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Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia



The union churches cover the whole of Estonia

The union comprises 83 churches with more than 6361 members, of which there are twelve Russian-speaking churches, as of January 1, 2016.

The churches of the union have always been busy publishing and distributing printed materials, doing children's and music work and being active in the society at large.

The life-story of a movement

Rev Joosep Tammo opens memorial of first baptism in Estonia 1884The beginning of the Union of Evangelical Christian and Baptist Churches of Estonia (union) goes back to the Estonian national reawakening in the 19th century, when two Swedish schoolmasters, Thorén and Österblom, started preaching in the island of Vormsi and the peninsula of Noarootsi, West Estonia. Judging by the good reception we may suggest that the Estonian farmers had a longing for a simple, personal faith. There were more and more farmhouses where people gathered to study the Bible giving rise to the formation of independent Free Churches (Priilased). The desire to model the religious life of the Church, and individual, on the Bible has not changed to date among the members of the union. In 1884 the first Estonian Baptist church was started in Haapsalu, West Estonia. In a few decades Baptist churches spread across the whole country. They became known for their good sermons, lively music, and large Sunday schools. Soon publishing became an important aspect of their work, too. Two years later, in 1886, the need for a distinct fellowship was realised, and in 1900 the Baptist churches in Estonia were finally recognised as an independent union.

Ten years later, Evangelical Christians and Pentecostals launched their work, too. Both of them enriched the religious life of the Estonian people, bringing with them a new eagerness to publish Christian literature and to do missions.

None of the movements had an easy start but the hardships provided them soil for later growth.

The main activities of the union are in the church services, teaching, preaching, and mission work. There is plenty of opportunity for common action as co-operation enables the churches to achieve results that would be impossible for a single church alone. The principle of the union is to be a Biblical missionary movement aiming at holiness and church growth.

Missions as a challenge

The churches in the union have been active preachers of the Gospel as long as they have been around. When the first Baptist and Free Churches were born the zeal of the born-again believers made a great impact, and churches were growing fast because of their own preaching and testifying. All the churches had their own committees, set up to organise evangelistic activities and encourage missionary work. In the 1920s a number of missionaries were sent to many different countries.

Proclaiming the Good News is something that, one way or another, all Christians must do. Yet we can only preach with eagerness what we have clearly experienced ourselves; this is why the members of the Union churches are actively involved in the evangelistic task. To co-ordinate and guide the work, the union has appointed a mission secretary, who leads a mission-minded team of workers known by the name of the Missionary Foundation.

Since 1993 the Union has been encouraging its church members through many different mission-related activities. Once a year, mission conferences are held for the whole Union; regional mission conferences have taken place since 1998. The Union offers training on church planting and recommends its churches to organise Alpha classes, which is a clear source of church growth. The union has decided to launch foreign missions as an opportunity to fulfil the Great Commission.

There is a number of honourable traditions in the churches; for example, evangelistic weeks or weekends in winter, tent meetings or various evangelistic campaigns in summer. It is a privilege to be a member in a Union church for it keeps you encouraged and active in proclaiming the Gospel and poses new challenges towards the fulfilment of the Great Commission.

Youth and children's work for changed lives

During the years of the first Estonian Republic (1918-1940), the churches of the union had a number of efficient youth programmes. When the Communists took over, youth work could only proceed underground. In 1988, when the atmosphere had begun to 'thaw', youth work became public again, large Sunday schools were born, and youth classes, camps and clubs gained a new momentum. In 1989 the children's magazine Päikesekiir (Sunbeam) was published. Things improved dramatically with the foundation of the Centre for the Youth and Children's Work. Now the church youth workers were able to get training, teaching materials, organised events and information much more easily. The annual Bible Days and the Children's Day are two most awaited events. Most of the children who attend Sunday school are from religion-friendly but not religious homes.

The aim of the youth work is not merely action or participation at various events or knowledge of the history of religion but changed lives. The problems facing our youth and children are complicated and should not be overlooked by the church. This is why the Centre for Youth and Children's Work has a number of options for young people.

Homepage of the Centre for the Youth and Children's Work

Learning is part of being a Christian

For three years the disciples walked with Jesus and listened to his teaching. Yet later they had a need for even greater understanding of Him and His mission. The union's training follows the same Biblical model. No matter how long we have been Christians we have to go on learning what it means to follow Christ. Bible studies in churches, materials for independent work, and training programmes, are all designed for the purpose of helping Christians become more Christ-like.

Training is an area where the churches have deliberately joined their forces to bring about Alpha classes, Pastors' Days, and the Youth Work Conference.

Where there are students there is a need for teachers. The Union has started the Higher Theological Seminary, whose motto is: "Hand in hand with the churches, for the benefit of our fellow men and for the growth of Christians!" The Seminary offers an applied higher education in theology, pastoral theology, and Christian pedagogy. The aim of the Bible School courses is to prepare Christians spiritually as well as motivate them for practical church work and further learning. The motto of the Bible School, "Now everyone has a chance to study," means a choice between the one-year intensive training ('the School of the Twelve') and regional module-based correspondence courses ('the School of the Seventy'). In the contemporary world we have a constant need for learning and re-learning; this is why the Seminary is developing a supplementary training system for pastors and church workers. Having taken a sufficient number of short courses or modules, a student can obtain a certificate of graduation. Even those who take just a few modules will gain both in knowledge and praying friends. The graduates from the Seminary and the Bible School are actively involved in church work by now and have won recognition for their contribution to the society.

