pentecostal unions, its work has experienced a significant upsurge over the past six months. New participants have strengthened resolve to make the REA a self-funded, truly Russian entity – a hope which its partner, the German Evangelical Alliance, has harbored for years. At the conference, Ulrich Materne, the German Alliance’s consultant for Eastern Europe, compared developments to that of a child entering the teenage years and searching for increased independence from its parents: “We will observe with interest the upcoming changes.”
The REA’s structures were greatly expanded at the conference to include for the first time a General-Secretary (the Evangelical-Christian Sergey Vdovin) and an Executive-Secretary (Mikhail Dubrovsky from the Pentecostal union “ROSKhVE”) as well as three vice-presidents. New President is the Moscow Baptist Alexander Fedichkin – he replaces founding President and Baptist Vladimir Ryaguzov, now serving as a lecturer in theology in Krasnodar. The Methodist Svetlana Pochtovik remains office manager. Represented in the 12-member board are all major Protestant groupings including the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and Adventists.
This voluntary, grass-roots alliance of believers is active not only in Moscow: Branches are located in Blagoveshchensk (Far East), Kemerovo (Siberia) and Izhevsk (Ural) as well as in Voronezh, Nizhny Novgorod, Miass, Vyazma, Kaliningrad and Krasnodar (Central and Western Russia). Its activities – besides local, inter-denominational gatherings – include an annual prayer booklet in January and the publication of Russian-language commentaries in cooperation with the Orthodox. One local activity planned for 2013 is a Spring clean-up day in the streets of Nizhny Novgorod. It is to be followed by a large party in the afternoon in a city park.
It was noted at the conference on March 1 that Protestants will only be taken seriously by the powers-that-be if they appear jointly in the public arena. Vladimir Ryaguzov reported that at the outset of the 20th century, the Russian empire hosted as many as six million Protestants That number is down to approximately one million (0,7% of the population).
Dubrovsky conceded in his talk that “the REA has little influence on events at present. At the same time, it remains an important tie for Russians to the global evangelical movement.” The top echelon of all larger Protestant denominations meets regularly in Moscow under the auspices of the “Advisory Council for the Heads of the Protestant Churches of Russia”. The efforts of the Alliance are in fact even more complicated for they involve bringing together lay believers on the horizontal, grass-roots level for local activities. On that level, fears of proselytism and a diluting of theological positions remain a major hindrance.
The Evangelical Alliance, apparently the world’s oldest interdenominational organization, was founded in London in 1846. As early as March 1884, an initial, interdenominational conference was held on St. Petersburg, only to be broken up by the police on the third day.
The Evangelical-Christian leader Ivan Prokhanov (1869-1935) was a staunch supporter of the movement and legally registered a Russian Evangelical Alliance in 1906. But bitter debates on the issue of baptism led to its speedy demise. One could well claim that the believers in Stalin’s Gulag gathered a major amount of positive, practical experience in inter-denominational relations. In early April 2003, the founding conference of today’s Alliance took place at Rumyantseva near Moscow; 150 Protestants from 40 denominations attended.
Various Alliance efforts are now afoot in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Two of the most successful ones are found in Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia. The manifold Protestant denominations of Ukraine have only made slow progress. One of its several small Alliances is scheduling a national conference in Kiev on 20 March.
The Russian Alliance has ties to the New York City-based “World Evangelical Alliance”; its US counterpart is the “National Association of Evangelicals”.
William Yoder, Ph.D.
Moscow, 9 March 2013
This is a journalistic release funded by “Presbyterian News Service”, Louisville/USA, “www.pcusa.org”. It is informational in character and does not express any official position of PNS. This release may be reprinted free-of-charge if the source is cited. Release #13-05, 675 words, 4.530 keystrokes and spaces.