Baptist General Conference

First Baptist Church, Regina, 1961.
Regina Leader-Post

The Baptist General Conference (BGC) churches in Saskatchewan have their roots in Sweden. In 1847, F.O. Nilsson was deported after imprisonment for charges of heresy; moving to the United States, he was involved in establishing the First Swedish Baptist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. The organization then searched out Swedish immigrants in North America, and planted Baptist churches where there were sufficient numbers. In 1894 their first church was founded in Canada: the Scandinavian Baptist Church in Winnipeg, now Grant Memorial Baptist. By 1905 the Central Canada Baptist Conference was organized. The oldest church in Saskatchewan is First Baptist in Midale (est. 1903). All the original churches followed the Swedish immigrant settlement patterns: the large cities in Saskatchewan were left thus out. The 1920s and 1930s were a transitional period for the churches as they began to hold services in English. Also, some of the small rural churches were closed or combined with other churches as roads and transportation improved.

A new vision for missions and church planting was born in the Baptist General Conference in 1944, as the ethnic era was completed and the Conference launched into a period of tremendous growth. In the 1950s, the largely rural church community in Saskatchewan faced the migration of people from the farm to the city. Soon there was an attempt to plant churches in the major centres: two successful examples of church plants have been Ebenezer Baptist in Saskatoon (est. 1954) and Hillsdale Baptist in Regina (est. 1957). Evangelism has always been part of the Baptist heritage, and many missionaries have been sent from the Saskatchewan churches over the last hundred years. One example is Ruby Eliason, who left Wadena in 1955 to work in India, and then served for years in Cameroon; after retiring she continued to serve her former mission fields, and died in a car accident in Ethiopia in 2000.

In 1977 an ad hoc meeting was organized in Calgary to explore the possibilities of working together, as at that time the BGC existed as three independent districts directed from the central office in the United States. In April 1981 a meeting in Regina was held to consider forming the Baptist General Conference of Canada; the motions passed, with more than 95% of the delegates voting in favour. There are three primary reasons why the Baptist Conference of Canada was born. The first and initial motivation was the desire for fellowship across the three districts: prior to 1977, the only time any of the Canadian conference members would see each other was at the BGC function in the United Sates. A second issue, entirely external, was the new regulation on the part of Revenue Canada that required Canadian charities to organize and control their funds. And the third issue had to do with a perceived responsibility to Canada as a nation: the three districts had been provincial in outlook; it was now time to become more knowledgeable about the spiritual state of the nation.

Allan Ramsay