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The History of the Baptists in Italy

The most conspicuous result of the history of the Baptists in Italy is the Union of the Evangelical Baptist Churches in Italy. Without this preamble it would be difficult to understand who the Italian Baptists are. Now we will explain the evolution, the progress, the defeats and the victories of the evangelical churches. They were and are a negligible reality,, numerically speaking, some thousands of people, actually 6,200 baptised adults. The total population reaches about 15,000 people. But they represent together with other Italian evangelical churches a significant minority.


The first years

The first Baptist churches were established in Italy as a result of the work of English and American missionaries. This is the first real fact of our history. At first, this produced a considerable limitation. The missionaries brought theological and cultural standards evolved and developed in their countries of origin. Their interest, per es. in the Italian political situation was functional, that is to say, they analysed it to see if it was favourable or not to the growth of their work. The only goal of the missionaries was to evangelize Italy and everything else was functional for this scope.

The first missionaries who arrived in Italy were two Englishmen, Edward Clarke and James Wall. In 1865 Edward Clarke settled in La Spezia and founded “La Spezia Mission”; James Wall founded in Bologna in 1863 a mission which later on became the work of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) of London. In 1870 the first Baptist missionary of the Southern Convention (USA), William Cote, arrived and he established the first Baptist church in Rome in 1871. The second missionary from the Southern Convention, G.B. Taylor, a very capable man, arrived in Italy in 1873 and gave a strong impulse to the expansion of the Baptist church in the period of formation.

From the initial group in La Spezia, the work of “La Spezia Mission” spread to Tuscany, then Emilia and Veneto. The Mission was transferred to Rome in 1870 and developed in Turin, Naples, Genoa and Val di Susa reaching a total number of 20 churches and groups. The American Baptist Mission begun in Rome by Cote and organized in 1873 by Taylor spread to Puglia, Basilicata,Lombardy, Piedmont, Calabria, Sardinia and the Syracusan area. Complessively, about 50 churches and groups were established in various localities. These churches and groups were small,hardly more than 50 people. The majority of the members were farmers or unskilled workers. In this first phase about 20 Italians constituted the ministry of the local churches, many of whom came from the Free church, while the missionaries directed the functions of administration, government and organization of the mission and work. This geographical distribution of the Baptist churches in Italy, curiously, has remained practically unchanged. The result of this missionary work was the creation of a network of communities. In 1884, so as to better coordinate the evangelical work the three missions constituted the Christian Apostolic Baptist Union. In 1922, The Baptist Mission of London left Italy following agreements made with the American baptists.



Fascism prevented the relationship with the Anglo-Saxon culture and broke the ties with the Italian left-wing culture. The process of growth was slowed down and in many cases development was stopped. Many places of worship were closed.

The period of war was tragic for all the country and therefore also for the little churches. The extent of the rhetorical effect and the consequences of the war was devastating. All the ties with abroad were cut and so economic contributions for the pastors and churches did not arrive. The missionaries left the country. The churches were left to themselves and tried to survive as best they could. The results were, in a certain sense, better than expected. The churches survived the dictatorship and the war but the work was reduced and in many cases interrupted. Many churches were reduced to extremes and in a state of isolation and dispersion.


After the war

The reconstruction after the war followed two fundamental directions with the return of the missionaries. On one hand, a policy of economic assistance with aids and economic help and distribution of food and clothing. This aspect in some places, above all in Southern Italy, resulted in many adhesions which were reduced when the help finished. On the other hand, more important, numerous evangelical initiatives were undertaken which, in a short time, doubled the number of Baptists. The Baptist Theological School was reopened in Rivoli (Turin) in 1949. There, a new generation of Baptist pastors was formed. The churches were structured and reorganized. Work in the Sunday Schools received an impulse and the Youth organization and that of the Baptist women bloomed.

The first missionaries did not limit their work to opening churches. Together with the local churches they took care of the physical and cultural well-being of people and founded orphanages, hospitals, old people's homes, recreation and cultural circles, schools and others.


The Baptist Christian Evangelical Union

The Baptist Christian Evangelical Union was constituted in 1956. From this moment begins the process which brought about the definite cultural, theological and economical independence from the American Mission. Since after the war until today the Baptist churches have lived through other crises that marked their development. On one hand, emigration for economic motives badly hit the churches, above all, those in Southern Italy, from the 50's and after. The churches affected by this continual loss of members were unable to fill the gap existing between the generations. In other cases, one or two generations were lost and the churches suffered a serious crisis of survival.

On the other hand, the economic miracle and the access to the public schools on the part of everybody provoked a different crisis. Some people have defined it a conventional outlook of the churches. In the churches the number of people with diplomas and degrees increased as well as professionals and the well-being of the members. This altered the typical physiognomy of the popular Baptist churches of the first phase. The ethical, moral rigour changed, evangelising stopped, the ecclesiastical activities changed form and content. The churches experienced without efficacious mediation, critical and rationalistic solicitations, both political and social, for which they were not ready. There followed a difference of opinions among the old generation, the emerging conventionally-minded generation and the generation of young people in ferment due to the illusions of 1968. The climate that was created was devastating for the churches which were not ready for the process of secularization.

Recuperation and relaunching of the Baptist churches took place from the end of the 70's until today. A complete independence from the American Mission was reached. The Union was reorganized on the basis of solidarity among the churches. An efficacious Plan of Cooperation was established to unite the economic resources of the churches so as to favour the development of the weaker churches. A Confession of faith was elaborated and regulation and organization were re-elaborated. Finally, in 1995, an agreement with the Italian State was signed and a complete economic independence was reached.