Homepage of the Higher Theological Seminary

The written word illuminates

Publishing enjoys long and worthy traditions in the Union. The monthly magazine Teekäija (Wayfarer), started in 1904, offers a wide range of sermons, articles about current problems, interviews and reports. Pastors get their essential news from the monthly Karjase Kiri (The Shepherd's Note). Once a year the calendar with topics for prayer and Bible reading is published. Last but not least, the Union has frequently joined its forces to publish books: sermons, contemplation and doctrinal foundations; often in close co-operation with Christian publishers.

Charity is part of our message

No person who has been renewed inside can remain indifferent to others' needs. Throughout many years thousands of tons of food and second-hand goods have been distributed in Estonia. The churches help those in need through humanitarian aid, working with street children, and social care. Most of the material aid has come from the Scandinavian countries and Germany, but the share of our own churches has grown significantly.

Large events as an expression of mutual fellowship

Large organised events, expressing the unity and the size of the Union, clearly reveal the majesty of God. In recent years it has become a tradition to come together for the Summer Days: for services, concerts, and workshops. There is place and enough to do for both young and old.

For many decades the Bible Days have offered youth an opportunity to get to know one another and serve God in a wonderful fellowship. It is not common for 800 young Christians to meet together here, but not so uncommon during the Bible Days!

The culmination of the Sunday School year is the annual Children's Day when half a thousand kids from our Union gather to the 'heart of Estonia' in Paide to learn, and serve God together.

People involved in the women's work of the Union gather twice a year in order to study and share, too.

Spiritual leadership though serving

Despite the variety of churches in the Union we have a lot in common. We follow the example of the New Testament church leadership. Jesus Christ Himself has left us the example of the servant leader. This is the most important model for the leaders in our churches and in our Union. A spiritual organisation cannot last without guidance by God and likeness to Christ. The co-operation of churches during the New Testament times is another source of inspiration for fellowship and spiritual guidance. Different men of God who have all given glory to Christ and served Him with their utmost have led the UECBCE. Every three years the conference of church representatives elects the Union Board whose duty it is to find a vision for the whole Union and help fulfil it. The ordination committee of the Union is elected from among experienced pastors to evaluate their new colleagues' preparation and aptitude for their high vocation. The Union Board also ratifies the appointment of paid staff, co-ordinates their activities and offers help in many different areas. The staff does various lines of work to serve the churches.

Good stewardship is a sign of our commitment

For many decades the Union has given support to the pastors of small churches in the countryside. It has meant help in renovating or constructing church buildings and counselling on how to conduct one's affairs with the State. The Union's joint fund helps work things out in a number of ways, too. The more we give and support the more results we see as a Union. The economic life of the Union is regulated through the Union budget, which is ratified by the annual conference. This way every church can influence the life of the larger fellowship. In January 1999, churches founded the Valduste OÜ, a joint-stock company with all shares held by the Union. The company is in charge of administering property, organising accommodation, catering, publishing, wholesale and retail trading, accounting services, and supporting individual churches. It also takes care of the training and recreation centre at Nuutsaku, near Viljandi, where we can have a time-off, rest and feel the presence of God.

Music work

Music has always enjoyed an important role in the life of the Union churches. In 1997 a new hymnbook, containing a rich variety of Christian hymns, was published. Besides more traditional songs, many churches use the so-called worship songs in their services. The music cultivated in the churches is varied. All the main types of choir music are represented, but different vocal and instrumental ensembles and small groups with a variety of styles may be encountered, too.

Our voice in society is not muffled

The union is a founder member of the Estonian Council of Churches, established in 1989. We are also part of the Baptist World Alliance that has more than 40 million members, and of the European Baptist Federation.

Members of the union are actively involved in the society and are having their say in a number of important aspects of the country's life; for example, the law on churches, and matters of religious instruction in schools.

Standing the test of time

The union's history till 1989

1876 spiritual awakening starts in the island of Vormsi

1882 the first Free Church established in Ridala, West Estonia

1884 the first Baptist churches established in Haapsalu, Pärnu, Tallinn, Kärdla, and Vedra

1886 the first all-Estonian conference of Baptist churches

1890 choirs and Sunday schools are born

1897 some Free Churches join the Baptist fellowship

1900 the Baptist churches in Estonia are recognised as an independent union; missionary work starts in Cameroon, Egypt, and China

1904 the Baptists start publishing their magazine Teekäija (did not appear 1940-1988)

1905 the beginning of the movement named Evangelical Christians

1909 the first Pentecostal church established in Narva

1910 an Evangelical Christian church formed in Tartu

1912 Estonian Baptists start publishing their youth magazine Elukevad (The Spring of Life)

1917 the beginning of the youth (and later juniors') work in Baptist churches

1922 the Baptist Theological Seminary opens in Keila

1922 the formation of the first Pentecostal churches in Estonia

1925 the magazine Evangeeliumi Kristlane (The Evangelical Christian) appears until 1940

1937 the Evangelical Christian Union of Free Churches founded; they had their own magazine, and missionary work in Egypt

1937 Pentecostal churches join the Evangelical Christian Union

1940 the Baptist seminary closed down

1945 the Baptist Union (started in 1884, 7500 members in 1940), the Evangelical Christian Union (started in 1905, 3000 members in 1940), and the Free Church Union (started in 1882, 2000 members in 1940) are lumped together by the Communist authorities to form the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists. This will be joined with the All-Soviet Council of Evangelical Christians-Baptists

1956-1960 theology courses in Tallinn

1988 children's work can be done publicly once again

1989 the Higher Theological Seminary reopens in Tallinn

The Teekäija magazine published again - Homepage of Teekäija

1989 the union was re-established with 80 churches and 5793 church members

You want to know more?

Then contact us!

Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia

Koskla 18 • 10615 • Tallinn • ESTONIA

Phone +372 6700 698

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