Estonia: „Crossroads Church“ Offers Discussions on Sermons in the Internet
T a r t u – After four years as course leader in Baptist and Anabaptist Studies at Prague’s International Baptist Theological Seminary (IBTS), Toivo Pilli has returned to his homeland of Estonia. There he is not only rector of his church’s seminary in Tartu, he also belongs to a team which is planting a new experimental church. Pilli reported to the European Baptist Press Service (EBPS) that their new “Crossroads Church” intends above all to reach persons without a church background. It intends to follow the motto: “Church for others, home for everyone”. Because Biblical names or terms mean little to people today, this unusual name was chosen for the congregation: “The church is trying to speak the language of people who do not have a Christian background.” Multimedia presentations and lively music as well as prayer and fellowship groups are to play a part in worship services.
Participants are also invited to reflect on the sermon during the week afterward. A blog has been created on the Internet which is moderated by the previous Sunday’s preacher: “We want to help people to develop a closer relationship with God, we want to offer fellowship and friendship.” Important is also that visitors do not feel as if they had “stepped into a different historical period – say, 50 years ago”. The new congregation gathers in a former grocery store and is the daughter of Tartu’s “Salem” Baptist church. Its pastor, Meego Remmel, has been instrumental in developing the new church plant. Pilli admits that the route chosen is controversial within the Estonian Baptist Union. All congregations have therefore been requested to pray for the new church initiative.
Pilli added that his work in Tartu should profit strongly from his experiences in Prague. He understands better than before that beliefs and faith practices are strongly determined by cultural context and origin of the persons involved. Each congregation therefore has a kind of grassroots-theology. Though it is not verbalised, it nevertheless shapes a congregation. This helps the “professional” Christian to remain humble and more willing to listen to the questions of the church community. Close ties between theology and congregational life are very important. Theology may not retreat into an “ivory tower” of research and must instead address the challenges which a church faces. With that in mind, 30% of the curriculum at the Tartu seminary consists of practical training for work in the local congregation. The congregation-rooted training of theologians also stood at the centre of a three-year research project carried out jointly with the Örebro Baptists of Sweden. Close cooperation with this seminary began roughly eight years ago.
Pilli conceded to EBPS that the return to Estonia was not easy for his wife Einike and their three sons. They miss above all the broad range of worship options common in the congregation meeting on the IBTS-campus. Prayers included the world in its entirety. The sojourn on the IBTS-campus increased his spiritual understanding: “I believe I value the role of a believers' community in faith practices and beliefs much more than before.” Working together with international colleagues and students as well as the intensive academic interchange offered him invaluable insights for his work as a teacher of theology.
Eighty-three congregations with approximately 6.000 members belong to the Baptist Union of Estonia.