The Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists has a new senior vice president: Sergey Sipko. At the every-fourth-year congress, which took place in St. Petersburg May 28-30, Alexey Smirnov was also elected for an additional four years as the Union’s president. Smirnov will retire as president in 2018.

After completing theological studies in Moscow, Sipko spent the next 15 years as a pastor in Omsk/Western Siberia. For the past nine years, he served as senior pastor for Omsk region, a relative hotbed of Russian evangelical activity. Sipko is reputed to be a solid manager and counselor with the gift of a listening ear. Sipko is scheduled to begin working from the Moscow office in September.  

Further developments at the 34th Congress:

  • The larger, neighboring All-Ukrainian Union of Churches of Evangelical Christians-Baptists was represented by Vice-President Igor Bandura of Odessa. Delegates accepted his presence warmly and matter-of-factly. Bandura was one of a small team of leaders asked to lay hands on Sipko and Smirnov as they were ceremonially ushered into their offices.
  • A Baptist delegation from Crimea was also present. It was claimed privately that only 20 of the peninsula’s 58 Baptist union congregations have initially expressed interested in joining the Moscow-led union. But Vitaly Vlasenko, the RUECB’s director for external church affairs, has stressed repeatedly that his union is placing “no pressure” on Crimea’s congregations to join up with Moscow. In the longer term, separation from Kiev’s Baptist Union may be the only legal option open to Crimea’s congregations.

There was sentiment afoot in St. Petersburg hoping for a gradual return to the old status quo ante. There is hope that the present geopolitical crisis will blow over and allow the Baptists of Russia and Ukraine to return to business as usual in an atmosphere of mutual friendship and understanding.

Akos Bukovszky, director of external affairs for the Hungarian Baptist Union, stressed in his greeting that his denomination does not support attempts to isolate the Russian churches from global Christendom.

“We believers have dual citizenship,” he said. “Our primary task is the kingdom of God.”

In private conversations, Bukovszky insisted that he felt comfortable with the present and past roles of his country. He applauded the center-right administration of Viktor Orbán for its pro-life stance and promotion of family and other Christian values.

The government looks to the churches in Hungary as partners in the propagation of spiritual values, making it possible for the 11,000-member Baptist Union to take over the running of 50 state-funded kindergartens, primary and secondary schools. These public schools now carry the Baptist name and permit open evangelization. One of these schools focuses on the Russian language and is seeking teaching support from Russian Baptists.

The relatively small crowd of official guests from the West included Tony Peck, general secretary of the Prague-based European Baptist Federation; Michael Rohde, professor at the German Union’s seminary in Elstal near Berlin; and Charles Jones from the Pennsylvania-based American Baptist Churches.

William Yoder is a freelance journalist and occasional contributor to Presbyterian News Service.