170 years of the Baptist Church in Elblag, Poland

170 years of the Baptist Church in Elblag, Poland

Pastor Pawel Kugler, Poland - December 09, 2014

On October 18-19th 2014 the Baptist Church in Elblag (Poland) celebrated its 170-anniversary. The church was established on October 23rd 1844 and then counted 5 baptised members.

The church in Elblag is the oldest Baptist church in Poland, although when it was planted Elblag belonged to Germany (Elbing – East Prussia). The Baptist work in Elblag was initiated by the great German Baptist missionary – Johann Gerhard Oncken. His brother – Friedrich Oncken – was among the first preachers, he served in Elblag in 1845. The church grew steadily in size and at the break of the World War II the Baptist community in Elblag and area counted 880 baptized members (not including children and regular attenders), and was definitely a visible group in a then 80-thousand town. The church in Elblag was mission oriented and was instrumental in planting Baptist churches in many neighboring towns, including Gdansk (Danzig) and Olszytn (Allenstein).

Up to 1899 the church was meeting in a chapel that was located in a medieval house in the Elblag Old Town. But more space was needed, so two new chapels were built. The work was prepared by Johann Ludwig Hinrichs, who has served as a preacher in Elblag for over 40 years (1859-1901) and is also known for writing a popular Baptist creed. Unfortunately none of the chapels have survived to this day. One was destroyed in the World War II and the other one in the times of communism in Poland.

After the war – under the Potsdam Conference agreements – the German population was forced to move out of Elblag and Polish people from central Poland and Ukraine settled in. In spite of migration the church has survived, as there were Baptist among the new inhabitants. The first Polish preacher Franciszek Komadowski wrote in his notes that for some time after the war both groups: German and Polish were meeting together for Sunday worship. Even though they did not understand each another, they enjoyed a warm brotherly fellowship, which is quite extraordinary, considering the national resentments which were present after the war. Only two of all the German church members remained in Elblag and died here. Today the church counts 50 members and meets in a new chapel, which was opened in 1987.

The October celebration began with opening of a memorial plaque, which was placed on the medieval building where the first chapel was located. The text on the plaque is written in 3 languages: Polish, German and English. Notably this building is one of a very few in the Elblag Old Town that have survived the last war (dates from early XV century). The street name is also quite unique: ulica Świętego Ducha (Holy Spirit Rd. / Heiligen Geisststrasse). Another historical building in the Elblag Old Town that miraculously survived the terrible war used to be a Mennonite chapel.

The opening of the plaque was followed by a lecture about the Baptist movement and an evangelistic concert at the Old Town Library Hall. The lecture was led by the President of the Polish Baptist Union pastor Mateusz Wichary and Andrzej Szymański from the Elblag Baptist Church, who is the author of a book on the Elblag Baptist Church history.

The Church  received congratulations and words of encouragement from many churches and from the Elblag City Mayor. The main theme of our celebration was “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). The Church members are grateful to the Lord for His faithfulness over the 170 years, and  pray that they will continue to be His salt and His light in Elblag and area. Today the church is focusing on work among children and youth, through Christian camps and outreaches, including working with mission partners – mainly from the USA and the Northern Ireland.