Evangelical Baptist Union of Italy
(Unione Cristiana Evangelica Battista d'Italia, UCEBI)
Baptist work in Italy began with the arrival of British missionaries in 1863 and from the USA in 1867. A few churches in some of the main towns and in some villages were established. In 1905 a Baptist theological school was started, but was closed in 1932 under Fascist persecution. Until that time two magazines published by the Baptists had considerable influence on the religious culture of Italy. In 1921 the British missionaries withdrew, leaving the work in the hands of the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention of the USA. In 1939 the "Opera Battista" was created, and in 1956 the Baptist churches organized themselves into the Baptist Union of Italy. In the 1960s two major themes characterized Italian Baptist life and discussion: ecumenism and the relationship between faith and politics. This was followed by a phase of internal discussion and militancy on ethical issues. In 1983 a national conference was held on ecclesiology, which resulted in a new constitution and rules and bylaws. A confession of faith was discussed and finally approved in 1990. That same year an important agreement was made between the Baptist, Waldensian and Methodist churches in Italy. In a joint session the three churches adopted a document of mutual recognition of members and ministers. Since 1990 the three churches also have a common weekly journal, "Riforma".
In 1995 the Baptist Union established an agreement on religious freedom with the Italian state that was voted in parliament. No financial aid was requested, according to the principle of the separation of church and state. The Union is operating on the basis of a cooperative plan for the life and development of the Baptist work in Italy. It is now completely independent of American support. All the properties which the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptists still had in Italy (mostly church buildings) were passed on to the Union in 1993. In 2004 the IMB signed an agreement with the Union with the aim of promoting, in communion with the UCEBI, a "Church Planting Movement" in Italy. The IMB declared its recognition of the theological affirmations expressed in the confession of faith of the UCEBI and its respect for the Christian freedom of the Union. The UCEBI signed important agreements for mission with the Baptist Missionary Society (UK) and with the Brazilian Mission Board. Recently the Baptist Union started a dialogue with the Italian Pentecostal Federation.
In the last decade the UCEBI has accepted a number of new migrant churches which include Nigerian, Ghanaian, Eritrean, Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Romanian and Latin American communities. The main concerns of the church are evangelization and social cooperation. Two departments, for theology and evangelism, deal with the burning issues of the time. The former works to enhance the theological awareness of the churches and takes care of the theological students. The latter helps the local churches to develop new strategies for mission. The Italian Baptist Union is a founding member of the Italian Federation of Protestant Churches. It is active in ecumenical work, mainly at the local church level and in ministries of peace, human rights and reconciliation.