EBF leaders endorse seminary move

Leaders of the European Baptist Federation voted Sept. 28 to relocate and refocus an international seminary struggling financially amid a changing landscape for theological education needs among Baptists across the continent.

By Bob Allen

Leaders of the European Baptist Federation voted overwhelmingly Sept. 28 to move the International Baptist Theological Seminary from Prague to Amsterdam as an international Baptist studies and research center with close ties to the Union of Baptist Churches in the Netherlands.

The European Baptist Federation Council approved three recommendations from seminary trustees at their annual meeting Sept. 26-29 held this year in Elstal, Germany, near Berlin. The proposals respond to changing needs for theological education, costs of maintaining an aging campus in the Czech Republic and loss of donor support in a poor global economy.

According to European Baptist News Service, the 77-member EBF council voted 92 percent in favor of selling the Prague campus for the best possible price. Eighty-nine percent favored moving to Amsterdam and converting a little-used Baptist church into a “Baptist House” with studies planned to begin in the fall of 2014. A proposal to focus mainly on doctoral studies in the areas of Baptist and Anabaptist studies and practical theology received slightly less support, with 85 percent of council members in favor.

The International Baptist Theological Seminary was established by Southern Baptist missionaries in 1948 at Ruschlikon, Switzerland, to help unite Baptists in Western Europe in the aftermath of two world wars. It relocated to Eastern Europe in 1997 amid financial struggles and changing educational needs for European Baptists after the end of the Cold War.

In recent years declining donor income and rising costs of maintaining the Prague campus brought on an economic crisis. Last year IBTS operated at a deficit of 306,000 Euros, the equivalent of about $394,000 U.S. dollars.

After study, IBTS trustees determined that much of the seminary’s master’s-level focus now duplicates degrees offered by national and regional Baptist seminaries that have arisen since the 1990s, but a need for doctoral studies still exists.

In the new plan, seminaries supported by members of the 56 Baptist unions in Europe, the Middle East and Central Asia that make up the European Baptist Federation will feed students into Ph.D. studies in Amsterdam.

The relocated IBTS will share space in a new Baptist House in Amsterdam with offices of the EBF, Dutch Baptist Union and Dutch Baptist Seminary. The seminary will function as an imbedded partner within Vrije University in Amsterdam (VU), a state university recognized for its theology faculty.

The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a U.S. partner with IBTS since the Southern Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board unexpectedly revoked about 40 percent of the seminary’s budget funding in 1991, mobilized more than 1,000 volunteers to travel to Prague in the mid-1990s and help remodel buildings in preparation for the opening of the current campus.

Jim Smith, interim global missions coordinator for the Atlanta-based Fellowship, said recently he supported the move and predicted the CBF would continue to value its partnership with IBTS in Amsterdam.

Amsterdam took center stage in global Baptist life in 2009 as host city for the 400th anniversary of the founding of what is generally considered the first Baptist church. That congregation was established in Amsterdam by Anglican separatists who fled England to escape religious persecution.

Previous stories:

CBF leader endorses seminary relocation

IBTS trustees propose move to Amsterdam

Baptists celebrate 400th anniversary near site of movement’s origin