About the Union
The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia comprises 85 independent churches with 6513 registered members, Sunday School children and youth.
The Union came into being in 1945 as a result of the unification of four different free church movements – priilased (the „Freeists“), Baptists, evangeeliumi kristlased („Christians of the Gospel“), and Pentecostals –, forced by the Soviet authorities. Over the decades the Union has become an organic network of actively cooperating churches. As their common values the Union churches emphasize individual conversion and lifestyle guided by the New Testament, Christian fellowship in the church and universal responsibility in proclaiming the Good News.
The movements belonging to the Union trace their beginnings to the national awakening of the late 19th century, when two Swedish Lutheran schoolteachers and missionaries, Thorén and Österblom, started preaching in the schools of Noarootsi and Vormsi. Judging by the reception, we can be positive that the soul of the Estonian peasant was longing for a personal and simple faith. An increasing number of farmhouses became venues for prayer and studying the Bible, leading to independent communion services and the baptism of those who experienced conversion. In 1882 Ridala Priikogudus was born. The Free Church spontaneity and desire for an authentic experience of God is characteristic of the Union churches even today.
In 1884 the first Baptist churches were formed in Haapsalu, Kärdla, Tallinn, and Pärnu. According to the legislation of the Russian Empire they could only be registered as branches of the German-speaking Baptist Church in St Petersburg. Adam Reinhold Schiewe, pastor of the latter, helped organize the first churches in Estonia, baptizing 14 people in the Ungru River on 24 February, 1884. Within a few decades new churches sprang up all over Estonia, with singing choirs and vibrant Sunday schools and an ever more important publishing activity. Baptist churches were known for their good sermons. In 1900 the Estonian Baptist churches were recognized as an independent union.
The birth of the Free Churches of the Evangelical Christians is connected with the revival that started in Tallinn in 1905. The first leader of the movement was Johannes Rubinovich, a Jewish revivalist preacher, who called people to repentance, resulting in emotional contrition and experience of salvation. The beginning of the first church of this movement is traced to 1910. Later on, Eduard Lilienthal emerged as the movement’s leader.
Pentecostal churches became part of the Union as a result of their merging into the Free Churches of the Evangelical Christians in the final years of the first Estonian Republic, when they were not allowed to continue as an independent movement. Pentecostal ideas reached Estonia already at the turn of the century and the early 1900s.
More deliberate work started in 1920s through Swedish missionaries. The Pentecostal influence on the churches of the Union can be seen in their openness to the activity of the Holy Spirit.
The Soviet period was for the Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia „a melting pot in terms of self-conception and development of the union as a whole,“ writes Toivo Pilli in his book „Osaduses kasvanud“ . Since then the Union has been in constant movement and development.
In the new freedom of the late 1980s and early 1990s the churches started vibrant children’s and youth ministry (which was prohibited during the Soviet era) and took part in helping the needy members of the community, usually with the support of Finnish and Swedish Christians. In 1989 the theological seminary was reopened to train people for ministry. A new seminary building was erected in Tartu. Evangelism and mission were released from the constraints of state control, and new methods like the Alpha course were introduced.
- 1876 Revival starts in Vormsi
- 1886 Free church in Ridala formed
- 1884 Baptist churches formed in Haapsalu, Pärnu, Tallinn, and Kärdla
- 1886 All-Estonian Baptist conferences
- 1890 Choirs and Sunday schools start
- 1897 Some Free churches join the Baptists
- 1900 Baptist churches in Estonia recognized as an independent union
- 1904 Baptists start publishing their magazine Teekäija (Wayfarer)
- 1905 Movement of the Evangelical Christians starts
- 1912 Baptists start publishing their youth magazine Elukevad (Spring of Life)
- 1917 The beginning of the youth (and later juniors’) ministry in Baptist churches
- 1920 The spread of the Pentecostal movement gains momentum in Estonia with the support of Swedish missionaries
- 1922 Baptist Theological Seminary opens in Keila
- 1936 Evangelical Christian Union of Free Churches formed; they publish a magazine and do missionary work in Egypt
- 1937 Pentecostal churches join the Evangelical Christian Free Church Union
- 1940 Estonian Baptist Theological Seminary closed down
- 1945 The Estonian Baptist Union (started in 1884, with about 7,500 members in 1940), the Estonian Evangelical Christian Free Church Union (started in 1905, with 3,000 members in 1940), and the Estonian Union of the Religious Associations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, or the Priilased (started in 1882, with about 2,000 members in 1940) were merged together by the Soviet authorities and made part of the All-Soviet Council of the Evangelical Christians-Baptists
- 1956–1960 Correspondence courses in theology, Tallinn
- 1988 Sunday school and youth ministry restarted in churches
- 1989 Theological seminary reopens in Tallinn
- 1989 The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist
Churches of Estonia formed in continuity with the existing union, with 80 churches and 5793 church members
- 1989 The Union becomes member of the Estonian Council of Churches
- 1994 The new building of the theological seminary opened in Tartu
- 2006 The office of the Union centre moves from Nõmme to Koskla Street