North American Baptists

German Baptist congregations began in North America in 1843, partly with the help of American Baptists. In 1851 a convention of eight churches, including one in Ontario, was organized; by 1880, there were five regional conferences in North America. In 1885, the Northwestern Conference (Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa) agreed to send workers among the Germans pouring into the British North-West; Canadian Baptists promised ongoing financial grants to support workers and build chapels. Using Winnipeg as his base, F.A. Petereit came from Minneapolis, organizing a congregation at Edenwold in 1886. A second church was founded at Ebenezer in 1888, a third at Wolseley in 1894 (soon relocated to Neudorf), and a fourth at Josephsburg in 1899. These four, with congregations in Manitoba and Alberta and organized independently of the regional German Baptist body that had served them, became the Northern Conference (NC) of German Baptist churches in 1902. By 1930, there were seventeen German Baptist congregations in the province.

The Baptist Union of Western Canada, successor to the Manitoba Baptist Convention, continued its annual grants to the NC for many years, feeling an ownership for “its German work.” The NC regarded the “English brethren” mainly as the source of fraternal encouragement and of funds “for our work,” but the personnel, labour, and responsibility belonged to the Germans; this relationship ended in 1919 when the NC decided that outside assistance was no longer necessary.

The church letters which reported local activities and statistics to the annual conference reflect the upheavals of the prairies settlement era. Drought, hail, grasshoppers, and poor soil drove homesteaders away, leaving churches too poor to pay a preacher's salary or build a chapel. Some congregations survived for years on the occasional visits of the conference missionary or colporteur, or with the temporary help of seminary students sent by the mission committee for the summer; but town and country churches diminished and even disappeared amidst the economic crisis of the 1930s. Nonetheless, however poor, the churches had their men's and mixed choirs, their orchestras and brass bands, their Sunday schools, and youth ministries. As the 1930s and 1940s passed, the mood of uncertainty diminished: churches reported successful vacation Bible schools, fall and spring evangelistic meetings, and the advantages of the Saskatchewan Association and NC sessions they hosted. These association meetings included seminars for youth workers, Sunday school workers, and choir members.

In the post-World War II years, buildings and parsonages were constructed or improved. Many of the churches had become anglicized, even as the German surnames and customs of the members persisted. By 1946, the German Baptist General Conference of North America had adopted the name “North American Baptist Conference” (NAB). With the last wave of German immigration from Eastern Europe and Germany in the 1950s, the NAB Conference turned away from its ethnic roots. It began a church extension program aimed at gathering believers in the growing areas of the post-war boom. There was no ethnic identification in these new churches, although young married couples raised in country or small town NAB churches often formed the nucleus and driving force for the new works. Two Regina churches and others in growing towns have been added to the pre-war sites. Today these are just as likely to include East Indian and Asian members as members of German, Scandinavian, Ukrainian, or English ancestry. The older small-town congregations are ethnically German, but new Canadians and intermarriage are diluting the “German” out of the NAB even there. Sixteen churches exist today, comprising just under 1,300 members.

David Priestley

Further Reading

Priestley, D.T. 1995. “North American Baptist Conference.” Pp. 380-82 in A.W. Wardin (ed.), Baptists around the World: A Comprehensive Handbook. Nashville, TN: Broadman Press; Woyke, F.H. 1979. Heritage and Ministry of the North American Baptist Conference. Oakbrook Terrace, IL: North American Baptist Conference.