Monday, July 18, 2016

German Baptists in Poland

When my maternal grandmother's parents immigrated to Canada from what is now Ukraine in 1893, they did so with many others in their German Baptist church congregation. The group settled in Leduc, just south of Edmonton, Alberta, homesteaded land, built a church, and raised their families.

Photograh taken in 1903 in front of the First Baptist Church in Fredericksheim.
My great grandfather helped build the church; courtesy of Lucille Effa Fillenberg

What exactly were German Baptists and why did they leave their farms in eastern Europe?

Though no one has been able to discover from where in Germany the Schalin family originated, they may have come from Prussia. We know that the family lived in Maliniec, which was in South Prussia, the part of Poland, Prussia partitioned in 1793. Prussia encouraged its citizens to settle in its new territory. And sometime during their lives in Maliniec, they had become German Baptist.

The religion was considered a separatist cult by Lutheran church leaders and Baptist ministers were persecuted. As I read more about the German Baptist faith, I learned its flowering in the various partitions of the country that was once Poland was down to one man: Gottfried Friedrich Alf, a school teacher.

Alf was a pious man concerned about his spiritual condition. By prayer and supplication he believed he found inner peace and forgiveness of his sins by trusting Christ. About 1853 Alf began preaching to his students about his religious experiences. This sparked a religious awakening for some parents and adults in the village.  Alf was soon consoling and praying with people almost every day. When the parish pastor heard about Alf's activities, he forbade him to continue. But Alf didn't stop. The parish pastor escalated Alf's "corrupting" actions to church authorities. The Lutheran Consistory dismissed Alf from his teaching position and banished him from his home.

But the genie was out of the bottle, so to speak. Alf was invited by many communities to lead religious revivals. He traveled constantly and was detained and imprisoned many times. Finally, Alf decided to leave the Lutheran church.

Gottfried F. Alf (1831-1898); photograph courtesy
of Donald N. Miller's "The German Baptist Movement
in Volhynia"

A neighbor, Heinrich Assman, told Alf about Baptists he had encountered. He talked about their church organization, discipline, and holy living, as well as their beliefs about baptism by immersion. These beliefs aligned with Alf's thoughts on religion and he decided to become a Baptist.  He traveled to Hamburg in 1859 to study and was ordained there.

After returning home he continue traveling and preaching and awakening others to his new faith. He became the chief Baptist revivalist in Poland. Alf believed the German Baptist faith appealed to the consciences of people to recognize they were sinners and needed to repent and look to Christ for salvation. Only then could they be baptized.

So knowing the history of the German Baptist faith where my ancestors lived, has enabled me to draw some conclusions about the family's timeline. I believe they converted to the German Baptist faith not long before they moved to Russia (near now Tuchyn, Volyn, Ukraine) sometime between 1861 and 1863 and they likely moved for religious, as well as economic reasons.

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